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The Story of Mrs Davies

Page 1

Darryl Emmerson

Long, long ago, long before any pandemic, Zoom meetings, global financial crisis, the internet, mobile phones or economic rationalism, there were jobs, situations, little atmospheres almost impossible to imagine now. You could get part-time work quite easily, and often, in some fields, you were pretty much left alone to do it. As long as you didn’t burn the place down, spit in someone’s eye or habitually arrive an hour after starting time, you were OK. And if it didn’t work out, you could leave, pretty certain of soon finding something else.

In one of these little worlds, in the early 1980s, a young man, Dan, was looking out a window on the seventh floor of an old, large and famous inner-city hospital in Melbourne. The view showed busy streets, hurrying pedestrians, the Exhibition Building nearby, the skyscrapers in the city centre, the raging traffic. He was taking some time out.

He was not happy in the job, no, no. It had all looked good on paper, three days a week as social worker in the psych ward, the rest of the time trying to write, record and perform some new music with his band. Perhaps the signs were there early on. Yesterday’s ward meeting, in his first week there, had revealed:

a bored doctor with a bad memory for his patients and flip attitude to his colleagues
a head nurse who kowtowed to the doctor
a physiotherapist whose focus was clearly her newly painted fingernails
a general feeling of duty done, dejection and inertia.

He came out of the meeting puzzled and a bit lonely, beginning to suspect he would, professionally, be on his own there. And so it proved, over the next few weeks. Doctor P, the only other male staff member, had, with wagging forefinger, soon sized him up thus: “The new social worker, eh? Our own urban guerrilla!” Even the mildest suggestion was seemingly agreed with, then somehow forgotten, obstructed, foiled. And Doctor P, who seemed to regard him with a wary camaraderie, one day said, “We think it’s a good idea, mate, but week two? Bit soon, isn’t it?” But Dan knew that if he didn’t speak out, his ideas, good or bad, would soon dry up. He would succumb. At an after work drink one Friday night, he remarked to his friend Jeff, “It’s a bit hard, working with depressed, institutionalised people.” Jeff asked, “But don’t you expect that with psych patients?” Dan said, “I’m talking about the staff…”

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