I remember vividly that summer I’ve spent in the hospital. That was the first time I was treated with a proper medication that brought me recovery in the end. It was the largest hospital in the country, and it had pavilions. Everyone called my pavillion “The Sheraton” because it was for “elite mad people”. It wasn’t really, but it was for those who had the best odds but also for some filthy rich despite our health care being public. Sad. Behind The Sheraton, there was a reminder of the history of mad people’s asylums, a place for the homeless. This was the first asylum in the country, namely.
Anyway, every day, from five to six, we had mandatory socialising in the living room. On Fridays it was Bingo. I hated it, to be honest, and a few other younger people were cracking jokes about it. We would collect the money from everyone to buy prizes in the convenience store nearby. However, people got bored with food. So, at some point, my few years older acquaintance made a suggestion to buy some items in a store with all sorts of shiny, cheap garbage, for laughs. It was two bus stops away, so we needed exit permission for an hour, and we got those papers.
When I say we, I mean the lady I mentioned, married with two kids, one already in uni, the ex-nurse I’ll call Rose as that is the translation of her name from Croatian, one guy that was neglected as a child and seemed as if his intelligence was below average, but that was hardly the case, he had wit, he could draw, but he lived in extreme poverty making some cash by drawing tattoos. And there was I.
We spent too much time shopping, and at some point, we realised we won’t get back on time by bus—no way with all that stuff. Back then taxi was cheap in Zagreb, so I suggested getting a ride. The neglected guy was excited about it as he has never been in a cab. So we made a call and got our ride in five minutes.
I sat in the front. “Where to?” the driver asked. I told the name of the hospital and also asked to take us straight to the pavilion as we were in a hurry. I felt he was uncomfortable. Still, with all these stuff at our hands, we seemed more as if we were visiting someone in the madhouse. I believe that thought made him relax for a second. But then our first time in the taxi guy kicked in. He told him we bought gifts for the Bingo in the madhouse and that only our pavillion has such activities. He also told him not to worry because we have exit permissions from the ward, and we can show it to him. Yup. The lady, roughly my age with two kids, saw his expression in the mirror and said Rose is a nurse. Rose was almost sixty, but she enjoyed the confusion. The driver asked: “So you are accompanying them?” Rose said: “I am a nurse but I am also mad.”
From that moment on he just shut up. Complete silence. When we got to the door of the pavillion he couldn’t wait till we exit the car. He wanted to drive away without money. I barely made him take my cash.
So there you go, stigma in a nutshell. Don’t crack jokes about being mad, it scares people.