After I wrote my early September post “Open Letter to Deborah Weidner MD”https://wagblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/open-letter-to…chaug-hospital/ about my stay at Natchaug Hospital in August, I received a phone message one Saturday afternoon not long afterwards from none other than Dr Weidner herself. She left her cell phone number and asked me to call her back. Her voice was neither angry nor upset, quite the contrary, she sounded very pleasant. So, despite my heart’s clangor in my ears at the same time as it drove nearly into my esophagus with its nervous pounding, I sat down and decided to make the call “without further ado.”
“May I speak to Deborah Weidner?” I asked the voice who answered, intentionally using her first name, so she would not think I was calling on unequal terms, i.e. as a patient.
She responded, and addressed me as “Ms Wagner,” which made me feel better at once. Then, before I said a word, and believe you me, I was not going to be the first to speak in any event, she said (and I quote from a less than perfect memory here, so this is not verbatim), “I read your blog post. You are such a gifted writer. It was really a wonderful piece…” Or words to that effect.
I was both stunned and amazed. Certainly I was amazed this was the self-same “head honcho” who had essentially, so I’d felt in August, been against me at the hospital along with so many others in charge, the MD who had – I felt – given up on me, called me “a borderline”*** and gotten rid of me at the earliest possible opportunity. She could, back in August, so easily have tried to help, tried to find out what had gone wrong and make things better. But it seemed to me at the time that she had simply gone along with the general ill-will towards me and dumped me, no matter how troubled I still was.
Note that when I say, “general ill will” I mean exclusively “the management” — the doctors and social workers and APRNs…those who did the diagnosing and disposing. From the nurses and mental health workers I felt nothing but great support and goodwill, almost to a one (minus, of course, my abusers). Even of the nursing supervisors I found only that single really awful one…at least to my face.
But as for Dr Weidner, I’d felt that she too had decided to “blame the victim” instead of taking responsibility for the very real traumas, which certain “bad egg” hospital staff had inflicted on me…
However, be that as it may, it is all water that has sluiced beneath the bridge, and so as I said, I was stunned to receive Weidner’s phone call. I was even more astonished to perceive such humanity and even warmth from this woman against whom I had conceived such animosity and from whom I had felt the same.
Here she was not only praising my writing skills but speaking approvingly of a blog post that concerned my very negative month-long stay in “her” hospital.
We talked for a while. She may not have known it but I was trembling, both with anger and with anxiety. It took me some time to calm myself, to feel safe enough to answer any of her questions. Finally, she said what she evidently had called about to begin with. “I wonder if you would consider coming back to talk with me and a few other interested people here at Natchaug. I would really love to speak with you.”
I was dumbfounded for a minute. But only for a minute. Then I found my voice, and as soon as I did, I responded with enthusiasm. “Yes, absolutely. I would love to do that. Thank you. I would be more than happy to speak to you and anyone else who would listen to me.”
“Thank you, Ms Wagner. We really want your input, we want to make Natchaug a better place and I think your insights can help us to do that.”
After we hung up, I was beaming. I felt so filled with light that my smile must have been big and bright as a beneficent Halloween pumpkin. I immediately went downstairs to the 7th floor to share the news with my friend of 30 years, a friend who had been appalled when I came home in August in such terrible shape.
Well, that meeting took place yeseterday, Friday, at 9am. Brityn, my case manager drove me out to Natchaug, and I brought with me the oil pastel painting I’d done while there, the view of the nurses station from my room. I am donating it to the adult unit mental health workers’ breakroom, after Brian, the patient relations advocate, who is both intelligent and caring and an extraordinary listener, displays it somewhere publicly for a time.
When we got there, we were met by the director of nursing, John O, APRN. Shortly thereafter Dr Kline came along and we went into a little room off the lobby. I was a taken aback at first when, while waiting for Dr W, John and Dr Kline started talking with Brityn, as if she were the only person in the room, as if, “professional to professional,” they could ignore me, a mere patient once again.
This was unconscionable. I was the person with whom they ought to have been concerned, and instead they directed themselves wholly to Brityn. It also felt infantilizing. Why didn’t they even greet me or ask how I was doing since I’d left Natchaug? They could have at the very least made small talk with me. Instead, they chatted with Brityn, someone who is not only my junior by about 30 years, but with whom they’d had no prior interactions whatsoever and whom they didn’t even know. It was insulting.
I dunno. Maybe I was too sensitive. Maybe they just wanted to include Brityn…But it didn’t feel that way to me. It felt like they were talking to her as a way to avoid talking to me, a way to simply bypass chatting with me.
To their credit, however, when I mentioned it – “You know, I am here and I am a person too. You could at least include me in the conversation…” — they apologized. But even now I do not believe they understood the problem. They thought it was perfectly acceptable — since Brityn had driven me (I wonder how they would have behaved had I simply been able to drive myself!) — to treat me as merely a patient, a “charge,” and to treat Brityn as their equal, the other professional, the only one on equal standing with them. Well fork them…It cost me a lot to go up there, not even to talk about what they did to me. Do they really think I am OVER it? They ought to be ashamed of themselves.
But I will let that go as well.
Soooo, down to tin tacks, which turned out to be the golden glue of the meeting itself.
Dr Weidner, small and blond and –somehow I want to call her “open-faced” — she seemed not to hide a lot, had what looked like a genuinely interested and caring face, though naturally psychiatrists are trained to achieve this appearance. Nevertheless, I did trust her sincerity.
This time I cannot recall if she called me Pam, or nothing at all. I do not think she called me Ms Wagner, though. I pointed out that since I understood that the post I’d written, the “Open Letter” had essentially “gone viral” in terms of the Natchaug Hospital staff itself, I didn’t feel I needed to talk much about what had happened in August. I had written all about it in detail. Or most of it…Mostly what I thought I should talk about was “How to make Natchaug a better place.”
I did that, and in fairly great detail. I will write a separate blog about all those suggested changes, and changes which would apply in spades to other hospitals. But for now, I just want to report on the meeting itself.
Dr Weidner seemed to take careful notes and when I had finished I was simply “blown away” when she said, “Pam you have so much to tell us, and are such a good teacher, but there are only the three of us here today. How would you feel about coming back and talking to the entire medical staff? Your experience as a patient and your ability to articulate it would be just invaluable for many more of us to hear.”
Well, I almost laughed in sheer belief and pleasure. “Of course. I would love to. I do public speaking and would have no problem with that. Anything at all that I could do to make Natchaug a better place would be fine with me.”
Dr Weidner also wanted to know what they could have done to make my own stay less traumatic “from the start,” especially how they could have relieved or prevented my becoming mute for so long.
I told her that from the instant that the first episode started, when that nurse or whomever said to me, “Take your hands out from under the blankets!” I felt so betrayed, felt indeed that I was back at Hallbrooke being tortured by those two abusive staff members (who were actually reprimanded for their behavior) that I became mute at that very instant.
Would I have taken Ativan despite my psychiatric advance directive’s proscription against its use? Yes, had someone gently explained its use and suggested I take it to help my mutism, just a small dose, I would have at least considered it.
But no one presented Ativan as an option…I do not believe anyone even knew about it. Except of course to force it on me against my will during the Seclusion event I described in the earlier post. Not until Dr Cappiello insisted that I ask Dr Pentz to prescribe it, and that was only after I had been unable to talk for 8 days.
As for the mutism itself? They — Dr Pentz and some of the other docs and APRNs — insisted that I deliberately chose not to speak, that I could have if I wanted to. But in point of fact, I could not get myself to speak, I woke every morning with no “inclination” to speak and no felt ability to break that barrier…and therefore I truly could not speak at all. In fact, it took hours, and maybe two doses of Ativan before I was able to speak at all even when I did take it.
After a few more words of conversation, the meeting broke up and Brityn and I headed towards the car, with the expectation that we would come back again so I could speak to a larger group of Natchaug personnel.
So that was my reconciliation with Natchaug and I left feeling like a million dollars. Even Brityn told me it was the best appointment she had taken anyone to that week.
You know, my sole worry — and I felt a frisson even as we talked about it and my worries were not immediately allayed — was when I asked if I could ever be readmitted, ie as a patient. I know, I know, why would I even want to? Dr Weidner said she didn’t think I’d ever want to come back. According to her, that’s what I’d written in my blog post. But in fact, what I said was that I didn’t think I would ever be taken back. I was considered such a PITA, why would they want me? And also because I could not see anyone for a doctor but Dr Andrei, and it seems dubious that she would see me. Why I do not know. But so be it. I liked her, never had any problems with her. But I must have done something wrong. This is twice that they have refused to assign me to her.
In truth though, 1) I have NO WHERE ELSE TO GO, no where else I could possibly begin to trust or feel safe, nowhere do I have even a history of feeling and being safe and 2) say that they do change, where else would I want to go?
In any event, since I can work with neithe Pentz nor the other doctor on the unit, because of “conflicts of interest” (i.e. he still has “feelings for me” from our days in med school together) that leaves only Dr Andrei, and I dunno if she would accept me onto her service. So, even if theoretically they would take me back – which didn’t seem at all certain, not from the vibes I got from Dr Weidner — I don’t have any idea who could see me if I were admitted.
(What the fork! I would be stuck in a snake pit like Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living only to be brutalized again. When push comes to shove and I might need or want to be re-admitted, frankly I wouldn’t expect the admitting MD Natchaug to give a damn, no matter how many times I’d spoken to people there and how much I might have taught them. As soon as I need their help as a patient, frankly, I expect I’d simply to be abandoned to my fate somewhere else.)
Well, of course I will still help Natchaug,. How could I not want to help them? I want to help EVERY hospital in the state become as good as Natchaug and even better. But it sucks all the same.
*** Finally I want to make a brief comment about the specific words “a borderline” used early in this post, because every time I hear this phrase it makes my blood sizzle. Not only is very insulting, it stigmaties. I may not have borderline personality disorder, but I know what is meant when someone calls a person “a borderline,” and it is invariably takes the place of PITA, Pain in The Ass.
There is a difference, a huge difference between understanding the very real travails that a person with such a personality disorder undergoes daily, the emotional suffering that afflicts that person, and simply calling them names because you find them troublesome.
Empathy goes a long way, especially with someone who suffers from BPD. The idea of calling someone “a borderline” is tantamount to saying, “I suffer from YOU.” A disgusting statement if ever I heard one, one most often made by mental health professionals. Doctors who use the words, “a borderline” need 1) re-education in language and its nuances, but 2) and much more important, a re-education in COMPASSION.
Of course, that’s just IMHO…and who am I?
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
by Emily Dickinson
I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know! How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – To tell one's name – the livelong June – To an admiring Bog!