The Toilet

(chapter from “Madness” by Kalin Terziiski © 2010 published by Ciela)

Translated by Christopher Buxton

“Dr Terziiski, so you’re nothing but a big waste of space!” Doctor G informed me and I knew from the pit of my stomach to my quivering legs that he was right.  I stood with my back propping up his office door and wanted to escape, but he was gazing on me with disapproval.

He’d summoned me to his office, as he often had recently, to make it clear to me how important it was to pay attention to the toilets. He talked of the patients’ quality of life and the fact that they spent most of their time in the toilet, seeking and smoking up fag-ends. And the toilets were pretty insalubrious places.  They weren’t filthy like public toilets, but they often clogged up and then turned into a swamp of shit. For the rest of the time they were just smelly, cold and uncomforting. It was from them that the horrible smell of the asylum wafted, which once smelt you never forgot.

The toilets stank of hundred year old fag-ends, watered with urine, preserved in jars in a witch’s cellar – granny evil – then taken out into the damp March sun to dry.  It smelled of drugs – most probably in the patients’ urine.  And also of poverty and horror; of ammonia and ubiquitous lime chloride; of sanitary towels and semen from schizophrenics.  Of Hell frozen over.

Doctor G made a point of toilets. And he was horribly, ominously right.  All the meaning of psychiatry was there. There God’s birds, the lunatics, crouched against the walls and smoked for hours and for years. If it was clean and humane there, they would have been pretty well OK. Naturally there were ideas to drive the patients out of the toilets and to create nooks for them in the foyer. There were televisions in the foyer.  But the nurses were there.  And they couldn’t put up with any patient just like that, hanging around the foyer in front of the televisions. And the patients hid themselves away in the toilets.  They sank ever deeper inside them.  The toilets smelled of patients and the patients smelled of toilets. There it was human.  There the poor sick people felt out of sight.  Down there with their brown fag-ends. Maybe they found sanctuary from the crazy images and hallucinatory voices that pursued them. What do I know?

I listened to the sermon on the toilets and didn’t take in a word. I pressed the door with my back and tried to get away, while nodding and saying “Yes, yes.” I was getting a panic attack.  My heart jumped on every fifth, even on every third beat. I worked out that this was called trigeminy in medical books and was very dangerous. From this I fell into an even greater panic.  I felt how I was going white like a whitewashed wall, and then how I was going as red as the same wall  after martyrs have been lined up against it and shot.. I felt like a martyr.  I said “Yes, yes.” and I pressed the handle and all of the door with my back. In the end I uttered a rather sharp “yes!” and opened the door quickly. I’d realised that my heart was stopping, I simply fancied dying outside not in the bloody office.  It was then Dr. G said

“You, Dr Terziiski, it turns out you’re nothing but a big waste of space!”

He said it, because I didn’t listen to his toilet lecture.  But I knew it. He was fundamentally correct.  But I was shaking.  At the beginning of our conversation he’d ordered me to gather the young doctors, orderlies from all over the hospital, ten people, to discuss the toilets. We had to attend him in the Acute Male Ward.

I rocked back and forth in front of the door of his office, then I fumbled in my pocket, took a xanax out of it and swallowed it.  I calmed down quickly as if by magic.  I felt warmth and love for the xanax, for its producers, for the whole world. That world which was outside Dr G’s office. It was horrible in the office.  Outside – no.


Half an hour later nurses Nachko and Maria could be seen in front of the Acute Male Ward toilet. They were smirking and looking inside. And there Dr G was delivering his sermon on toilets. It was magnificent. Ten young good looking male and female doctors were standing in a tight group, squeamishly avoiding contact with the walls.  The walls were covered with white crumbling plaster, spattered by years of urine and shit, soaked then dried, beyond hope; one occasionally lit up a cigarette; another whispered something in his neighbour’s ear; Doctor G stood in the middle of the group. He was stout, sturdy, forceful and mighty.  His spectacles stood like the brown frames of two windows that looked into the very guts of the room. He was talking in measured tones, reasoning.

“If you think that you’re going to stay in those lovely offices that I’ve made for you with so much money , ha-ha-ha – you’re kidding yourselves. The life of psychiatry flows through the toilets. We think that we’re doing something.  And that care is the be all and end all. Yes, yes.  Everyone can prescribe Chlorazin.  It’s the easiest thing in the world. Don’t smile at me so lovingly, Tinche.  Even I can prescribe Chlorazin.  It’s the simplest thing. You don’t imagine , that while you’re reading up on various Lacanian studies and different cognitive studies…and you’ve made it…Praise God, we read, we read and we’re still in the same shit…until a psychiatrist enters the toilets, he hasn’t achieved anything worthwhile. Look now at what’s important: is the floor clean!  Are the walls clean?? You, Tinche, would you stretch out against this wall?  You’re not going to lean on it.  You’re from Pleven. you don’t have such dirty walls there. And why don’t the patients want to stay in the foyer.  Haven’t we installed televisions for them there? How could they stay, when Nachko is stomping round there?  Where are you, Nacho, so you hear me? And while a tug like Nacho is stomping through the corridor and the foyer, of course the patients are going to settle in the toilet. Am I right, Tinche? You in your Tsarev Brod clinic, did you ever go into the toilets?  No, am I right? Eh now you’ll have the chance to spend some significant time here.  I’m telling you this in all seriousness.  I want you all to come in and look round the toilets every day. You’ll use the toilets, even.  That’s how you’ll learn where the patients go.  That’s how psychiatry works.  Within! Cheek by jowl with the sick!  Don’t come over all high and mighty. Aren’t I right Dr Terziiski?”

“Absolutely right!” I said. I was crushed by his righteousness.  I saw that I and the other doctors, we felt this horrifying truth.  And we wanted to let it slip past our ears. His judgement was overwhelmingly horrifyingly correct. That was why our strong young consciences tried to ignore it.  We had no intention of spending our joyous tender youth in the stinking toilets.  That’s why we thought about our comfortable clean offices, the bottles of whisky and cognac in their cupboards, the secret kisses between colleagues, the wise and puffed up, highly educated conversations. I sensed what a wonderful shitty self sacrifice awaited us.  And it terrified me.

“That’s right, that’s right” Dr G laughed ironically. “Everything passes by your ears. So what,.  I’m duty bound to direct your attention to this phenomenon.  Ha-ha-ha.  I’m duty bound to point your cognitive function to this phenomenon – the toilets! Hey…hey! Get your heads round this.  Because no-one’s here forever. Everyone’s shoes are pointing to the exit door. Well then, let’s get going and get to work!  And think on, hey! Let’s go!”

And Dr G took his exit in front of all the young doctors and proceeded in his white threadbare coat, with his enormous heavy spectacles, with his big fierce stomach, with his pruning shears with which he was going to favour yet another bush on his way through the park, before sinking into the submarine comfort of his fearsome office, full of icons.