I remember, I remember, well, I remember very little, except in flashes of dim light, like a candle held up by which to read the fading pages of an ancient diary. I remember a sign with my name on it, taped to the door of a room, and how hard it was to find my way back, no matter how many times I made the trip. I remember a nurse with blond hair named “Patty,” whose real name, Lil, I learned only the second to last day I was there. I think I liked her, or that she treated me with kindness, and another nurse named Mary Ellen, who was kinder still, but not always there to save me.
I remember too, but again in uncertain flashes that tell me only that something happened but not exactly what: Being carried by arms and legs into a cold, empty room lined with linoleum, dropped onto my back on the floor, dressed in just two hospital johnnies and pajama pants and locked in there alone. I remember begging for a mattress, then screaming in outrage when I was refused.
This is how it goes: There is nothing in the room but me and air conditioning turned on full bore, though it is October and in the 50s outside. Why do I need johnnies or the huge pajama pants that are falling off me without ties to hold them up? Alone in that room, I take them all off, then squat to pee and take a dump. Good, that feels better. Blankness. Cold, cold. Again I scream for a blanket. Of course, nobody answers. I try to push the johnnies under me to cushion my bones so I can sleep, but the shivers prevent me from relaxing. I have to do something.
I make a long rope of the silky acetate pants then form a slip-knot and put the O over my head with the knot to one side. I pull tight, figuring it won’t take long. I sit to one side of the little window in the door, so no one sees me immediately. Finally they come running. But they don’t understand it is a slip-knot and that pulling at it only tightens it more. I am struggling for air. A nurse yells for scissors, bandage scissors the only ones available and they cut the pants free. Still, I am in big trouble. I would tell them I only wanted to get their attention, that I just wanted a mattress and a blanket, but what good would that do? Still, do they really think their act of violence, which will follow, will solve anything? Blankness. I have been thrown onto a bed in another seclusion room. As staff and goon squad wrestle my wrists and ankles into padded cuffs, I kick and bite in protest, all of which will be written up as my being “assaultive.” In the end, it is no use. I scream and scream until the usual injections – 5 mg Haldol and 2 mg Ativan – take the scream out of me and I finally fall asleep.
That should have been the end of it. “Wake up calm and they take you out of restraints.” That’s the name of the game. But this time, I wake and I am still in full 4-points. I ask the nurse why. “Doctor’s orders,” he says. “But that’s punishment!” I answer, shocked. “No,” he says, “restraints are therapeutic. We never use them as punishment.” “Bullshit! Dr Z is punishing me because he doesn’t like me and you know it. He is a sadist.” The nurse doesn’t answer immediately and when he does, he just says, “Go to sleep.”
I remember how they kept me in restraints for 12 hours that time. The chart summary tells me more, that I spent a good part of 5-7 days in seclusion and/or restraints, so there is a lot I do not remember. Am I better off for not knowing? That’s what some people tell me. How would you feel? Would you want to know, or not to know?
I realize that the above is simply a restatement of an earlier more detailed post, so it must be obvious that I am still very troubled by what happened. Indeed I am. I am even more troubled by my lack of memory the rest of the three weeks there…which fact was noted even in the summary of my stay, which Dr B (Li) got from the hospital the other day (in lieu of what he requested, which was my entire chart.) Memory loss has dogged me for many many years. Only now can I acknowledge it, and only because Lynnie and others witnessed it. But for so many years I felt desperately troubled and, well, desperate to hide it, afraid lest anyone know how little I could remember of what happened from day to day. This was especially extreme when I was in hospital but even afterwards it was troubling to me; sometimes I felt I was missing half my life! People — that is to say, doctors. nurses,aides — expected me to remember ordinary happenings, because they obviously thought that I was responsible for what I did from one day to the next, which you are not, not in the same way, if your memory is impaired. This expectation was so stringent that I dared not admit how little I did remember of events after they passed. I thought the scant trace they left would somehow prove my evil, prove that I was a shameful deficient person. So I desperately took cues from others about what they wanted me to “remember,” tried to “pick their brains” about whatever it was that had happened, or that I had presumably done, whatever it was that they expected me to recall. Sometimes a concrete clue might help me piece things together – say for instance if I had scars or wounds that hinted at recent self-injurious behaviors or if there were scribbling on the walls that suggested another sort…But if there were no cues, it was much harder to ferret out what was wrong. Sometimes I might have to come right out and ask, “And you are referring to…?” But I didn’t dare do that often or it would have given my lack of memory away, something I didn’t dare permit…
Now here is the other side of the story, which I find hard to square with my experience in October: one psychiatric nurse’s account of how situations involving restraints can look to staff.