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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touch of madness
Dennis O'Donnell has hit upon a winner with this book, his memoir of seven years spent as a psychiatric orderly in central Scotland. Overall I think the book is superb. I found it intelligent, fluent and easy to read. O'Donnell is articulate (he has a degree in English) but also deeply compassionate, and writes with sensitivity about patients he clearly cared very much...
Published on 25 Jun 2012 by Preacherdoc

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars sign of the times
its really a sign of the times when dennis describes smoking at the nurses station , i remember those days . its a very good insight into the past in a locked ward , but thats what it is ,the past. i fear for someone not "in the trade" reading this book and imagining its like that nowadays. its very much historical anecdote and as that was very entertaining to...
Published 18 months ago by H A Miller


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touch of madness, 25 Jun 2012
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Dennis O'Donnell has hit upon a winner with this book, his memoir of seven years spent as a psychiatric orderly in central Scotland. Overall I think the book is superb. I found it intelligent, fluent and easy to read. O'Donnell is articulate (he has a degree in English) but also deeply compassionate, and writes with sensitivity about patients he clearly cared very much about. He also displays a sharp eye for the farcical when the occasion calls. For this reason the book is profoundly moving and laugh-out-loud funny by turns, though the humour is not cruel and the jokes are at no-one's expense so much as his own.
I think the book succeeds at all its tasks: it portrays the patients as humans, with their frailties and their strengths; it demystifies psychiatric illness effectively, and educates the reader in the basics of neurosis, psychosis and therapeutic strategies without condescension. And, as any memoir should, it gives great insight into the character of O'Donnell himself, since we see all the events through his particular lens.
If I could change just one thing, it would be to tone down the use of central Scotland vernacular. The book deserves a very wide readership, but non-Scottish readers may be perplexed by occasional unfamiliar expressions. That aside, the book is a triumph. I am really looking forward to his next one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage and humour, 24 April 2012
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O'Donnell writes frankly, humourously and courageously. He encapsulates characters and situations. He confronts topics directly and with sincerity. It is a great read and great insight. It genuinely made me laugh, squirm and cry.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, 28 Jan 2013
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Having worked as a charge nurse in a locked ward I found the caring stories so reflective of where I worked. The people and the illness are the same wherever you are
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Reading, 18 Feb 2012
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I am only half way through this book so far and Dennis O'Donnell has really captivated what life is like in a mental health ward. A true account from a mental health nurses point of view, this book will make an interesting read for anyone with a genuine interest in mental health.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, funny, brutal and honest... I loved it!, 30 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly (Paperback)
This is an autobiographical account of life on a psychiatric ward, written by a Scottish nursing assistant and literature buff, who moved from caring for dementia patients onto Ward 25 of his local hospital after a little persuasion from his friend Charlie, the charge nurse for the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit. He worked there for over seven years and wrote this book partly as a means of fighting the ignorance and fear that still surrounds mental illness for many people. As he writes in his introduction:

"I hope it will inform people about the nature of serious mental illness and how it is treated. I hope it will correct misconceptions, and show that people with serious mental illness can say or do funny things, sad things or bad things; be brave, resolute, irritating, selfish, generous, kind, cruel or petty just like everybody else. Mainly, though, I want it to celebrate a group of people who are misunderstood, mistrusted or viewed with apprehension - the patients."

I am a pretty devoted reader of anything to do with mental health problems, partially due to my own experiences and partially thanks to my interest in the social sciences generally, so this was a must-read for me. While there are many memoirs out there about the experience of depression, schizophrenia, addiction and any number of other issues, it's unusual to find a memoir by someone caring for those people in a professional sense. I must confess, while I don't have the same kind of fears and prejudices that I'm sure a lot of people sadly have about people with mental health difficulties, as 'one of their own' I DID have fears about what life was really like behind the locked doors of a psychiatric ward, because in the back of my mind I can't help but think that one day I could find myself in need of their help myself and I had all kinds of grim ideas about what they might be like!

Happily, just like Direct Red: A Surgeon's Story by Gabriel Weston made me feel better about the prospect of ever having surgery, 'The Locked Ward', despite its grim moments and the anger in the final pages over the decline in staffing and funding, was quite a reassuring book. It explains quite concisely what a modern psychiatric ward is like - how it's laid out, how it's run, what the daily routine is like - as well as introducing the reader to some of O'Donnell's most memorable patients. His dry Scottish wit is a perfect foil for the more brutal side of his work, and the warmth and compassion of not just him, but the majority of the staff on the ward, shines from the pages. Of course he's only human - as are his patients - and there are people he dislikes, people he is afraid of, and fellow orderlies who occasionally need to be smacked upside the head for making stupid remarks. But those aren't the people that really seem to stick for him - or for the reader. His affection for the eccentric, kind, kooky, spirited, gentle, stolid and sad people around him is truly heartening, and it's clear that the people underneath the illnesses were being heard, understood and befriended during their time on the ward.

This is where O'Donnell really shines, in my opinion: in being quite blunt about things like symptoms, medications, restraints and the unpleasant nature of some of his work, while never losing sight of the diversity and humanity of the people he helped over the years, their individual strengths and personalities, the way they kept fighting to claim those personalities back even after multiple admissions. The reader comes to care about some of the patients as much as O'Donnell clearly did, laughing at their more outrageous moments and sighing over their unhappiest ones. By turns moving, jovial, informative, funny, angry and earthy, this is a book I'll be heartily recommending to anyone with an interest in medical care and mental health, as well as those who fancy reading a mental-illness memoir told from the OTHER side, the side of a care provider rather than the patient. In fact, if I were a braver soul I'd be recommending it to EVERYONE - because the more books like this people read, the more they understand what mental illness means, the less stigma there will be towards the people battling their demons on a daily basis. That can only ever be a good thing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars sign of the times, 10 Feb 2013
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its really a sign of the times when dennis describes smoking at the nurses station , i remember those days . its a very good insight into the past in a locked ward , but thats what it is ,the past. i fear for someone not "in the trade" reading this book and imagining its like that nowadays. its very much historical anecdote and as that was very entertaining to read having some knowledge of the content.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gold star, 3 Feb 2012
As a former teacher, Dennis deserves 10 out of 10 and a gold star for his book. As they say 'I laughed, I cried (almost)' but I was moved by the plight and the suffering of poor, sad, ordinary people who were often the victims of others. This book gives an amazing and often frightening insight into what can go on in such a ward. It is also educational giving the reader information and advice otherwise not generally available. Dennis's warmth, humanity and humour shine through even the grimmest events. Well done, that man.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible account of life inside a psychiatric ward, 31 Jan 2012
A friend who told me The Locked Ward was the best book they had read in years recommended this to me. I was sceptical at first, as I previously had no particular awareness or interest in psychiatric care or mental health issues and thought that it would be a book for those in the profession.

I quickly found that inside knowledge was not necessary and that it was actually a compassionate but very humorous read about folk; those who care and those who are cared for, some who are mad and some less so. The author provides insightful accounts of patients and their treatments as well as detailing some of their relationships with the nursing staff, making you realise that the kind of care that the author and his colleagues provide is very special indeed.

The book does take you through all the emotions. You do laugh, very hard at places, but you are most definitely not laughing at or conspiring against the patients. You may also shed a tear in sadness or anger, but the author does attempt to explain why the patients are how they are and intersperses the anecdotes with explanations of the different illnesses and psychoses which helps to provide a context to the patients' stories.

At the end of the memoir, I felt the common satisfaction derived from a thoroughly enjoyable read but also, and without trying to make it sound like a textbook, educated. Educated in the sense that it helped me overcome my own ignorance and in some cases prejudices about mental illness.

Although, I am sure this book will be pigeon holed in the health and/or biography sections of bookshops and Amazon, it is much more than that. I am now in agreement with my friend and can safely say this is the best book I've read in years.

I am eagerly anticipating a follow up by Dennis O'Donnell and surely a memoir of his teaching career is the obvious follow up.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Locked Ward, 27 Jan 2012
A brilliant read.
Dennis O'Donnell gives a real insight into the day to day life of a psychiatric care nurse.
Funny, hard hitting and educational this book had me hooked from the first page to the last.
Highly recommended to all. Let's hope the author has lots more of his written work lined up for print!!!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Window on another world, 6 Mar 2012
When a friend says to you that you must read this book and you find out it's about life in a psychiatric ward, you might be a bit put off but don't be. O'Donnell's book is a window into another world. Many of us will have passed psychiatric hospitals with a shiver and wondered what it must be like, well now we know. Books take us out of ourselves and often allow us to experience other people and places, sometimes places we baulk at: the trenches in WW1 as in Sebastian Faulkes 'Birdsong' or inside the mind of a rapist in Irvine Welsh's 'Marabou Stork Nightmares'. In this book we find out about O'Donnell's experiences as an orderly in a locked ward. The book is not what you might expect. It is tender and funny, frightening and shocking but most importantly O'Donnell writes with compassion and empathy and never lets us forget that the people in the hospital are you and me.....not 'them'.
O'Donnell is not medically trained so although explains enough medical terminology for us to understand, it is in layman's language and not intrusive.
There have been many 'memoirs' in recent years but none from a psychiatric hospital. Perhaps because of issues of confidentiality....these are real people in real situations. I think that O'Donnell gets round this admirably. He cites cases and gives names and personalities but of course none of them are identifiable as real people....they are made from his experiences, fictions if you like. I usually read novels and so I am used to that. I cried with these people and laughed too. I thanked my lucky stars I have not needed to be in a locked ward but I also felt comfort in the fact that should it happen, and it can happen to any one of us, I would be looked after by the likes of the author and the medical staff he writes about. They are not perfect, of course, but they care about their patients as people.
Read it. You'll laugh and cry and reflect.
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The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly by Dennis O'Donnell (Paperback - 3 Jan 2013)
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