“Got Fish In A Dry Drain ?” “You Must Be Mad”

  1. Singapore Woodbridge Hospital
  • Woodbridge Mental Hospital - Now Known As Institute of Mental Health

" Got Fish In A Dry Drain ?” “You Must Be Mad “ – An  Incident During My First Visit To See A Friend in  Woodbridge Mental Hospital (Now Known As Institute Of Mental Health)


24th May is World Schizophrenia Day. I am reminded of a  incident I encountered in 1975, when visiting a friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was  warded for observation  in Woodbridge Mental  Hospital. I will come to that a little later. First, a little about schizophrenia :

-A Little About Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia ? . It is a long-mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behavior. It leads to a faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings. The patient withdraws from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion and a sense of mental fragmentation.

As I understand it , schizophrenia is diagnosed through observation of the patient’s behavior, performance in school or at work, reaction etc. Unlike physical symptoms  for example, a fever, which can definitely and with certainty be confirmed by taking a patient’s . with a thermometer. The accuracy of the the patient’s diagnosis depends on the experience of the psychiatrist and the severity of the patient’s condition. Some time there could be disagreements between psychiatrists on the mental condition of a patient


-The Incident

Woodbridge Mental Hospital at that time comprised two main wards.. One, was referred to as the Open Ward, in which the patients were free to walk in and out of the ward. They were only not allowed to leave the hospital grounds. This ward was for the less serious and non-violent patients, They were also not expected  to escape/abscond from the hospital. The other ward was the “Closed/Gated Ward for the patients who were in more serious conditions and could turn violent. They were also considered to be likely to escape/abscond from the hospital.

Visiting Woodbridge for the first time, I really did not know what to expect. Walking along the corridor leading to the Open Ward, I saw a patient sitting next to a dry drain with a  make-do fishing rod and line. He was so intensely absorbed in his “fishing activity “.  A hospital staff who was walking with me commented that the subject patient was a long term resident. This meant he was a “confirmed “ mental patient. Somehow I could not control myself from asking “the fisherman” – “Excuse me, any fish ?”. The guy turned around and gave me a disgusted and  dismissive look and said “ Where got fish in a dry drain, You must be mad“。 His statement knocked me off my socks . To be told by a “mad man” that I was mad, really hit me. I really did not how to respond. I did not know whether to be angry with his retort or be tickled by his rather comical reply. On second thought I was wrong to have been cheeky with my question and I deserved a cheeky answer in reply.

I decided to walk on to look for my friend in the Open Ward


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