I had visited Prince Charles Hospital in Chermside as a medical student and later worked there as a paediatric registrar on placement from the Royal Children’s Hospital back in 1986. My responsibility was to look after babies, infants and children recovering from and preparing for open heart surgery, which was performed by adult cardiac surgeons, there not being any dedicated paediatric cardiac surgeons in Brisbane at the time. It was very demanding work, and as the only “paed”, much responsibility was placed on my 25-year-old shoulders. My reward was that I was treated with respect by the staff. It was very different when, on 7 June 1995, I was admitted as an involuntary patient to the Winston Noble Unit, the hospital’s psychiatry unit.
I was referred to the hospital by Brett Emmerson, then Director of Mental Health at the Logan Hospital. Emmerson is currently Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and the Metro North Addiction and Mental Health Services. He was previously the Chief Psychiatrist of Queensland, and before that the Director of Psychiatry at the PA Hospital (where his father, Bryan, had been a medical professor when Brett and I studied at the University of Queensland).
Brett and I go back a long way. It is he who drove my family from the Brisbane airport to the house of his parents, Bryan and Elva, in January 1976, when Bryan had supported my father’s application as a consultant physician at the Princess Alexandra (PA) hospital. Brett was then 18 and about to enter the medical course at Queensland Uni. His younger brother Stephen, who was a talented musician was friendly to me, more so than Brett.
I saw Brett occasionally when we were at Uni and spoke to him when I did, and when my father brought him to my parents’ house to certify me as insane on a Sunday night in June 1995 I greeted him amicably and extended my hand:
“It’s good to see an old friend”
“Let’s get this clear – I did not come here as a friend”, he replied, refusing my handshake.
“Oh”, I said, “I see”.
I then debated with Brett for 3 hours, while he became more and more irate. I criticised the psychiatry disease model and challenged his knowledge of the criteria for a diagnosis of mania, which he was accusing me of having. He was very defensive about his profession, as I expected him to be, but didn’t care about. I also tried explaining to him my theories about the pineal, the mysterious gland in the brain that secretes melatonin (which he knew nothing about). I had read that the pineal may function as a magneto-sensory organ (a theory popularised by Robert Becker in the 1980s) and told him about this, as well as my theories on the causation of autism and schizophrenia. In his intake referral form Emmerson claimed that I had “delusional beliefs about the pineal and the causation of schizophrenia and autism”. Meanwhile my father sat silently in the next room recording the debate on a dictophone. I enjoyed the debate, Brett didn’t.
After 3 hours of increasingly heated debate, Brett told me that he was certifying me and that I would have to go into hospital. At this stage I rang one of my friends, who was a doctor I was staying with after coming back to Brisbane following my escape from Melbourne’s Royal Park Hospital. At this stage I didn’t understand the role my father had played in the Melbourne incarceration, and had come to Brisbane seeking my parents’ support for my sanity. I was allowed to go home with my friends, but the order had been made by Emmerson and my father, and the police picked me up the next day when I refused to go to the hospital.
I was then locked up for 6 weeks at the Prince Charles Hospital. Emmerson did not visit me nor did my father, and nobody asked me about my theories about the pineal, schizophrenia and autism, which I would have been happy to discuss, and were the supposed subject of my ‘delusions’. Instead, I was drugged with antipsychotic drugs, first by mouth and then by injection, under the authority of Dr John Bowles and his registrar Philip Bird. The diagnosis they made was one of “paranoid psychosis”, having been unable to confirm Emmerson’s claim that I had mania by direct observations of my behaviour (I slept, ate and talked normally in their estimate and did not have an elevated mood). I was said to be “paranoid” that my father wanted me locked up for his and not my interests and had conspired with other family members against me to get me certified and vilified.
My weeks at Prince Charles Hospital were very traumatic, especially the first 3 weeks when I was held in the locked ward and forced to take oral haloperidol syrup. The consultant John Bowles was rude and dismissive and told me that I would be treated “the same as the other patients” and that he was not interested in discussing my theories with me.
Consequently, the report written by John Bowles to the Patient Review Tribunal (PRT, the Queensland equivalent of the MHRB in Victoria) does not mention my theories on schizophrenia, autism, the pineal and other scientific matters that Brett Emmerson had claimed were ‘delusions” and evidence of mania. Instead, he wrote, on 18 July 1995:
“Romesh (R.S.) was sent to T.P.C.H. after regulation 21(1) by Dr B. Emmerson because as a doctor who had previously worked in S.E.Qld Romesh was known in other hospitals. [I had, in fact, worked at the Prince Charles Hospital, too]. He believes the 21(1) order was ill founded and illegal and has sought legal opinion to contest his admission as an involuntary patient. Dr Emmerson had in fact spent an extensive period of time making an evaluation on both direct and co-lateral evidence and sought admission and treatment for R.S. on the basis of a psychotic illness.
“In brief R.S. claims that many and several opinions of doctors both here and in Victoria are incorrect, biased by misinformation from R.S.’ family (mother, father, sister and wife) and as such he is/was the victim of an elaborate and extensive conspiracy to denigrate and incarcerate him. He proclaims that the primary adversary is his father who is intolerant of R.S’ preferred lifestyle, philosophy, attitude toward conventional medicine and intellectual independence. R.S. then contends that Dr Senewiratne (snr) has had inordinate influence over those psychiatrists and others who have been put in a position to make judgements and decisions about R.S. his ideas, behaviour and reactions to the circumstances that surround him.”
In this three-paged report Bowles wrote that he was not able to confirm the previous diagnosis of hypomania, but he believed there was “sufficient evidence of a paranoid psychosis” on the basis of:
- Manifest paranoia – his insistent belief that he was a victim of contrived persecution from multiple sources.
- An unrealistic appraisal of his present circumstances especially in view of his deregistration [I had not been deregistered] and prospects of re-instatement as a medical practitioner.
- A persistent drive for litigation against those who sought to help him but opposed his point of view.
- A propensity to misinterpret information in his own end and distort information given to various people.
- His insistence that he had a special means of idiosyncratic communication with his daughter in Victoria. This was of a such a degree that it alarmed his mother as being bizarre and incomprehensible. (She may report this independently to the Tribunal).
Interestingly, given subsequent events, Bowles did not mention the key role of Robert Purssey in spreading rumours about me and getting me locked up. This may be because Robert’s father, Brian Purssey, was the Director of the Greenslopes Repatriation (Veteran’s) Hospital in Brisbane and known to him. Later Robert Purssey moved up from Melbourne with my sister and was employed by the Prince Charles Hospital as a psychiatry registrar under John Bowles himself. A curious omission indeed.
The truth is that I believed, with good reason, that my family were persecuting me and conspiring against me in order to get me locked up. They were maintaining that I was psychotic and had “mania”, as is evidenced by the numerous letters they wrote behind my back, with requests that the letters not be disclosed to me (they weren’t at first but were some were later under FOI). Bowles himself confirmed that this was a misdiagnosis and that despite observing me for six weeks I did not show evidence of mania (an elevated, expansive or irritable mood, reduced need for sleep, grandiosity, flight of ideas and other such symptoms). Yet this was the diagnosis made by Brett Emmerson when I was admitted to the hospital and by Robert Purssey and my father in their letters to the psychiatrists. It was also the provisional diagnosis made before I was admitted to the Royal Park Hospital, but downgraded to a non-psychotic “hypomania” diagnosis in the discharge summary. I was justified in refusing treatment for “hypomania”, and the justification comes from no less an authority that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that stated in its then current DSM IV that hypomania is not associated with psychosis, that it does not require hospitalisation or drug treatment and can, in some individuals lead to an increase in accomplishments, creativity and efficiency.
The reference to an “special means of idiosyncratic communication” with my daughter stems from my mother telling John Bowles that I said I could sense that my daughter was being hit by her mother. This was understandable concern and I rang my sister as asked her if Ruby was being hit. “I don’t think she’s hit enough”, was her cruel response. It made me very worried about her, but I did not say that I had a “special means of idiosyncratic communication” with her.
While I was in Prince Charles I made many friends, including Mark, who had been locked up for mania, too. Mark actually had gone mad, after ingesting large quantities of amphetamine and developing delusions about X and Y chromosomes. He thought if he swallowed extra Y chromosomes in the form of semen he could become a superman. He also convinced one of his friends to do the same, but when he went to Mt Cootha, where the TV stations are located and demanded to be put on air, he was arrested and subsequently certified into the Winston Noble Unit. I explained to Mark the scientific facts about X and Y chromosomes and why his theory was delusional, and he accepted what I said. It confirmed my view that delusions can be cured with reasonable, fact-based debate.
Due to the drugs I found it hard to write, but I persevered and wrote several essays on my developing health model for the neurosciences, which I showed to Mark’s mother Kay, who was a teacher. She said. “You’re just a New Age philosopher, I don’t know what you are doing here.” Kay then offered for me to stay, rent free, at a house she owned, allowing for me to be discharged from Prince Charles Hospital, an act of kindness to a stranger that I will be eternally grateful for.
I stayed in this house for a month, during which time I wrote many poems and did line drawings of my experience as a catharsis. I was very lonely, and didn’t have access to the phone or a car. I had written to the State Trustees asking that my car be sent up to me from Melbourne but the State Trustee Peter Sier wrote back that after paying the lawyers and accountant there were “insufficient funds” to do so. He also said that my practice company, studio and Groove-On Records had been closed and my house was to be put up for sale, and that he had consented for my ex-wife Susan to have custody of our daughter, Ruby. I was furious, but unable to do anything about it other than write poems and draw. I didn’t have access to a guitar, and anyway I was too Parkinsonian to play.
In August 1995 I was allowed by Bowles to return to Melbourne on the proviso that I agree to see Norman James at the Royal Park Hospital on my return. My mother insisted on coming with me, first to Melbourne and then to see Norman James. It was very stressful with Sue, who had been informed by phone, during her holiday in Spain with Ruby and my mother, that I had gone mad and needed to “go” into hospital.” I didn’t need to go there”, I tried to explain,” I was taken there by force by the police”, but Sue wasn’t interested. She thought that this was the new me. I had been transformed from a kind, jolly, considerate husband to an angry madman who sat there and stared without moving. She didn’t understand that my anger was justified and I sat there immobile because I was still partially paralysed from the flupenthixol injections. She told my mother, “I can’t have him here. He’ll have to leave”. I went and stayed a night with Michael Butera in St Kilda and the next day I rented a house at 4 Eastgate Street, Oakleigh, where I slowly recovered from my ordeal.
After she helped me escape, Sara was questioned by the police. She was stressed by this and went overseas to Europe, visiting relatives in Italy and Spain. In October 1995 she returned to Melbourne and found that I was well, living alone in Oakleigh and preparing my first book “Alpha State : A State of Mind for the New Age” for publication. This book was a collection of my writings while I was locked up, which my mother agreed to pay for the typing of. With a single typed copy of the manuscript I contacted Channel 7’s Today Tonight program. They asked me for an interview, which was recorded in my house at Oakleigh, but never went to air. I also gave a radio interview for the PBS station which was aired in October 1995. Robert recorded this interview and sent it to Bill Robinson in support of his allegation that I had mania and needed treatment.
I spent a lot of time with Sara during the months that followed and she was at my house when the CAT team from Monash appeared on my doorstep with police on the night of 29 February the next year (1996).