Saturday, February 26, 2011

Part 2--Arrival and my first day

My arrival to the hospital was everything I feared, mean nurses, forced medication, scary patients.  I arrived by ambulance from the emergency room.  I’m not sure why I couldn’t have a friend drive me since I was considered “voluntary.”  I was a voluntary patient but if I tried to leave I would become an involuntary patient.  Yeah, I don’t get it either. 

The ambulance ride from the ER was silent and stale except when the engine quieted and my sobs filled the cabin.  The EMTs did not say anything to me, not one word.  To them I was a psych patient, not a human being.  I listened to them talk about wedding rings while I fought to calm my heart rate and breathe. 
I finally arrived at the hospital in a city about 30 miles outside of LA after a seven hour wait on a gurney in the ER hallway and a 50 minute bumpy ambulance ride.  For some reason I was not allowed to walk to or from the ambulance.  I had to be wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher, you know because I might hurt myself by walking since I was crazy.  When you are crazy, everything is a privilege, including walking and wearing clothing. 

At four AM, after 6 days without more than a few hours sleep, making the decision to get help rather than end my life, and waiting for seven hours in the emergency room, I was finally taken to the place that would “help me.”  While on the stretcher, outside in the rain, I was greeted by an Asian man that barely spoke English.  He told me to get out of the stretcher and sit in a chair inside a locked room.  I sat.  A Latino man walked over to me and told me to take off my earrings and nose ring.  The backs of one pair of earrings were very hard to take off so they told me I could keep them on.  Makes sense to me, I guess…

Another man dumped all of my clothing I packed onto the floor to inspect them.  He picked up my brand new bras with a stick as if they contained the Ebola virus or some kind of infectious parasite.  “These have wires.  You can’t have these.  I can take them out if you want.”  I said “No.”  I figured they wouldn’t notice the under wire bra I was wearing.  Once he counted all my underwear, shirts, pants, and the dollar fifty in my wallet, I was told to move about 24 inches to a blue sofa.  I’m not really sure you can count this thing as a sofa since the cushions were a strange plastic material and they were firmer than the floor. 

About twenty minutes later the Asian man came back and closed the door.  We were now alone.  I panicked.  I did not want to be alone in a room in a hospital gown with a strange man.  He flopped himself down on a chair behind a desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a packet.  He flipped open the first page and began asking me questions.  There were simple questions like" How old are you," etc…  Well, that’s not a simple question for me.  And then there were not so simple questions.  His accent was so heavy I could barely understand a word he said.  A female nurse came into the room and my blood pressure began to return to normal.  Finally! A woman.   My relief was short lived.  The woman walked over to me and immediately told me to “Stand up and step in here,” she pointed to a small filthy bathroom.  I obeyed.  She stood in the doorway blocking the view from the male staff.  “Remove everything,” she barked.  “What?” my voice squeaked.  “No, I don’t want to.”  I was shaking.  “You don’t have a choice.  Everything off.”  Tears blurred my vision as I removed my hospital gowns and pajama bottoms.  Once they were off I looked up at her, my eyes pleading with her not to go any further.  “Bra and panty too.” She ordered.  “No!”  I sobbed.  She waited.  I sobbed harder.   She started to move closer to me.  Fearing she might try to remove them herself I took off my bra and underwear.  I stood there, naked, vulnerable, and sobbing.  “Turn around please.”  I twisted my body a little.  “No, all the way around.  In a circle please.”  I complied as my lungs began to spasm for air between my sobs.  “Again, the other way.”  She ordered.  I turned.

“What’s this scar from?  She was referring to the patch on my right thigh that I use for cutting.  I didn’t answer.  I couldn’t answer.   “Okay,” She said and walked away from the doorway leaving me fully exposed to the male staff in the other room.  I was told to put my hospital gowns back on and sit on the blue sofa.  A moment later an African American woman with blond fuzzy braids sat down in place of the Asian man.  I continued to sob as the woman asked me questions about my family history that I could not answer.  I had to convince her I was not diabetic because I take a common diabetes medication for Polycystic Ovaries syndrome.    I think I must have explained my suicidal feelings and plan 62 times in the ER and now I had to explain that I wanted to die and how I wanted to die over and over again only this time I wasn’t so sure what I wanted anymore.  The lady with the braids asked me “What’s so bad in your life that you want to kill yourself?”  How could I answer that?  Was that even a question in her packet?  I had managed to stop sobbing but I still had chest spasms.  “My life isn’t going to get better.  I’m never going to feel better.  The memories will haunt me forever.  I just can’t do it anymore” Is what I thought in my head but I only managed to shrug my shoulders and spasm for air. 

The Latina woman reappeared and so did the sobs.  “Come with me.”  My sobs were near hysterics as I followed this woman to a door leading out of the nurses’ station to a young white guy who walked me down the hall to my room and bed.  “This is your bed.”  A wooden single bed with a foam mattress.  It was bolted to the floor.  Actually all the furniture was bolted to the floor.  That did not make me feel any better.  I sat on the mattress and tried to stare out of the black metal screen covering the bullet proof glass windows.  The sun was beginning to rise and I wanted to watch the rain.  I wanted something to comfort me, but my eyes kept refocusing back to the black metal grate.  Usually the rain comforts me, now I just feared I’d never feel it again.  I made a huge mistake.  I have never wanted to die more than I did in that very moment.

The screaming.  Oh my god, the screaming. ..  The screaming started almost immediately.  The ghosts of the disturbed haunt them even in their dreams I guess.  It was worse when people began to wake up.    A male voice would yell and another male voice would tell him to shut up.  This went on for hours.  A nurse I had not seen before came into my room and asked me what I wanted for breakfast.  “I’m not hungry,” I answered and I pulled my pillow into my chest.

“I am not taking that.”  A man with an accent yelled!” You have to take it, the judge said so!”  A stern loud male voice answered.  The jingling of keys is what I noticed first.  So many keys.  The staff were running.  The man screamed as they threw him to the floor and injected something into his upper thigh.  “God will punish you.  All of you!”  The man yelled. 

Suddenly patients were fighting.  There was so much banging and more screaming.  More keys jingling.  I know why the furniture is bolted to the floor.  Then it started.  Then he started.  The shouting in Arabic started.  Oh my god.  Is this real?  Is this in my in my head?  More Arabic shouting.  “No, no, no, no!”  I curled into the fetal position and sobbed, waiting for it to stop.  I kept telling myself it was just in my head.  It wasn’t real.  It was only in my head.  It’s not real; it’s only in my head.

It was real.  An agitated Middle Eastern man dominated the unit as well as the staff.  They were constantly yelling at Walley and he was constantly screaming back at them.  He constantly said, “You know what, Chicken butt” and then he’d ramble in Arabic.  He was loud and abrupt.  He talked all day long, about everything.  What he wants in a wife.  What the world needs, what the hospital needs.  How rich he is.  He opened my door and peered into my room.  “And you beautiful girl, I love you too.  I am looking for a good girl.”  Suddenly my stepfather’s voice filled my ears.  “Be a good girl for me.”  The screaming started again and the man from the middle east appeared in my head.  I watched them beat him again and again in my head.  “Oh god, I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.  Please I can’t do this.”  I chanted as I sobbed.  

 I called my friends.  I called my therapist.  I called everyone I could think of.  My friend, K, called me back.  “I need to get out of here.  I can’t do this.”  I told her about everything that was happening.  “Okay baby, I’m coming,” She said.  I knew there was nothing she could do, but it felt good to hear it.  My therapist called in the middle the phone call with K and I ran to take it.  “Hi, how is it going?” L asked.  “Not so good,” I sobbed.  I told her everything and we brainstormed ways that I could get out of there.  Couldn’t I just leave?  I was voluntary wasn’t I?  If I tried to leave they would put a hold on me.  “I just can’t do this L!”  I cried.  “Let me make some calls” She said as we hung up the phone.  I went to my room and sobbed.  Walley got on his knees and begged me not to cry.  It freaked me out.

 A nurse came to remind me that it was lunch time, but I told her I wasn’t hungry.  How could I eat?  An hour or so later, it’s hard to know the time since there were no clocks anywhere, a nice African American nurse came into my room and said in a gentle tone, “you’ve got to eat honey or they will never let you out of here.”  It was the first gentle interaction I had had since I arrived.  I sobbed until dinner time and then I decided to eat despite the pain in my stomach.  I decided I had to appear functional to get out.  I wanted out.  I needed to get out.  After I finished my grilled cheese, which was actually pretty good, I went to ask the nice nurse if anyone had talked with my therapist about moving me to another hospital.  “Has anyone evaluated you today?”  He asked.  I had not seen anyone except for a psychiatrist for 5 chaotic minutes where she was in and out of the room. 

A few moments later I was called back into the nurses’ station to sit on the same blue sofa that I had sobbed so hard on hours earlier.  A nurse sat in a chair next to the sofa and spoke in a very gentle tone.  He asked me about my history and told me his concerns of me leaving too early.  “This place is too intense for me.  I can’t handle it here.  I have PTSD.  All the fighting.  All the screaming.  It’s too loud.  It’s too much for me.  I came here because I need help, but this isn’t helping me.  I need something calmer and more structured.  I can’t do this,” I begged him.

Instead of taking me back to a hospital in Los Angeles, they decided to transfer me to a different unit in the same hospital.  Finally my double nightmare was over.  Finally my thoughts and memories quieted.  My friend and girlfriend had come to visit me and together we walked in the rain to the new unit.  The rain was glorious.  I walked in the rain with two people that I love across the campus to my new unit.  I felt safe.
The vibe in the new building was so different.  It was quiet.  So quiet.  The furniture was not bolted to the floor.  The walls were clean.  There was a lot of space.  It was so quiet. 

The nurses were different.  They called me sweetheart and honey and weren’t afraid to touch me.  One nurse rubbed my back when she asked me tough questions.  They wanted to know how I was feeling and how they could help me.  How was this the same hospital?