Hospital Abuses: Psychiatry and Authority

Stay away from this hospital’s psychiatric unit!

Most of what follows below is a cut and paste from past blog posts, plus the latest update, but I wanted to do so in order that newer readers would understand where all this comes from. And also understand why I am so adamantly opposed to the coercion of the Involuntary Outpatient Commitment bill.Although I am writing this on Sunday, April 1, I may update it further as the days go on…You might want check back in a while to see if there are  other  developments, though anything big will get its own post.

As I mention in the post below, I wanted to bring the incidents I describe to the attention of the office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities (Or Mental Illness). I did so, about 6 months ago, and after an investigation, they found that the hospital was wrong and abusive in their repeated use of seclusion and restraints. What is more, they referred my case to the Department of Public Health recommending sanction of the hospital and immediate amelioration of the conditions that produced such abuses. Alas, I believe this means essentially just a slap on the wrist and not enough monitoring or chart reading to really keep up with them or stop them from hiding the same abuses that have gone on there for years. After all, patients have known about it for years, but no one has said anything because they have not known what to say or known that they had the right to better treatment. Or something!

I do not think that merely sanctioning the hospital or telling them to “do better” will change anything in that culture of embedded violence. So I went to the local TV station’s investigative team to ask for an investigation, and I went back to the O of P&A with more information about how I was treated by the very same security guard during my ER visit this past February, when he grabbed and pinned my arms behind my back, without provocation and without cause. He had no right to so much as touch me and should never be touching psychiatric patients so liberally. Especially when no one was in ANY danger! WR who has been dealing with my case told me he is not going to drop it, is going to the supervisors and higher-ups and see what more can be done. I myself will keep at it. This will not rest. I do not want revenge but I do need to know that they will not keep doing what they are doing to others...I need to know that patients are physically and emotionally safe there and that the one security officer who is so abusive there is taken off the psychiatric service as a danger to everyone


On my “On Psychiatry and Authority” post, especially about what they did to me at “Middlesex Hospital,  I can now write with more accuracy. I gleaned a lot of the following directly from my records, meaning both the nursing and progress notes and the “event” notes, which should have been written after each and every incident in which they felt obliged to use measures against me involving involuntary seclusion or restraints, including such things as: physical/bodily/painful holds, physical/bodily/forced escorts, physically preventing me from leaving a “time-out” room, i.e. a seclusion room, as well as a locked door seclusion or the dreaded four-point restraints . I have also used my own journal writings here as counterpoint, some entries of which were penned as soon after these things happened as possible — that is, when I could obtain a writing implement.

The first time I wrote about the particular incident I focus on here, I did not understand why I was naked. Having read my entire medical record from the stay, I now understand more about what happened, so I will start this account where it really began, somewhat earlier in the day. Also, and this is important, while they perpetrated a criminal act on me in this incident, there were others later ones as well. During those, I am described in words that make me sound as if I have gone something near berserk…though not in those words of course. Now, there is no context given, nothing is said, not a word, of what the staff is doing TO me or with me at the time that I am going so wild, but nevertheless, the chart describes me as biting and kicking and screaming and peeing on the floor and smearing urine all over the walls…and then there are repeated use of restraints and locked seclusion where neither were “necessary” and were always destructive and traumatizing. Well, unfortunately I have no journal entries after that first time. Why? Perhaps because by then they had drugged me up on Keppra (having decided I could not take the 2 separate ones I came in on though they worked fine and without side effects ) an anti-seizure med that made me so dizzy I literally could not walk, and my vision so blurry that I could not write even if they had not prohibited the use of all writing equipment. So I can recount here only the most egregious incident, the one that I believe triggered for all the others that followed, the one after which “all bets were off” as to any future “behavior” on my part, and from which I emerged so traumatized that I didn’t give a hoot what they did to me after that…

Before I get to  it though, I want to briefly recap where I am in my struggle to recover from the trauma that this stay at Middlesex Hospital occasioned, which only increased the trauma already inflicted 6 months before at Manchester hospital. Up until the night before last, as you know, my state of terrible upset had been growing worse and worse, so that I’d gotten to the point where I could scarcely think about my 6 week stay at Middlesex without becoming nearly hysterical with trembling and anger and anxiety and terror all mixed up together. I  felt as if death impended, my heart pounding wildly,  fear screeching like a car swerving at high speed until it nearly hit a bridge abutment. Every night, every day it comes back even now (new edits 3/2012) as if happening again. Then one night, I wrote the blog entry about Trauma and Acceptance, and I began to try to think about things differently. I realized that I could parcel out thinking about Middlesex little by little so the trauma of it didn’t have to eat me alive. I realized that I might be able to save my sanity, and spare my life from total destruction at the same time, if I decided to accept what I could not change, the first step of the Serenity Prayer.

Wonder of wonders, after two days of not letting the trauma appear on my radar screen, except insofar as I gave a talk about it for the Farmington, CT, NAMI book club last night, which included reading the Acceptance blog entry as its conclusion, I have made an astonishing discovery. Up till now I had had almost complete amnesia for the Middlesex hospitalization. However, it seems that as I remain or try to remain calmer, certain episodes are coming back to me. Not fresh, not by themselves, no, but when I read in my journal or even in the records something that I did not recall on my own nor even believe was true it feels, well, possibly real, and I can just begin to “get” a sense that indeed it feels familiar, that perhaps I did do that, did say that, that it did happen, even if I would not have remembered it without the journal jogging my memory. I am wary of induced false memories, but in this case since I have records of the bare bones of what did in fact happen, I have to try to trust that at least some of what I am retrieving is not pure confabulation woven from only my imagination.

I cannot bring my mind any further down that memory path yet. But I suspect now that I formed some memories after all, that they are simply buried for some reason, and that perhaps the trauma and fear have kept them from me. Now that I can relax a bit and not feel so angry and terrorized by my amnesia and by the one clear memory I have, perhaps some, if not all, will slowly return. Since I prize my memories — they are all I have and without them I have had no life, — I want them back, as many as possible bad as well as good.

Now let me continue on to the account of  Middlesex hospital in late April, 2010 and the first time they put me in 4-point restraints.

During the MD visit the morning before, Dr N wrote: “Patient later ..(?) me that she didn’t trust anyone, that no one wants to help her and she is being punished by staff. I repeatedly said that she is not being punished and she is projecting….Patient escalating tension with staff. Rigid. Wants to die. Wants to sign 3-day paper to leave.” (It is not clear what he means by “later” — did he write this after the episode of restraints, when I did in fact tell him that they punished me? It seems likely. IN which case he did not listen to anything I said…)

RN note 1:30 PM: “Alteration in thought: Patient continues on constant observation. Continues negative, irritable, testing limits. Refused initially to shower, then changed mind and agreed to, then wanted to walk out of shower into dayroom naked. Agreed to dress after informed security called to unit…”

About these notes: one, what was I projecting in thinking they wanted to punish me? What? And it is typical that Dr N blamed me for “escalating tension” with staff. I wonder if he ever saw how they worked, saw in action the mechanism by which they’d cause an  escalation. 2) Most likely, in this case, I was threatened that if I did not shower I would not get off 1:1, so I “changed my mind.” And it seems to me that if someone “wanted” to get out of shower and walk into dayroom naked, it is a matter that the nurses could handle and ought to. I weighed all of maybe 98 pounds then. And if they had closed the door and made me dress, they could have. Why call security unless they wanted to threaten me, terrify me? That was neither compassionate nor caring. Methinks it was, aha, punishment.)

Moving right along…

All the details  that follow are “accurate” insofar as they are derived from official documents or my journal. Accurate in that sense. But remember that in the records, NO context is ever given, the behavior of the staff is rarely described, or only in the briefest and most self-serving ways. NO context is even given to MY behavior.

The nurse who wrote up the night’s notes says that I was angry the entire evening and demanded continuously that she call the on-call doc to discontinue my 1:1 status.  For some reason she writes that I was “unable to follow directions” when she tried to assess me for, I presume, safety, perhaps so I can get off 1:1. I don’t know what she is talking about here, but it is typical that the nurses cared only about a patient’s taking orders and following directions.

Anyhow, at around 7:30, she wrote that I “walked into the dayroom” and according to the RN notes, without any provocation (which is highly doubtful) began shoving and turning over chairs and then picked up the patient trash can and put it over my head. Although at that point the staff told me to “walk with them to the “time out room” I refused and “went to bed instead.” (That was written in the chart: I WENT TO BED INSTEAD.) Now, you would think that this would be fine, after all, would not they want me to go to bed and calm down? But no, I had not “followed directions” and so of course “security was called and patient required security to carry her to time-out room as she refused to move or walk.” Remember that this “time-out room” is exactly the same thing as the “seclusion room” — it is the same room, with the same “withouts” — without heat, without windows, without anyone to talk to, without blankets, without a toilet, without anything to make one comfortable…just a thin mat on the linoleum floor, unless they have taken it out. So they barged into my room where I had gone to calm myself down, and picked me up bodily and carried me to the seclusion room. That means by definition that they physically restrained me and physically, forcibly escorted me to the seclusion room where they prevented me from leaving, all of which are NOT permitted except in the case of “severe and imminent danger to self or others”…(so an event note should have been written up and a physician’s orders should have been gotten). There I took their Ativan and was told that I had to stay in the room for 30 minutes.  Why not in my own room for 30 minutes?  Because time spent in the time-out room is a punishment. Parents make children stay in a time-out room (usually their bedrooms!) when they don’t obey. Why? Because that’s their punishment. But staff doesn’t punish. No, they don’t punish…

Now this is how I remembered it the next morning in my journal: “I had been told to go to the time-out room, which I did voluntarily…” (apparently I did not remember that I had been physically carried there, but there is some confusion in the records too, because I went and then left and then was carried back…). “But it was cold and they wouldn’t give me a blanket so I didn’t stay long…This only led to more goons pushing me back into that cold and sterile room, this time strong-arming me and forcing me to a seated position on the mattress before quickly leaving but not locking the door.”

The nurse wrote it this way: “Patient refused to stay in time-out room, attempted to shove staff, kicked at staff to get out of room. Patient was instructed several times to sit on mattress and stop pushing at and kicking staff. Patient refused. Seclusion door locked at 7:55pm…”.

At this point both records agree that I stripped off all my clothing. But the official records state only that fact, and that I “was changed into hospital garb” but in my journal I write something entirely different and rather revealing: Left alone in that cold and sterile room, I decide “they’d have to give me a blanket if I was [naked] so I quickly undressed and just hid under the mattress for warmth. This caused a stir for some reason and I was forced to put on hospital pj’s and lie down on the mattress. This would not do, not without a blanket which they continued to refuse me so once again I got up and tried to push through the woman barring the unlocked door. She called for reinforcements and they came en masse. (Note: I spelled this “unmasse” — a dyslexic spelling of the first order. This is a symptom of my acute neuro-Lyme disease, since I was always a first-rate speller and would never have had difficulty with “en masse” had I not been in the middle of a flare up… as they knew full well).

“At this point” my journal continues, “they again subdued me and told/asked me why I was fighting. I said [it was] because i needed someone to talk to. That was all I wanted, just someone to talk to. The security guard seemed taken aback. All these personnel hours wasted when all I wanted was one half hour of one person’s time? It seemed to strike him as ludicrous as it did me….

“Why don’t you just ask to use this room when you feel anxious or upset?” he then asked me.

“I do, I have!” I replied


“They always say it has to be reserved for an emergency.

He seemed completely flummoxed by that reasoning but there was no arguing with Policy so he fell quiet. Finally they decided to leave, telling me to be quiet and lie down.

I did. I did. But I was cold and I begged for a blanket.

“Sorry, it is too dangerous. You will have to sleep without one.”

That was it, I’d had enough! I dashed at them head first and they parted, only to grab my arms and try to stop me. Someone twisted my right arm and held it behind my back, but I knew how to get him to stop it, so I tried to bite him and he briefly loosened his grip. I twisted my own arm back to me and my left pinky, held, closed tightly onto something, hooked so tightly it wouldn’t budge. My legs, the right one, grabbed the thin leg of a woman behind me, making her lean back off-balance and lose her grip on me. Then I switched to holding both my legs in a death grip around the legs in front of me. It didn’t matter one iota that [I had taken off my clothes again to get a blanket and] was naked…Anyhow, they eventually overpowered me and got me onto the hard floor, my cheek on the dirty linoleum and breathing dust. At first I struggled but then I realized that the less I did so, the less they applied pressure (there must have been six people or more holding me face down on the floor,  one of them practically sitting on me…).

Finally I stopped resisting and they let me sit up, finally giving me a blanket or sheet to cover myself with. The room cleared as everyone left except for one nurse, who was on one to one with me. She apparently was now allowed to talk with me and we conversed calmly. The door to the seclusion room was also now open.

However, there was some soft talking outside the door and I heard someone walking down the hall and opening a cabinet. I had a bad feeling about it and asked the 1:1 nurse what was going on. “Don’t worry. They are just getting you some meds or making up a bed for you.”  This gave me a very bad feeling, and I suddenly understood what was going on, “Uh uh, they can’t put me in restraints, I am calm and it is illegal to restrain someone who is calm. You know that.” I said that again loudly, loud enough so whoever was down the hall could hear me.  I began to tremble, but forced myself to remain as composed as I could. Another staff member then came into the room and asked me to come down the hall. Did I need an escort or could I do so myself. “Oh I can walk by myself. But you can’t put me in restraints, I am calm and it is illegal.” Nevertheless, I followed her to the empty room — I felt like “dead man walking” when I saw indeed that they had fastened restraints on the bed. The room was filled with staff members and security guards. I told them over and over that I was calm and willing to take PRN meds. I said I knew they were punishing me and that they knew it too. No one said anything except to reiterate that they would assist me if I did not lie down on the bed myself. I was so terrified that they would assault me and hurt me, terrified of the fear itself, that I simply got it over with, lay down on the bed, naked, and let them do what they wanted to do, gritting my teeth when they removed the blanket that was covering me. Well, here is what I did not remember, the account after that from my journal:

“Well, you know that despite my complete lack of resistance, they shackled me 4 points (badly as their restraints did not actually fit the bed — restraints are supposed to keep the arms at your sides not below the level of the bed, and your legs are not supposed to be spread-eagled! I protested this fact but not so loud as to disturb others [when they released me] my back hurt so badly I could barely walk and once more my scapula muscles felt as if they had been separated.”

“I plan to sue you for doing this to me.” I said calmly to all as I left the room. Nobody reacted…I woke in severe pain, the muscles in my chest felt torn from those that connect it to the shoulder, the pain went clear through to the scapula.”

Nursing notes were rather different, and I think were written after the fact, and hastily, perhaps not exactly ‘fact-checked” for accuracy after all. [Did a family practice doctor really see me? I do not believe so…why else would I not tell anyone about the pain, which she reports as non-existent.) But here is what she writes about the “scuffle” in the seclusion room:

“Patient was changed into hospital garb which she also stripped off. she demanded a blanket which was not given due to concerns about her tying it around her neck. [Note that I was ALWAYS under one to one surveillance!] She was encouraged to put the johnny back on and she refused. After staff left the seclusion room, patient placed mattress over herself where no staff including her 1:1 could visualize her. When staff entered room and removed mattress, patient again darted toward staff and attempted to flee. Pushed at staff, then kicked at staff, and attempted to trip staff  wrapping her legs around RN’s leg. During the scuffle patient ripped bandage off her leg and yelled, “I have AIDS. I didn’t tell anyone that before!” She refused to remain in locked seclusion without attempting to harm others. Patient covered with sheet and walked to empty patient room where 4 point restraints were applied. Patient continued agitated initially then was quiet lying still.” [Patient can come out of restraints when able to refrain from aggressive behavior towards staff and property and can follow directions.]

Now you get the picture. I was put into restraints as punishment, but as an excuse for it, they made up a reason, which is is how I can get out of them: stop being aggressive towards, 1) staff ( remember who dragged me into seclusion room? I had gone to my room and they dragged me out of it just to teach me a lesson in the punishment room! 2) property – I was a danger to property… I do not think somehow that danger to property is one of the reasons a person can be put in restraints in this state or this country. And the danger was that I had put a wastebasket over my head! 3)  following directions, well I won’t even go there. Just look at those “justifications” for keeping me in restraints and you will see just why I know they “had it in for me” that particular episode, but in fact were trying to get me most of the time I was there.

Be that as it may, I have contacted the Commissioner of Mental Health, and hope to contact the Office of Protection and Advocacy, which oversees the private hospitals in the state as opposed to the state hospitals, though I do not see why the commissioner is not involved in any hospital that takes state money, as all the private ones do…And seeing as I am a Medicaid patient when hospitalized, I would be a state patient were it not for the private hospitals being forced to take such patients in this economy, whereas years ago they could pick and choose, and did.

Finally, the MD’s “event note” observes upon exam in the restraint room that  the patient is “generally agitated, very verbal, lying in bed with the help of staff and security to calm her down…” I beg your pardon? Calm her down?! I was being restrained, one, and two, I was being tied to the bed with my arms over the edges of the bed, below the level of the mattress, and my legs were spread-eagled –I was naked, remember? and all of them knew it.

So that is all I have to write tonight. I am appalled. What sort of people could do that to anyone? Who were they once, and how did they become so jaded and cruel? Surely, as nurses, they must have once been idealistic and good-hearted and compassionate. Most people who go into nursing are and I doubt that many go into it for the money or for any other reason than that they care about people. I simply have never met any young nurse who was not idealistic and caring, but I suppose there might be one or two. So what happened to this group? Could it be their own “society” is not supportive, is backbiting and so lacking in cohesiveness that they take out their own frustrations and lack of positive feedback on those patients who least please them?

I dunno, I have been told that this mechanism is sometimes at work on units where staff behavior is out of control in such a way. But what made them in fact so much into control and coercion at all? Why were they not themselves empowered by compassion and kindness, which would have fed them better as it fed the patients better as well? How did it come about that they learned the wrong lessons? I don’t know, and probably will never know. But I did catch a sense of these strengths in one or two of the nurses, just buried in fatigue or long ago burned out…

Too many were too personally invested in the patients liking them or in behaving for them in such a way that made their jobs easy! That was stupid and nonsensical. Why should the patients have to be or do anything for the nurses? The patients cannot control their illnesses and staff forgot that in their own need to be in control and to have their own need met by their patients. I think  that is what it comes down to: at Middlesex, the staff’s needs were not being met by each other, or by the supervisors and colleagues, so they looked outward, and who did they expect to meet their needs but their patients, who could not, and could never do so. So they tried to make them, force them to. Or at least to toe the line and make each day quiet and easy to get through. What a farce. What a lousy place to be sick in, what a sick place to try to get well in…

That’s enough for tonight.

7 thoughts on “Hospital Abuses: Psychiatry and Authority”

  1. Thank you Marie for reblogging this. And Maevea, whenever I am stripped naked and 4-point-restrained by male security guards I am being raped by the guards just as assuredly as any sexual assault, so I know what you are talking about…


  2. I can definitely relate. I spent over 12 years in my state’s forensic hospital for the criminally insane and saw all kinds of abuse…one of the worst was when another patient stripped her clothes off in the tv room, began masturbating and the male nurse didn’t do anything about it and neither did any of the nurse’s aides. The nurse had a bad habit of just scratching his balls with his nose stuck up in the air.

    A few years prior to that, I had an affair with my therapist that probably set me back another two years for I finally had to blow the whistle on her. So sorry to hear your story and hope the best that you receive some compensation for all your pain…will follow- you write well!
    LaVancia Phoenix


  3. Reblogged this on Marie Abanga's Blog and commented:
    I heard today is world suicide prevention day. Since the general claim is that mental patients are more likely at risk to commit suicide, l also wonder at the support they get from the system especially the hospitals they visit are or sometimes confined in. This is a sure poignant post.


  4. Dear Maevea,

    I am so so sorry that you were abused so terribly. I wish you could do something to set your soul at ease or at least take legal action to frankly get some revenge…Either one!

    I have recently written my senator and the person in charge of mental health care for the country, We will see what happens but I am not going to let this go. And if they do not respond, then I will write again and go public some other way…Frankly, anger is the only way I keep myself from breaking apart with despair and in-the-moment terror. When I am not angry, I just cry and tremble and feel the whole affair happening again, over and over…

    Thank you so much for your comments.



  5. Id like to see the death penalty for these assholes who mame and cause psychiatric abuse


  6. I hear your pain, I too have pain, I was seclusively raped repeatedly by a Security guard when i was 18. Then Raped all thru my 20’s by Psychiatric people involved in my so called care.


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