L has now been an inpatient for six weeks. She has spent 42 nights in a hospital bed, eaten 126 meals and 140 snacks. She has gained 5kg and her BMI is now 16.9. I have driven around 400 miles in visits to see her. I know every inch of the route, the bill board advertisements and the speed cameras. We have a set routine now. Her father visits in the afternoon and I go in the evening. We sit in one of the meeting rooms on hard chairs and talk about our days. L tells me about her meals, new residents, what she thinks of the staff and speculates about the various conditions of the non-ED patients. I chat about work, what K and J are up to, how our cats are and I sometimes take my iPad so she can help me choose clothes in online shopping. L knits and she shows me her latest project. Sometimes we play games.
The last year has been a whirl of emotions, of despair, anxiety, confusion and depression, but also hope and joy. And all the time, love for L keeps me going. But now I am bored, weary and sick of anorexia. I have had enough of ringing a doorbell and waiting for a nurse to open the door to allow me to spend some time with my daughter. I feel claustrophobic on her behalf in the small world she now inhabits. The other day we went for one of her allotted 20 minute walks around the site. Apart from her unit, it is a university site for health and social care and there is a museum of mental health. Yes, really. Apparently there is a padded cell inside. We walk around and come to a gate. L stops and says she wonders what would happen if she went outside the gate, to the road, just to look at the world outside.
In that world outside, L’s friends carry on their lives. Young women fall in and out of love, spend weekends hanging around the mall, chatting and laughing loudly, trying on clothes and taking pictures on their phones. They spend hours in lessons, rolling their eyes and looking bored or studying furiously for their next exams. They read magazines and pore over the problems of celebrities. For anyone wondering about what life in a treatment centre is like, it is tough, it is hard work, but it can also be dull and interminable. If there is anyone left who thinks being an inpatient for anorexia has a glamorous cachet, they are so, so wrong. It is as far from glamour as a muddy puddle is from the Indian Ocean.
I want her back at home. She has a cold at present and she is miserable and ill. She wants to be tucked up in her bedroom, which has been newly decorated and is waiting for her. In my head I know that when it was finished, I would really find it hard not to want her back desperately. But it is such a long way off. I have even thought of discharging her, but I know that would be a mistake. She is partly theirs now, she would be anxious at leaving against their advice and we would probably end up back there. So, I just keep on visiting. Last week she had two meals at home (including the long awaited Moroccan Chicken) and she coped. This weekend it may be more. She is a patient, and I must be patient too