Monday, November 23, 2009

an ordinary day in pastoral ministry? trapped in Psych unit

Yesterday I found myself trapped inside the Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. It began as a fairly routine pastoral visit. A phone call from the day nurse, asking me to visit.

Juggled my time table and by 5:30 pm I was outside the Psych unit. It was a quiet Sunday and it took me about 10 minutes to gain entry, standing in an empty main foyer, ringing the ward number.

Admittance, with instructions: This is a secure unit. No patients can leave. Whatever you do, give nothing, anything, to those inside.

I met the person I was visiting. And spent time listening and talking. By now it was 6:20 pm. I was due to preach in 40 minutes, so made my goodbyes. Being a secure unit, the nurse showed me to the door, unlocked it, and let me through.

I walked about 5 paces. Found a second door, opening onto the main empty foyer. Which was locked. Turning to ask for help, I realised I was alone. The nurse who had let me through the first door was now gone, returning to her work station.

Strange, I thought. I gave the outside door another pull. It didn’t move. I looked for an exit button and found it. But it needed a key to turn. Probably the same key the nurse had used.

I returned the 5 paces to the door the nurse had let me through. By now, it was shut firmly behind me. I pushed it, but sure enough, it also was firmly locked. This was, after all, a secure unit.

I peered through the glass, but the corridor was empty. The walls looked soundproof. I felt foolish. I felt like banging on doors and yelling, but wasn’t sure if this was the best behaviour to exhibit in a pysch unit.

I remembered I had my cell phone. So I scanned the walls, looking for a number. None. I had phoned from the main empty reception, so returned to the exit door.

I peered through the glass into the main area. But the phone numbers were out of eyesight, around the corner. It was becoming hard not to panic. Still noone in the corridor leading back into the ward from which I had come from.

I tried the exit door again. Pushed. Pulled. Being Sunday, there were no staff in the main reception area, so it was useless banging on that door.

I breathed deeply and looked at the door closely. When I pulled hard, the door did bend. Enough to let me see that the metal glasp was down. Enough of a gap to get my fingers in. A bit of a fiddle, poke and prod and I managed to push the glasp back.

And this time gave the door a push, not a pull. It swung up. I was out, free, walking through the empty main reception. Fresh air smelt good. It was difficult not to run, not to feel guilty that I was somehow escaping.

Definitely not an ordinary day in pastoral ministry. But the experience has become a metaphor for prayer. Despite momentary panic and heightened anxiety, I could leave. Not everyone can. Some people find themselves permanently trapped, locked behind closed doors, feeling alone, entrapped.

God, be in their head
God, be with their carers, their loved ones, their doctors
God, hold their faith while they mend. In time, open their doors to life,
to the full

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM


  1. …Just came across this. Absolutely loved it. Thought “I have to put this on your blog, but how do I do it without being off topic?” Looks like I worried in vain, as one usually does.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 24, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  2. thanks for the link ingrid. i am interested in
    a) why you loved the link
    b) why you thought it related to the post.


    ps have you ever thought about getting your own blog? then you can post all the links you want to your hearts content

    Comment by steve — November 24, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  3. Good post Steve, I remeber my first time visiting a friend in prison. Horrendous sense of claustrophobia when the doors lock behind you. I hated feeling so powerless, even though rationally I knew there was no way I could get trapped there. Remebering that makes me wnat to go home and let the rabbit out of its cage for a run round the garden!

    Comment by jonathan robinson — November 24, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  4. Isn’t there a green button you push to open it? Just trying to remember…. also am sure that also it is stated “give nothing” I bet a million dollars you gave more than you can ever know….

    Comment by Jill W — November 24, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  5. I thought we were talking about standing in front of locked doors.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 24, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  6. Regarding question a: Just looking at the clip again I kind of wonder myself. It was a momentary thing I guess. Praying for a certain person to start “knocking at heaven’s door”. It is mainly that line and the intensity with which it was sung.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 24, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  7. Jill, I looked for a green button, but couldn’t see one. i am sure it was my fault, somehow, somewhere.

    Ingrid, I see the link, i was knocking on a door. now, what was heaven’s door. was it the door going out? or the door going in? was i more likely to find Jesus in the pysch ward? or outside? now that has some creative potential me thinks.


    Comment by steve — November 24, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

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