Upon my arrival at my second hospital I received for the initial few weeks of my stay the luxury of a private room. Unfortunately this was not because I had been upgraded but so I could be screened for MRSA infection before being released into the wild of the open dorm. I had my own bathroom, a glass wall onto the internal corridor which could be closed off with a blind, a door, the obligatory set of colourful privacy curtains and, facing out into a little internal patch of grass, a floor to ceiling window with a small ledge at ankle height. Upon this ledge I placed the cards I received from friends and family and a small pot plant that someone had kindly brought. The pot plant resided with me peacefully for a week before it was aggressively confiscated by one of the cleaning staff who informed me that it was ‘dangerous’ and had to go. “Is that due to the risk of bacterial contamination from the soil?” I hazarded. “No” came the response “It’s because it might fall off and hurt somebody”. “But it’s at ankle height” I pointed out, futilely, as the plant was unceremoniously whipped away. Later I encountered it in the cafeteria where, presumably, it must have been subject to a health and safety briefing as it now resided smugly on a ledge at shoulder height and remained there for the length of my stay. As far as I know, it did not kill, maim or otherwise injure anyone from its lofty vantage point.
On my first night in my room I enjoyed a blissful eight hours of solid sleep. It was the first time in two months that I had not been trying to slumber surrounded by a combination of neon lights, snoring ward mates, chattering staff or beeping machines (Honourable mention of course goes to my murderously silent ventilator from which I would have welcomed slightly more effort). Finally I had a dark, quiet space and I slept the sleep of the exhausted. On the second day I encountered the BCW.
She announced herself a little like a villain in a movie by sending fluttering down from her room above mine a signature calling card. In fiction this is a monogrammed handkerchief or cryptic symbol. In real life – ie for me – this was a pair of brown-stained knickers. I watched them caught by the wind temporarily, like that plastic bag at the beginning of American Beauty, only with less artistic effect. They came to rest right outside my window, gusset side up. I collared a passing member of staff who surveyed the stained knickers with the air of one who has seen many such pairs in her time and said “Oh she’s at it again, is she?” “Who is ‘she’?” I asked. “I have no idea” came the answer. “But the ward above us is for the mental patients and this one likes to throw stuff out of her window.” Joining in the blunt nomenclature, I promptly named my neighbour above the Batshit Crazy Woman.
Over the next few weeks I was treated to an art installation the likes of which the Saatchi gallery would have paid millions for. Each new exhibit was first announced by the BCW with what sounded like a full scale riot upstairs. Thuds and low groans would be followed shortly by what sounded like all the furniture being thrown around, Keith Moon style, accompanied by screaming. This would last only a few minutes before the sounds of running footsteps and muffled shouting would filter down – presumably a handful of professionals armed with restraints and loaded hypodermics entering her room with intent. Then silence. About ten tension-filled minutes would pass before a new artwork would make its lonely yet eloquent wind-borne way down to outside my window. Along with the ‘Life is Sh*t” panties, I was fortunate enough to be treated to the artwork ‘Blood is Thicker Than Water’, a study in human relationships laid starkly out on a used sanitary towel, ‘I Will Not Succumb to the Injustice’, a brave defiance to all oppressors, created skilfully using a canvas of cotton worn close to the crotch for what appeared to be several days, ‘Inside I’m Bleeding’, an eloquent cry for recognition presented on a soaked tampon and ‘Rise Above’, an exhortation to try harder symbolised by a bra in one cup of which nestled a small turd.
It did not appear that our little scrap of outside space merited cleaning and/or gardening very often so I was able to enjoy the full majesty of the BCW’s exhibition laid out before my window for at least a week. I contemplated taking some photographs and having postcards made up, perhaps even a run of limited edition prints so that visitors could take a little piece of the magic home with them to put on the fridge. Unfortunately my ambitious plans to cash in were stymied by my inability to both hold and operate a cameraphone with only half of one hand and no torso muscles so I’m sorry to recount that the BCW’s efforts were not recorded for posterity. Eventually, she hit an artistic fallow period (or more powerful drugs) and her messages ceased to flutter down to her awaiting public. One day the exhibition was unceremoniously bundled into a black binliner and spirited away. I like to believe it went on loan to the Tate Modern.