“I’m fine,” She Lied: Part 8 – Guess I’m Doing Fine

I was awoken by a nurse yelling “breakfast! Green bands line up!’ which is something I would grow accustomed to hearing. That morning I learned that a green wristband meant patients could go outside for “courtyard break,” down to the cafeteria for meals, and to recreation. I had a yellow band – that meant I had to stay on the unit. I left my room and went into the big “gameroom,” where I first saw the rest of the crazies on the unit. People looked rough. I was given a hospital breakfast tray and sat at one of the tables. An older woman joined me, who had on a yellow and a red band. Note to self: find out what red bands mean.

A woman was brought in by Igor. When I was being admitted the night before, I saw her being wheeled in on a stretcher from an ambulance. And now she was on my unit. Nice. She walked around in socks with a knit shirt or tank top tied up as a makeshift bra under a jumper, but the shirt underneath was obviously visible. After a couple of days I asked her what was up with the shirt. She told me it was a trick she learned in prison. Ok then. She complained to anyone who would listen that she wanted to go to the VA for electric shock treatments and not the awful hospital we were in. I didn’t think it was so bad. She was constantly changing clothes – of the three outfits and prison bra she had. I loaned her a shirt to wear, thinking she needed another top. She thanked me and never wore it and brought it with her when she was released to the VA.

The patients lined up against the wall seemed to be from all walks of life, all races, varying levels of crazy. The woman next to me introduced herself, but now I can’t remember what it was. I do remember thinking it was young-sounding for her 65 years. The green bands went down to breakfast. My food was cold and I pushed it around on the tray. The older woman had a cane and when she finished her food she went to sit in what was clearly “her” chair. I brought my tray up to the nurse and was told soon my psychiatrist would be in to talk to me. I was given a bottle of shampoo/conditioner/bodywash and a towel and washcloth and went back to my room to wash my face. This was the first time I noticed the bathroom doors in our rooms were cut down with at least a foot of space from the top and the bottom, like some dressing room doors in department stores.

After breakfast, the green bands had “courtyard break,” which was really “smoke break.” Most of the patients smoked and came back smelling like smoke. It was nauseating. I noticed there was a woman who didn’t go down even though she had a green band and thought that was odd. We were told it was time for Morning Group, in which we sat in the gameroom and filled out a sheet that read”

Treatment Planning and Goals Group 

Name

Date

I am here for:

Emotional feeling word:

Physical feeling word:

Appetite:

Sleep pattern:

Medication compliance:

What would you like to accomplish today?

How can our staff assist you?

One positive quality about yourself:

Questions for staff:

Sweet American baby Jesus, would I have to fill this out everyday that I’m here? It would turn out that I would have to fill out the morning and evening versions everyday. The first morning was when I found out who everyone was and why – according to them – they were there.

I met my roommate. She was very young, maybe 19. She said she would be going home at noon and wasn’t completing the form, but was feeling fine. She told me the nurses watched everything patients did and that you wouldn’t be released until you were going to group meetings, being vocal in meetings, and eating at meal times. Interesting. Patients were called on to read their forms. This is when I gave everyone nicknames because it was something to do.

Wilhelm said he was there for anger and medication adjustment. He had crazy eyes, wore shirts that were entirely too big, and he was very tall. Probably 6’4″.

Lovely Rita Meter maid  was of hispanic decent and said she had depression and her question for staff was why there were different rules depending on who was working on our unit that day or night. I would learn that she asked that question at each of these Group sessions and attempted to get the tech on staff to argue with her. I noticed over the next couple of days that she was clearly the mom of the group.

Sabrina (the teenage witch) was maybe 20. She could not write or read. At least she said she couldn’t. Rita volunteered to write Sabrina’s answers and read them. Her answers were all run of the mill poor self-esteem issues, but I could see there was something underneath all that.

Doc Pomus filled out his sheet and turned it in, but refused to read it. He was in a wheelchair, unshaven, squirrely hair to his shoulders, random POW/MIA tshirt on. He constantly muttered things under his breath. Constantly. At times I could make out swear words.

Faerelly (her real name because – come on – I couldn’t make one up better than that) was a pretty girl, probably mid thirties. The second she said her name I thought she had to be an Arrested Development character like “Maeby (maybe) Funke.” Like, she “Fairly mentally ill.” I know I’m a horrible person, but there was little entertainment on the unit and it amused me. She was a sweet girl and went home on my second day there. I guess she was fairly ok.

Jem was an attractive openly gay 22 year-old. Sweet, tall, and kind. He was addicted to opioids and attempted suicide. It was not his first rodeo in treatment. At each Treatment Planning group he would say that he had a big heart for his positive quality about himself. I didn’t ask why he wasn’t on the drug addiction unit.

The tech collected all the forms and pencils. We were allowed golf pencils during those group meetings. I will never again write with a golf pencil. After three days, I hid a golf pencil in the seam of a composition notebook Scott brought me to journal in. We were told to journal, but were not given any writing instruments, so I guess they expected us to use the crayons on one of the tables. After that morning Group, it was snack time (just like preschool) and once again, everyone lined up (just like preschool). Patients went in, got a snack and juice or milk or coffee and went back to where they were sitting. I sat on a sofa by Jem and my roommate. After that, we were called for Group with the staff therapist. There were two of these sessions per day. In the morning we’d mainly talk about our feelings, but there was a buzzword the therapist would use to start the session that we were supposed to use to describe what we were dealing with. I was still getting a feel for the hospital and just introduced myself as Kerry – attempted suicide. I made a joke about usually looking much better than I did in the hospital, but I wasn’t allowed makeup or my usual hair products. People smiled. I made jokes because that’s how I had always dealt with stuff. During that Group, my psychiatrist came and pulled me out to meet with him. He asked what had happened. I told him how stupid it was and that I couldn’t handle day to day life anymore. He nodded and asked me a few more questions, changed my medications around a bit, then said he’d make sure I got a green band and that he’d see me the next day.

The med nurse called me for medication and I was glad to get a little Xanax because GOOD LORD, I was anxious and my brain wouldn’t stop. I went back to the sofa and everyone came out of the the Group room. Rita never went to Group. I learned that she was claustrophobic and that her oldest daughter had recently died. She cried when she talked about it. She and Sabrina came up to me and started telling me the rules of the unit (not Mean Girls style, just their version of matter-of-fact).

Unit 1 was for the most dangerous to others or self, 2 was adolescents, 3 was low functioning depression (or whatever), 4 was high functioning depression (or whatever – a few people said it was the suicide watch floor and that was why the bathroom doors were cut down and why they checked our rooms every 15 minutes at night). Unit 5 was drug rehab. Which brought me back to Jem – why was he on Unit 4. And Sabrina couldn’t read – why was she on Unit 4? Things didn’t exactly make sense.

Rita told me the rules. There were no pens allowed or anything that could potentially be used to harm ourselves or anyone else. No jewelry, despite the fact that Rita was allowed to keep her wedding band and I wasn’t or that Jem was allowed to keep his stud earrings and I wasn’t. I learned that the rules varied depending on who was in admitting when patients arrived. I forgot to mention in my previous post that I was strip searched and had blood taken when I arrived on the unit at 1am. Because that’s when I like doing my strip searching. Other rules were no tv until 4pm (except on weekends because -duh- football. Nothing with strings was allowed, as I said before. No haircare or bodywash stuff with alcohol (so no perfume either). No cell phones – so just in case, take it from me – carry your close friends and family’s phone numbers written on actual paper in your wallet. Books and notebooks were allowed, but none with spirals (because I guess you could take the spiral out, straighten it and strangle someone or yourself?). Sabrina was allowed a very nice set of markers her mother brought for her, but we weren’t allowed pens. The rules didn’t make sense. No flowers. No music or music players. No type of electronics. There was virtually nothing to do on the unit unless you played cards – I do not and I don’t care to learn. I was repeatedly told another patient would teach me, but no thanks. That also meant I’d have to talk to other people. Jem and Rita and I read and reread Good Housekeeping and HGTV magazines. Jem and I would take out the perfume samples and use them. There were a few puzzles with missing pieces (a nice comparison to some of the patients I met) and a coloring book. Not the very in adult coloring books with beautiful, intricate pages – I’m talking kiddie coloring book with puppies and kitties. By the second day I asked Scott to bring me a composition notebook, some cash for the vending machine downstairs, two books, and a nightgown without straps. No bras. It wasn’t pretty in most cases.

Green bands line up for lunch. Despite my doctor saying I would get a green band, I did not. I stayed in the gameroom and talked to Rita and pushed food around on my tray. I never saw her eat real food. She would eat snacks and get people to bring her back things from the vending machine when they went downstairs. I asked Jem to bring me M&M’s because I love them and I couldn’t eat most of the things on the cafeteria trays anyway – pastas, rice dishes. Everything was always cold. I didn’t get a green band the next day either because the nurses confused me with a new patient. I’ll go into that new patient next week.

My roommate went home. She was giddy with excitement. She didn’t really say goodbye to anyone, but waved from the door.

Sabrina approached me and asked if anyone was sitting with me and sat down. She pulled up her capri pants and showed me where she had cut herself and scars from where she had put out lit cigarettes on her legs. She was looking at me, but she had dead eyes – like the eyes of a porcelain doll on a shelf of a creepy old woman. She was stocky and had a muffin top. I couldn’t figure her out. It would take me a couple of days.

The unit was a constant revolving door. We would lose one person and gain another, usually overnight. It was Prufrock. “In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo.” But of course it wasn’t Michelangelo.

That first afternoon, in Group, the dam broke and I talked about why I was there. I cried. Someone handed me tissues. After that we had afternoon snack. I had coffee. I had measured out my life with coffee spoons. I turned my focus to the television. There were maybe 4 English speaking channels that weren’t shopping or religious channels. There were approximately 30 channels that were various languages of various religions. And so it was back to the magazines for me.

At “lights out” I went back to my room alone, the way I wanted it and made a list of rules for myself after seeing how the other patients handled themselves and each other:

  1. I am not here to babysit.
  2. I am not here to be your therapist – I only took 3 psych classes in college.
  3. And in reality show style, I am not here to make friends.

That night I went to sleep at 9 with half a Xanax and an extra pillow I took from my former roommate’s bed. I slept in my clothes once again. I would wake up to a new roommate.

Comments

  1. That strip search crap is terrible! By far one of the worse parts of my brief incarceration in the Caddo Detention Center for a bench warrant issued for a $17 hot check from 8 years prior. In my case, the strip down, squat and cough, sprayed with lice killer in the 3 areas females grow hair, and then given a ketchup-packet sized packet of castile soap to wash my long hair with under a literal trickle of water in the “shower” before dressing in white granny panties, mens gym shorts, a white cotton A cup bra (we KNOW I have not been an A cup since I was 9 years old) a dingy white tshirt, and the quintacential orange CCC jumpsuit. I shall have to blog the full story for you some day. I promise it’s a real mood lifter (I’m not being facetious here.. it’s a total riot!)
    Love you!!

  2. I had the same experience. Not in as long as you. I guess all psycho hospitals are pretty much the same. Proud of you for sharing!

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