For those who’ve been in a mental health facility, this account may seem like old hat, but for those among you who have never had occasion to be in such a place, I hope to enlighten and maybe even entertain you a little.
It all started in our local ER, where Dr. Awesomesauce had sent me after we talked on the phone and where I sat in the “suicide room” for a solid six hours, waiting to be transferred to the psych unit in a neighboring town. I spent much of that time talking quietly with Will when I felt like it, and staring at the bare walls when I didn’t (which was most of the time). I hoped I wouldn’t be seen by anyone I knew; this was the hospital where I used to work and where I have a lot of friends. I looked every bit as bad as I felt. My hair was matted and greasy, I had absolutely no makeup on, and I was in my pajamas. What’s more, I didn’t give a shit. Even the sight of the security guard who hovered around the nurses’ station to watch me didn’t bother me.
I did have a few bad moments when I had to get into the back of what had once been a police car, complete with a cage and those hard plastic seats. I’m terribly claustrophobic and almost panicked, but the transport team talked me down and kept up a steady stream of chatter to take my mind off the situation. We drove through streets packed with trick-or-treaters, which made me think of my grandsons and how I was missing out on all the fun of Halloween this year. That almost made me cry again—I’d probably cried more in the previous week than I had in two years—so I sat back and tried to concentrate on the beauty of the fall scenery.
Soon we arrived at the facility—the dreaded “downstairs”—and I was greeted by a security guard who proceeded to pass a wand over me to check for weapons. Of course none were found, and then I was met by my admitting nurse, who took me on a tour of the facility that was to be my home for the next week (although I didn’t know then that I was going to be there that long). Did I mention that I’m claustrophobic? Thankfully the open floor plan and arrangement of the common areas were such that I didn’t feel confined, or I would have done very badly.
Then I was led to my private room, which had my first name on the door as if I were in a nursing home, but I think it was for the purpose of being easily identifiable by the staff. I’d come in with nothing but the clothes on my back and a sack lunch from the other hospital, so I didn’t have anything to put away; as little as I knew about mental hospitals, I did know that my purse would be confiscated and my possessions gone though, so I didn’t bother taking anything.
I was too depressed to want to socialize, but since there was no TV or even a clock in my room, I kept popping out to look at the clock at the nurses’ station. I also explored my room and marveled at all the ways a patient could NOT hurt herself: the clothes hook on the bathroom door bent down when more than a pair of jeans was put on it…..the grab bar next to the toilet was flush against the wall…..all the corners were rounded…..the bed was a five-inch-thick mattress on a platform. There were no electrical cords, and the windows were made of safety glass and locked. And every 15 minutes, a staff member would make rounds to check up on me.
So I spent my first night writing in the journal I’d been given and wondering at how calm I felt. I’d been SO afraid of the hospital, and yet I felt relieved to be there because I felt safe. For the first time in weeks, with several locked doors between me and my life on the outside, I felt that nothing could hurt me, and better yet, that I couldn’t hurt me. What I didn’t know was how much I would learn between that night and the time I was released.
To be continued…..