Sunday, January 21, 2007

Touching insanity, the conclusion

And now the conclusion to my hospital story from yesterday...

Not long after I overheard the conversation at the nurses' station, the nurses began issuing the medications to the patients for the evening. Still sobbing, I stood in a line waiting for the dispensary nurse to give me two paper cups. One with my pills and one with water. By the way they were the exact same pills I brought with me from home. Here I am, locked away, theoretically protected from myself, all so that I can have a safe place to be while they tweak my meds. I had been there about 6 hours, and was still on the same meds. It didn't occur to anyone to ask me if I would need a sleeping pill, and in my near catatonic state, it didn't occur to me to request it.

At lights out, I found myself in a little twin bed, in a room by myself, with about 4 other empty beds. Bars, placed on the inside, protected the small window which afforded a cheery view of a gray cinder block wall. Next to the door of the room (which I was told never to close), there was a one inch deep sink. So I guess drowning myself in the sink was out. My room had a single toilet, and I was intensely grateful for the full door that granted privacy to its user. Apparently, we were trusted not to drown ourselves in the toilet water. I guess even suicidal patients have their standards after all. We weren't so lucky in terms of a mirror. Now, you know why mental patients always have fucked up hair do's. It can't be helped.

They did allow me to have my blankie. I had gotten the then-husband to resurrect my childhood blankie from storage and pack it with my pajamas and clothes. They did not, however, give me the books he packed for me. Now, I'm a fairly creative person, but I don't think even I could make paper cuts an effective method of suicide.

In the absence of sleeping pills, there was no sleep in sight. There were no clocks in my room, so I am not exactly sure how long I laid there listening to the silence. At some point, I must have finally fallen asleep because of what happened next.

Even sleep brought no peace or rest. My real life nightmare followed me into slumberland. In the dream, I was locked in the psych ward of a public hospital (OK, so in my dreams, I'm not that creative). I was in bed and a large male orderly walked toward me. He lunged at me, clawing at my blankets and pajamas; I was convinced that I was about to be raped. I can still feel his fingers around my throat. The next thing I remember is trying to scream. Suddenly, my screams became real and so loud that I woke myself up. I continued to scream, at the top of my lungs, until I realized it was just a dream. No one came to check on me. What I am guessing was about a half hour later, a man who looked surprisingly like the man in my dream peaked into my room shining a flashlight on my face. Petrified, sobbing, and shaking, I decided right then, that this had gone on long enough.

Just before the nurses changed shifts, a female technician came into my room with a male orderly to draw blood. She had the kindest face, but the pity she exuded for me was palpable. I did my best to look like a "regular" patient though. I even attempted some light banter with her in my efforts to appear normal. In the early morning hours, I had decided that the only way out was to feign normalcy and sanity. Hard to tell whether my mood really did swing up at that point or if this was me in crisis mode. Suddenly, I felt smarter than everyone else within a 30 mile radius. I was convinced that I could outsmart the doctor, if one showed up, and anyone else who got in my way. The crying was over.

There was no way I was going to spend another night there, so I started analyzing my options. First, I examined all of the eating utensils and decided that if need be, I could kill myself with a straw. And since no one seemed to need their plastic sporks (you need to be more than crazy to eat that food), I was collecting those as well. Then, I coerced a nurse to let me have a pencil. I did a quick inventory of the vital arteries that could be skewered with a pencil, and felt comforted by the potential of my new tool. While the other patients busied themselves with their attempts to kill themselves slowly with tobacco, I was making big plans.

Around noon, the 7 or so patients assembled in a small room for a group session. Excellent. This is not the place for people who resort to being caregivers in place of taking care of themselves. Group session was where I completed my transformation from crazy grad school patient to knowledgeable, compassionate, empathetic caregiver. When I can't deal with my own problems, I like to work on other people's. I think the nurses may have figured out my plan of conversion from that, because about a half hour later I was whisked into another locked office. A psychiatrist appeared. Before I even had a chance to tell him that I would be signing myself out and how I knew my rights, he was trying to convince me why I couldn't be released to the public at large. Not for one moment would he concede that I could leave voluntarily. I knew better. One thing I did manage to do in the night was read, and reread over and over again, the patient's rights statement given to me upon admission.

Next, they hauled in my husband to let him know I was trying to leave. He later confessed that the doctor tried to get him to convince me to stay. Little did they know, this guy was spineless and rarely contradicted me to my face. In the meantime, I tootled around ministering to the other patients like I worked there. I should mention that my husband had a meeting with the doctor for over an hour. I saw the doctor for a grand total of 5 minutes.

I finally walked through those locked doors in the late evening. I walked away and vowed never to return. It was over, for now.

I would like only to reiterate one fact, this is MY story. Each experience of hospitalization, for whatever reason, is unique. Perhaps if I had stayed, I would have eventually met with a good doctor for a meaningful period of time. I will never know. What I do know is that I would have found a way to escape, whether they released me or not.

14 comments:

Not so little sister said...

Again, thanks for sharing your story. I think it's incredibly brave to write about such a time in your life. I hope you are beginning to feel better. I only wish I could actually hang out with you for a day to help take your mind off things. Anyway, virtual hugs as always!

Ol' Lady said...

well at least you got out of there quickly, it doesn't sound like there was much help for you at that place. when I was young my parents put me in the 'nut house' several times and I was diagnosed with having bipolar...what happened in there was not nice...I can remember most of it...
let it go girl, or it will eat you up for many years...it ain't worth it :)

Aurelia said...

Aren't spineless husbands useless? Although in this case, I guess he was useful for something...like not standing in your way.
Interesting bit about the orderly. I have a huge problem with male hospital staff being within a mile of female patients in any circumstances, but especially if they are in a vulnerable state, either physical or mental.
I still don't know what the solution is because there will always need to be the option of hospitals for some patients, but how on earth do we protect them properly, and still give them some privacy and dignity?
Thanks for telling this story Nicole and I'm glad you seem to be a little better.

Barbara said...

What do you think should have happened there. What would have been the best possible outcome?
They obviously failed you, are there other options available?

Dino aka Katy said...

well even if hard to believe it does sound like the experience helped you. Not in the way it was intended but it seems it made you stronger.

jodi said...

I am so sorry you had to go through all that, alone. I do not count ass face as a person so hence the alone, it is a miracle he showed at all. If I had known I would have been there in a minute and I hope you know that. This story validates everything I have heard about this type of hospitalization and I will keep this courageous story with me in case I ever need it. I wonder if ass face shared all his mental problems with the doctor during that hour he was there, perhaps he could have helped him.

jodi said...

P.S.
are you still checking your email too?

Renee said...

I have to say that your story adds to my very long list of why I don't trust doctors much. I'm not understanding how locking you up was supposed to be helpful for you.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

WOW! What an upsetting story! Thanks for sharing it, it was brave. I have a sort of smilar story that I might share if I can screw up my courage.

The details differ somewhat, as do the circumstances, so I may write it as FICTION (all new names and places) so as not to make myself vulnerable to goo! glers.

I hope things are looking up for you.

Sara said...

Wow! I can definitely see why you are leery of hospitalization... not one person made any attempt to help you. You would think if a person's situation is dire enough to require hospitalization that they should have the expectation of actually receiving treatment. Nothing you describe qualifies as treatment. I'm so sorry you had to go through that, and glad you had the presence of mind to get yourself free of that place.

Ol' Lady said...

hey! Nicole! Where are you? it's Tuesday...haven't heard from you since Sunday...
Are you alright??? need to talk???
email me if you want to talk. please come back I miss you :)

Jon said...

What a powerful story, it makes me appreciate the healthy times. Thanks for sharing that.

Dino aka Katy said...

hey you haven't posted in a few days - is everything okay?

TInk said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences! Sorry to hear that you had a not-so-pleasant time there but do want to mention that although I may be 'sane'... sometimes I feel a bit odd and insane. The insane ones probably feel completely fine. For you to admit that there's something different within yourself for your standards goes leaps and bounds over the fact that "doctors" may view you as insane. (not the word they may use... but I'm sure it's how they act that speaks the truth).

Did any of that make sense? Good God, I hope so... if not, maybe I should be evaluated. :D Just kidding sweetie!