Misc //

Five Weeks at SDU

Alexandros Tsathas did five weeks placement between the nursing home and the morgue.

Alexandros Tsathas did five weeks placement between the nursing home and the morgue.

SDU is a ward in a Sydney hospital. It is a kind of halfway house; its patients are too healthy to stay in hospital but too sick to return home. They are all awaiting nursing home placement, but nursing home spots aren’t easy to come by. There’s really only one way they become “available”. So there’s SDU in the meantime.

Surfaces in SDU are smooth and shiny and lack the bumps and grinds of heavy use that might otherwise dampen acoustic resonance. Every rickety walking frame creak and scream (of laughter) from the common room can be heard from the other end of the oval-shaped ward.

The only quiet time in SDU is nap time which, tastefully, lasts from two to four.I just spent five weeks there.

Meet the real people of SDU:


Myrtle shared in Conversation Club, a discussion group held weekly, that she dealt with telemarketers by blowing a postman’s whistle into the phone.


A common complaint in SDU was how difficult juice tubs were to open. Earl complained with some degree of authority. He was an engineer and had spent his life formulating resins for aluminium packaging. He made blister packs, coloured aluminium cans and foil BBQ trays possible. Earl founded the scuba-diving club at Ireland’s oldest university. Weekly meetings were held in the Jameson master distiller’s room.

At shift changeover, one of the outgoing nurses explained that Earl was “alert and orientated”. Earl, who still had all his marbles, convincingly stared off into the distance and worryingly began shouting “Where am I? Who’s this strange man? Where’s my wife?”. He was not popular that afternoon.


A set of blue non-slip socks is issued to all patients on their first day. Ethel’s got lost somehow. Ever-so pleasant but a little bit demented, Ethel believed the socks that everybody else wore were her own. She would tentatively approach staff, frown, look over the top of her enormous, googly glasses and whisper “I’m not saying they’re stolen, I’m just saying I had a pair exactly like those.”

Mr. Baha

SDU represented limbo for all its patients, but none of them knew limbo like Mr. Baha. He was an illegal immigrant who had suffered a stroke on Australian soil. He had no family in Australia and no nursing home would take him. He had spent over 600 days in SDU.

Mr. Baha’s manners needed work, which we’ll put down to his stroke. On one occasion, he interrupted a doctor working on a computer to remind him that he was losing his hair. He also had an unfortunate tendency to spit on the floor, which almost caused a fisticuff with George (see George below).


Like every other patient, Loretta wanted to be home. She approached hospital staff and assured them that they would be “taken care of” by her son who was “quite well-off” if they helped her escape.


Joan held deep-seated resentment for the British Government. A budding young gymnast before the war, her promising career was cut short when the local scout hall was repurposed for military use. She made sure everybody knew this.

Joan took an unambiguous disliking to your correspondent: “I don’t like you”.


Born in Lebanon, George spent many years working in Sierra Leone before coming to Australia. He told wild stories in broken English about killing snakes and buying precious stones, with a lewd exploit always thrown in for good measure.

George’s credibility was uncomfortably bolstered by the impressive ring he paraded.

One lunchtime, Mr. Baha hocked a voluminous loogie in full view of everybody in the common room. Earl, ever the scholar, reasoned that this habit was probably socially acceptable from where Mr. Baha came. George wasn’t as generous and gruffly told Mr. Baha to clean up his mess.

Mr. Baha had been on bad terms with George long before my arrival and responded by telling him to shut up. George then arose from his chair and made for Mr. Baha, holding his walking stick mid-shaft à la bludgeon.It was only very quick thinking on behalf of the therapy-dog volunteer that stopped George from laying into Mr. Baha. She positioned herself between the would-be assailants, raised her hands and firmly told George “that was enough”. A trilingual exchange of profanities continued for some minutes.

George was misunderstood. A rough diamond, if you will.

The patients of SDU possessed immense character and wit. I am richer for having shared five weeks with them.