I was admitted last Tuesday night, the 17th of July I believe it was, to the Institute of Living, the psychiatric division of Hartford Hospital in central Connecticut. I do not remember this. The fact that I have amnesia for it and for most of the Wednesday following only occurred to me on Thursday, a day and a half later, when I wondered — the train of thought must have had to do with the seclusion episode that took place Wednesday evening and which I described in yesterday’s blog post — why they had been so violent with me, why they had so quickly secluded and threatened me with restraints in a situation that didn’t come within miles of “requiring” them. Surely, I thought, the staff member who admitted me, whoever that had been, had asked me a critical question, which is on every admissions questionnaire upon entering a psych unit or hospital these days: have you ever experienced trauma or sexual assault? (or words to that effect). I could not, and still cannot, for the life of my body or soul remember anything asked or answered at that time. There’s little left in my memory beyond a vague “snapshot” of being wheeled into The Institute of Living (hence forward to be called by its nickname The Toot or by its initials, The IOL) and my understanding that I had been transferred out of the ER. Then the memory goes blank until many hours later. Understanding only as late as Thursday that I had this gap, and pained by the violence dealt me the night before, I went up to my “contact person” and asked about my admission. Could I find out whether this question was ever asked me, and what my answers were? At first, naturally and as a matter of course, she refused. That was SOP. Refuse, refuse, and refuse. So as I stood there, earnest in my request, she seemed about to summarily dismiss it as just another bothersome demand from a too-demanding patient already much disliked by all. What did I expect, cooperation? But to my surprise, her misgivings and the flicker of irritation that had crossed her face at first changed to a flattened look of resignation. She agreed to read my answers to the questions to me. But that was all she would do, so don’t go expecting more than that.
As she read from the top, a few memories stirred and woke, but only temporarily. I fear they soon faded again into the all-white-out of oblivion. Only the trauma memories remain, for they apparently are stronger than thieving Ativan. Can I push myself to remember what her reading my answers back to me recalled to mind? She told me…what? She said that I told the admitting staff member, whom I do not remember a thing about, do not even recall if that person was male or female, doctor or nurse or what…I told that person I was not homicidal, not suicidal, not hearing voices, and that I didn’t need to be in the hospital. Three answers were true, or true enough by then. After having been nearly killed in the ER the people in my head/outside of it, who tell me to do things to myself were not so relentlessly horrible in their demands…so I was indeed no longer suicidal, homicidal or in need of hospitalization. I just wanted to get out of there and go on my upcoming writing-retreat vacation.
As I recall the little I recall now, this nurse, my “contact person” read to herself a lot of the paperwork and relatively little aloud, despite her promises. I kept asking what she had read, and prompting her to read out loud, but she let forth only a few phrases. I still do not know why… though I can guess that pretty bad things are written there about me. That would not surprise me one iota. I do not really care. They will largely be lies or descriptions of that awful scene in the ER from one very biassed point of view. No one will tell MY side of the story, that’s for damn sure. Whatever is said there will be based on what the ER personnel and the guard-thugs did to me, but if my contact person believed them reading them, and never bothered to find out the half of it, then who knows what they all thought about me, or believed…Anyhow, I do not care, because they too were thuggish, professionally and psychologically.
But the big question was yet unanswered. Had I ever in fact been asked about past experience of trauma or sexual assault? Contact Person, whom I won’t name as she was at least marginally decent to me, now seemed interested in this too, having paged through the lengthy document and not found it. She seemed puzzled, said she knew it was a standard question. She started perusing the thing again from the beginning. A minute or two later, she poked a page.
“Ah, here it is. And your answer is blank.”
“So the person just skipped over it. They just skipped it!”
“It appears so. Do you want to answer it now?” She took out her pen.
“Yes, and yes. I have experienced sexual assault three times. And severe trauma due to seclusion and restraints in many hospitals.” I looked at her. She was writing. “Tell me what you wrote.
“Experienced sexual assault. Has issues with seclusion and restraint.”
“NO! I said, it was severe trauma. I have PTSD, ask my doctor. Ask, I dunno, give me a test. I cry just talking about it. My heart rate goes up just thinking about it, even though it happened more than two years ago. It was trauma, and you cannot do it to me again!” She wrote something on the paper but didn’t read it to me. She just clicked her pen off and stood.
“Now you have your answer. I have things to do. Let’s go.” With that, and no discussion of what had taken place on Wednesday night, let alone in the ER, she hurried me out of the side office so she could go back to the nursing station to do some “real work.”
I suppose there must have been some incidents of relative kindness at the Toot. There must have been exceptions to the Hartford Hospital IOL “coal dust standard.” But only Albert, a tech, stands out. Because they injected me with too much Ativan on Wednesday pm and I was discharged Friday noon, I had very little time between the ER’s monster dose and D3South’s equally large dose of Ativan-it-Away to retain much of anything but what stood out enough to stick, and really stick tight. Their puny kindnesses mostly did not, except for Albert.
On the other hand, the sheer meanness of the staff was astounding. I had a semi-meaningful interaction — though unpleasant – in all that time with only one individual who was not programmed to speak with me. And even that started out with nastiness, though I admit it was sparked by something that was “my fault,” as you will see.
Friday morning I needed migraine meds and my 8am pills. I went to desk at 7:55 and asked for them. A nurse or tech or someone –I never knew and no one ever bothered to tell me who or what they were — lingering at the desk said that the med nurse somewhere in the back would get them. I wandered off, figuring it would take some time and she would bring them to me, which is what they did at every single place I have ever been. But no, by the time I thought about it again, realizing that she had never brought them, it was 8:45 and people were lined up for their 9:00am meds already. I signaled above them to the nurse at the med window that I had not gotten mine for 8:00am yet. She told me that of course not: I left the med station; why should she go after me? Then she indicated that I should get in line to be next…even though that meant stepping in front of someone else. Okay, so I got in line, and – oh, I do not remember all that happened except that I became angrier and angrier with her, resenting her attitude. As a consequence, I did everything I could do to irritate her. She poured the meds at the computer, where I couldn’t see them, saying their names softly to herself so I asked to see the packaging. I didn’t trust her not to withhold or add something I didn’t want. Because I had asked for Imitex an hour before I sensed she would not include it. Well, lo and behold: No Imitrex! So I took the pills, but asked her for the Imitrex as well.
Ah, revenge time! “I will get the Imitrex at 9:00 am sharp, when it is due. That is 10 minutes from now. You can come back and wait in line then.” I just stood there, not budging. I would never stoop so low as to impugn a person’s person, but I probably let loose a few curses and most certainly raised my already angry voice a few decibels. Finally, speaking in a calm, respectful voice, a man whose name I learned was Albert came up to me asking in such a polite manner that I even looked him in the eye, to “please just lower your voice” so he could hear me tell him what the problem was.” Well, treated in such a fashion I understood he would wait for me to calm and not get angry back so I was able to take a few breaths and then make him understand what she was doing…He said, with the med nurse standing well within earshot, though I do not think he intended any manipulation, “It’s okay, don’t worry. It’s nearly nine, and I’m sure the med nurse will get your medication for you.” (I was sure of quite the opposite but harrumph! Well, what could that SOB, excuse me, DOS — daughter of a stud (med-nurse) do but give me the Imitrex now?) I might have crowed, but instead, thanks to Albert and in respect for him, I took it without a fuss and thanked him again.
This sort of treatment gives the lie to what so many providers – both individuals and insitutions — say about the goal of “empowering patients.” What bloviated BS! What they really want are not empowered patients but cowering patients, people too scared and drugged up to object or make trouble in the first place and then who continue to cower before the establishment MD’s power structures all the way to the last place.
My butt hurts from sitting slouched on a bed all day. I need a break. So I am going to post this and go outside in the cooling darkness of the Litchfield hills and drink the air. Since I have nothing I have to do here but write, I will post tomorrow about that single meaningful encounter I had while imprisoned at The Institute of Living. If I still feel it is worth writing about, which as I think about it, it may not be.
Oh, what the heck: Basically, it concerned an encounter with this female tech, a woman who in passing me in the hallway, the first time she had spoken to me so far as I knew, accused me of moral turpitude (not in those words), made a statement shaming me for my behavior on Friday morning at the medication window. What had I done? By talking too loudly, I had made “the poor man behind [me]” cover his ears and point at his skull to communicate his displeasure. PLUS, I had made everyone wait a good 30 minutes…I knew the 30 minutes was an exaggeration, so I didn’t even touch that, but the shaming tactic got to me. I went back a few minutes later and said I wanted to speak with her. We went to a couple of lounge chairs in the hall and sat down.
“What precisely did I do that was morally wrong this morning?”
“Do you know you talked so loudly this morning that the poor little man behind you was covering his ears and pointing at his head?”
“So I should have talked more softly, but I do not have eyes in the back of my head to see him. I could not know he was communicating by pointing at his head. It is not morally wrong not to have eyes in the back of your head, nor is it morally wrong to speak in a loud voice.”
She reiterated the case of “the poor little man behind you pointing at his head.” But I continued to press her on what was morally wrong because I didn’t have eyes to see behind me. Finally she granted that I could not help not seeing him and that it wasn’t actually a morally wrong thing to do, to yell or talk too loudly. At this point I said to her, nearly in tears because just having a calm conversation had taken such effort on my part, “Be careful what you say to someone on this unit you know nothing about. Words have power and you should use that power with care. You have NO idea how those words you spoke affected me, no possible idea…”
She gave me an intent look, almost a fearful one, as if afraid that — well, no, I don’t think she gave a damn whether or not she caused me any emotional harm. She no doubt despised me along with the rest of the nursing staff. But perhaps she suddenly appreciated how even her words were important and powerful, and carried weight and could do some good but could also do just as much psychological damage and maybe more sometimes than the loud voice that damaged mostly ear drums.