Paringa Problems

Open Letter to Mary Cuevas, Nurse Unit Manager, Paringa Unit, Cumberland Hospital.

Dear Madam,

As a result of a clearly fictional parable I wrote, full of hyperbole, I was arrested by the NSW Police and sent to Paringa for "psychiatric evaluation". My stay was effectively from 2012-06-30 to 2012-07-05. It's pretty clear Australia needs a bill of rights to protect freedom of speech, as this is not the first time they police have been involved in freedom of speech issues.

Regardless, here is what happened during my stay.

First of all I would like to recommend Maria for "employee of the millenium" or whatever. While all staff were generally polite and helpful, Maria in particular has such a beautiful personality. Even when obnoxious nicotine addicts were taking out their frustration on her, she managed to maintain her pleasant personality. If it were me, I would have just sent them to lock-up. I don't know her surname, but she's certainly Asian, and I think Filipino based on her accent. She knows who she is, as I told her I would be writing to you. So that's the good news out of the way. Now time for the bad news.

On 2012-07-01, one of the patients, who didn't seem to speak English, seemed to be requesting my assistance for dealing with the staff. It seemed pretty clear he needed a translator, and there is a prominent board containing all the different languages that a free translator is available for. So I just took him over to the board so that he could pick out his language. It is not good that the phone number given to ring is an 02 number instead of 1800, so that it is not free to ring. But far worse than that was the fact that the number is actually wrong! That number - +61 2 9840 3456 - has an answering machine that says, very quickly, in English - "the number has changed to +61 2 9912 3800". The first time I rang, I wasn't ready for it, and had no ability to write down the number. So I had to give up. I wasted 50c on a phone call. I didn't have any more coins for the phone either. By 2012-07-03 I had obtained writing material and more 50c coins. It took two attempts (ie cost another $1) but I eventually got the new number. I tried ringing the new number, and was able to get an English-speaking operator who was willing to page out for any language I wanted. So that much at least worked. I don't know how a non-English-speaking person is meant to cope though. It almost looks like a government scam designed to rip off the non-English-speaking people. Because a number is advertised that a non-English-speaker has no chance of succeeding with. So the government doesn't need to provide the actual service, it just needs a "sucker number". I thought this was a terrible state of affairs, and reported the problem to about 3 different staff members, none of whom was willing to ring up the number, get the correct number, and then put a sticker over the old number, containing the new number. As of 2012-07-09 the old number was STILL there, STILL waiting to rip off the non-English-speakers. Note that I stopped trying to help the Iranian guy, because the nurses dobbed me in for "interfering with the treatment of another patient", just because I used my own money to help someone speak in their own language. They make it sound like I was stealing his medication or something?! Pretty weird.

Anyway, now on to the big issue - smoking. I believe the root cause of this problem is an accident. The NSW government has made two independent, reasonable (in their own right) policies:

1. Hospitals should be smoke-free. If anyone wants to smoke, they should do it outside.
2. Mental patients need protection while waiting for evaluation to be completed. They should not be allowed to leave the hospital, which could lead them to harming themselves or others.

This has created a deadly embrace. Mentally ill patients who happen to be nicotine addicts, are suddenly, and the sole group in all of Australia, put into a government-run "cold turkey for smokers" institution. While I really really really detest smoking, I think a government-run cold-turkey program is probably a bit too draconian. And regardless, if a draconian anti-smoking campaign is to be done, the mentally ill should not be the guinea pigs.

Legislation like this should not actually be able to be passed. It should be deemed unconstitutional because we should have a Bill of Rights that guarantees that citizens won't be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, or that people who are addicted to a legal substance will not be prevented from obtaining that substance while ever the substance itself remains legal.

I am very sensitive to cigarette smoke, so you can't imagine how happy I would be to eradicate it from the face of the earth. But when I look into the eyes of a nicotine addict sufferer, and see that suffering, I recognize that there is a higher right than Australian law. There is a basic human right for a smoker to be able to smoke. In recogntion of that fundamental human right, I have already requested that Turkey lead a military invasion of Australia to give us a bill of rights. Basically I want to see air strikes on Sydney and I am willing to bear any once-off cost (e.g. 1 million dead in collateral damage) in order to ensure that Australia is put onto the right path - institutionally.


I realise that you are just enforcing the rule of law, and that is a very good and noble thing to be doing. It is the fundamental acceptance of the rule of law (changeable by the democratic process) that allows our efficient, productive and fair societies.

However, it is also possible to be over-pedantic. There are laws against jaywalking too, and for good reason - we don't want people to interfere with the flow of traffic. However, in NSW, I don't think you will ever be charged with jaywalking so long as you do it responsibly. In other places (like Germany), you will be charged, even in the absence of any actual traffic. So that's how Australia really runs. The SPIRIT of the rule of law. The only time I have ever seen an Australian sporting team being booed by Australians was after they WON a game of cricket by following the LETTER of the rules, but not the SPIRIT of the rules. (underarm bowling against New Zealand).

In the SPIRIT of the law, you could choose to do what the Hainsworth unit does, and allow smoking in the open area inside the hospital grounds. It could be done at fixed times so that the smokers don't make the grounds permanently inaccessible to senstive non-smokers. Perhaps that would also help smokers understand how they are harming others, not just themselves.

Also note that the smoking ban doesn't stop smoking. It just sends it underground, and the toilets contain the smell of smoke, and due to the inherently discourteous nature of smokers, they even leave ashes behind - in the sink and on the toilet seat.

I realise that you have a duty to do what your boss requests, including implied requests/expectations, but I would have thought that your boss probably doesn't really care, until such time as someone makes an actual complaint to him, and then explicitly asks you to enforce the letter of the law.

Also note that according to Mark Fallon, the only nicotine replacement that actually works is the inhaler, which is the one thing that is not available to patients. Can I suggest you make that available? Note that my own experience in talking to people is that all of the things can work, but for some people, none of them work.

Note that I would write to the government requesting them to change the law, but I have zero confidence they will listen to me (they never have in past requests), and I have no confidence in our democratic process, which is why I have simply rung up the Turkish military and requested them to take matters into their own hands. I don't have any confidence they will listen to me either, but I just want to be able to demonstrate that in my opinion there are higher things than Australian law. Democratic governments have been known to implement laws to gas Jews and make it illegal to harbour Jews. Those are fundamentally wrong too.

Note that I am sending this letter to you not because I expect you to actually listen to me and change your mind. No, humans are far too stubborn to do that, so there's only a 1% chance of that happening. No, I am sending this because it is a kick-arse parable, explaining that there are more important things than laws (e.g. I'm a big supporter of the 2003 Iraq war, and don't need UN approval), and demonstrating that I fairly apply principles, even for things that I personally dislike. And also because I'm in love with Maria. :-) And perhaps my previous policy of genocide of smokers is not real either, but also demonstrates a point regarding the harm these people do (to others - I don't care what they do to themselves).

Yours faithfully,
Paul Edwards.

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