In-Patient Psychiatric Abuse Can Be Subtle (and not so)

I will be rewriting this for my new memoir, but wanted to try out the episode here, in part, though I have not yet rewritten it…I have been rereading my many journals that I have retrieved from storage in preparation for really seriously writing this thing, and it was one of the first events recorded that I happened to dip into. It is in a relatively recent journal, but I was reading randomly and I just happened upon it. It very much upset me, as just as I read it, I remembered it very clearly. I had no amnesia, it was only that I have been in so many hospitals in the past 3 decades that I cannot separate out one from another, nor tell what happened where or when.

Subtle abuse? In fact, I don’t know that the episode I relate here is an example of subtle anything. I can only say that at the time I had no idea that it was abusive. I felt that perhaps I deserved it.  I had no idea that it should have been reported, that someone should have defended me, that anyone…Well, you will get the drift upon reading the following brief description of one incident, among the way-too-many that have happened to me over the past 5-10 years in Connecticut hospitals. All I can be sure of is that if hospital staff do these things to me, I am fairly certain that they must do them to others…In which case, that Hartford Courant article in 1998, “Deadly Restraints” which was supposed to have changed everything both in Connecticut and around the country in terms of in-patient treatment of the mentally ill, that article did little to nothing. I would say, in fact, that treatment has gotten markedly worse over the decade. Compared to my treatment in the two decades before this past one, I was never abused as much in the 80s and 90s as I have been since Y2K and 2000.

For once, what I write of here does not involve restraints per se, at least not immediately, but as you will see it involves abuse, physical abuse, just the same. I have transcribed this from my journal from a few years ago. I have edited it, but most of the edits I made were for clarity or to convert partial sentences to full ones, though in a couple of places I had to flesh things out more. But here ’tis, what happened to me at a general hospital I spent a fair amount of time in, in Fairfield County, where my twin lives:

“After a run-in with Karen again, I apologized and we had a decent talk. I took off my coat for once, went to Wendy’s communication group and did okay. Then I was sitting in the alcove talking with Mark about my dread at every anniversary of JFK’s assassination when a hullabaloo started near room 306 at the other end of the hall. It seems a woman was having a heart attack. I immediately felt the floor fall beneath me: I was to blame, my inattentiveness, my raucous, hyena laughter, my evil had killed her!

I knew that I needed to take my 4 o’clock medication for what little it would do, but no one called to announce them or for me to take them. My ears rang, booming! The air was full of blaming and criticizing voices, so maybe I didn’t hear, but I think they just didn’t call me. I rang the intercom buzzer at 6:45 and was told that Jamie, the medication nurse that night, would be back from supper around 7 o’clock. I rang back at 7:05 but he was still gone, so I waited another 15 minutes since no one told me that he had returned.Finally at 7:20 I pushed the intercom button to ask if I was supposed to skip all my 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock medications. They now said Jamie was waiting for me. But why hadn’t he called to let me know he’d gotten back from dinner? Slowly I managed to shuffle up to the medication door again, zipped to the mouth in my coat and balaclava hood, verging on stuckness, only to find there was no Geodon in my cup.

“So I don’t get my 4 PM medications,” I whispered in stunned panic, too afraid to simply ask for it.

“Nope” was Jamie’s only answer.

I was flabbergasted, completely stunned. My second prescribed dose of BID Geodon was what I’d been waiting patiently for ever since the patient in room 306 had her heart attack. After Jamie ignored me, giving me no explanation, I just turned, took my 6pm Ritalin, then dropped the DIxie cup of water and all the other pills on the carpet. In a daze, it took everything in me to start making my way down the hall towards my room again.

Then I heard footsteps pounding up behind me and suddenly Jamie was in front of me, blocking my way. “You’ll go back there and clean up the mess you made right this instant!” he bellowed and pushed me towards the med station. I stared through him, tried to walk away, but he blocked me again and again pushed me backwards until finally I gave in, relaxed and let myself succumb to his pushing. I didn’t walk though, I merely fell backwards to the floor, saved from injury only because he grabbed the front of my coat as I fell, and lowered me to the floor. I curled up in a ball like a porcupine, hoping not to be killed. Well, he was in a rage and forced my hands down, away from my shoulders, and unzipped my coat. Then he ordered me to get up and clean up the mess again — what mess really? A few pills on the floor, and a little water that would dry? I refused. I curled up on my side and closed my eyes, responding to nothing. He threatened me with restraints. At that, I gave up resisting, knowing resistance would give him the excuse he wanted. I let him pull my coat off my limp body. And I remained limp as he carried me to my bedroom where he dumped me coatless on the bed and thundered away. I was triumphant, however. No restraints! I’d figured it out. If you refuse to resist, if you don’t fight back against their power plays, they have no excuse to justify putting you in restraints. They cannot put someone who is completely silent and limp into 4-point restraints. What would be the point?

Nevertheless,  I was cold and felt exposed in only my T-shirt and jeans, and with no coat to protect me, nor others from me. So I got up and grabbed a sweater and started bundling myself into hat and  hooded scarf. Suddenly Jamie barged in again. I backed away and fell onto the bed behind me. In a fury that was unbelievable to me, he leapt onto the bed and pinned me down, knelt so his knees trapped me and I couldn’t move. Then he unbuttoned my sweater and tore it off me, ripped off my hat and scarf, then without a word proceeded to empty the room of any clothing that could possibly cover me, including my shoes.

This was too much to bear. But I said and did nothing in protest. How could I? I had no words, no sense that I had rights of any sort. All I did was huddle against the wall under a blanket and whimper, “I didn’t mean to kill her. I didn’t mean to cause a problem.” Jamie, who had left with all my things, stormed back in and angrily lectured me on how I was guilty of  “just wanting attention!” I wept silently. All I’d wanted that entire afternoon had been my 4:00 pm medication, and to be left alone to deal with repercussions of having killed the  patient in 306. I was too stunned to respond and could only whimper over and over, “didn’t mean to kill her, didn’t mean to cause a problem.” Still furious, but getting nothing from me and spent, Jamie finally left for good.  After a while, I looked around at the nearly empty room, and there on the night table was the pen Lynnie had left behind that afternoon. Jamie had overlooked it in his rampage. I had no energy to get off the floor, and no paper to write on, so I did the only thing I could, and  I began writing on the wall. “I didn’t mean to kill her, didn’t mean to cause a problem,”  I wrote and wrote. I wrote until I physically could not write any longer, I wrote until my hand gave out.

That was not the end of the evening, but it was the end of the interchange with Jamie, RN and it’s all I wanted to go into for tonight as it is getting late, very late and I needs must go to sleep.

4 thoughts on “In-Patient Psychiatric Abuse Can Be Subtle (and not so)”

  1. I know that abuse occurs in these places. Only because I have a relative who is in one. For those who do not have an empathic relative I think the only other solution is to allow some sort of texting arrangement between one registered approved volunteer outside the hospital per patient in the hospital. I am sure the technology could be worked out that would allow only texting and only between the registered approved volunteer per patient and located outside the hospital. Yes it would take time to build up trust. But I am sure there are good people who would be willing to listen and encourage and be kind.. One patient to one volunteer per patient.
    Because I can assure you that when those at the top check and find I am telling the truth I get an apology for the woeful inadequacies and errors. In fact I think it has been a revelation to them to see how often something unacceptable happens.
    They would never hear about these occurrences otherwise. Some of the mistakes?? border on criminal. They are certainly very unkind at times. I think it also reflects that some staff are not suitable to work in these places. And I mean the wrong medication, missed medication, abusive behaviour by staff, forgetting a patient for hours and not checking on them when they say they have. One nurse even went off to the casino during her shift when her senior took ill and had to go home early. There was only an hour before the replacement would arrive but in that time the nurse left the hospital short and thought no one would ever find out. Security footage proved she had been at the casino. But she told a patient she could not stop as she ‘had’ to go to the casino??? Who would have believed that patient unless a whistle blower had been able to tell the truth – and I regard it as criminal that she left those clients short of care for that hour.


  2. Pam, Its all around us in every mental institution, psychiatric abuse. Self admittedly I am a writer and a victim of the same violations of my human rights, and for many, which are never preserved or respected just persecuted and denied these basic rights. Your blog has made a greater good to hear from another person that has suffered injustice and developed a worthy case, beyond the blues of systematic institutionalisation. However its seems collective to say that the mental health system is so protected by the governement departments working alongside it, that it is hard for anyone to make any changes ligitimatley without being accused of antisedition. It’s also the ignornace of people in general, that work in these areas of care, who see inpatient abuse and never report it or stop it from happening. A good name for this type of abuse is HATE CRIME.

    Can’t say alot here; to public.
    But if you would like to email me



  3. Thank you, Maeve. It does help me to write these things down. I can only hope it helps someone else…I wish I knew, but I almost never hear from others who have been through things like this. Perhaps they read these posts, perhaps they find them too troubling (who can blame them?) but in any event, they are not among my commenters. Sometimes I wish that the perpetrators themselves would read these posts and recognize themselves. Or their behavior at least…Then I might truly have effected a change for the good, if it shamed them enough to do things differently. I have occasionally heard from a mother of someone who has been abused by psychiatric providers in some way, and her horror shows that she appreciates how traumatizing the experience is: people who are supposed to heal only harming you further…What a travesty, what an obscenity! I have that case at the Dept of Public Health here in Connecticut, but I would talk, testify, write, do anything to further this cause: to end hospital abuse of psychiatric patients (and other such abuse of same). Just to tell my story would be enough to make my point!

    Well, enough for now, but I do thank you for reading and for your comment.



  4. I think when you look back at this blog you will feel a sense of ease and profound clarity as by putting your words to paper is as mighty as striking down the past and can direct a greater change not only for you, but for others who have been in the same situation.

    All the best Pamela,


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