What is real? Is anything true and factual? Or are we all just deluded and mad as hatters? This is a serious question.
What I recall and what was written down in my chart about a certain four days in July 2012 are so different it is difficult to figure out whether my experience was fact in any sense of the word or, as “they”claimed, simply paranoid and delusional. Of course there is some truth in paranoia and delusion, since even a paranoid’s beliefs are based in feelings that arise honestly and from a foundation, I firmly believe, in true things sensed but unacknowledged. Feelings always have their own veracity. But whatever the philosophers may say about the fiction of facts, still there is, there must be, something more to the consensual world of what happens than mere perception.
I mean, either that security guard in the Emergency Department last July deliberately attempted to strangle me, or he did not. Either it happened or in some fashion I imagined it. It is that simple, isn’t it? Yes or no, red or green, one or zero. Like a digital configuration, there’s nothing vague about it: either it happened or it didn’t.
There are records. I know what the ones they wrote say, as far as they go. But how to interpret them since so little was written down, and unless my memory is so completely at odds with reality as to have confabulated the entire episode – which by the way, is what they claimed all along – how to explain the discrepancies when so much is not even mentioned. That they whisked my gurney into a seclusion room and assaulted me en masse is my version. In theirs, the room change is noted only in passing, and of the IM medication all that is said is that it was given “NOW”. Nothing else of the incident I recorded in great detail in my journal some days later, and raged about from the first day I was admitted to the day I left. In fact, I’m still outraged, months later.
I wanted to go home, they wanted me to stay. That I was abjectly terrified of being kept there meant to them that I was “paranoid.” I claimed I had no problems and had never been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. That was a problem for they had more power than I did as well as my lengthy psychiatric history on their side to prove I must be crazy to make such a claim. Worse, I was loud, demanding, and in my increasing panic, getting angry. They saw my screaming as a threat. Even though I was blind to what was going on, any onlooker could have seen that I could not win and in the end of course I lost mightily.
But let me go back towards the beginning.
It didn’t help that I had arrived at the ED by ambulance and immediately refused to have my “vitals” taken, asserting that I was “fine!” I then accused the nurse of just wanting to get paid for taking them. In short order I was whisked to the so-called “purple pod” where the psych patients were buried for hours until the on-call psychiatrist deigned to come down to see them.
“Here,” someone said, thrusting a hospital johnnie and a pair of pajama pants at me. “Undress and put these on.”
I looked down and saw that I was already wearing pj pants from another hospital. No one ever knew the real nature of what I wore — they simply passed for scrubs — and they were so comfortable that I kept them on day and night. “I’m already wearing pajama pants. I only need to change my shirt,” I said.
“No, you are wearing very nice blue slacks. Now, put on the pajamas, or do you want a couple of strong men to put them on for you?”
“Actually,” I sniped, “they are hospital pajama pants. I pilfered them from –“ and I named the hospital. But I made a show of undoing the snaps so they would see that I was going to comply. The last thing I wanted was anyone touching me or “helping” me undress.
Soon an APRN, came by and I thought, Wow, they are quick here, maybe it isn’t so bad being taken to a big hospital. Maybe I can get discharged from here in no time. Unfortunately, she was there only to do a 15 second “physical exam” that consisted of looking in my mouth and listening to my back with her stethoscope. Period. Pronouncing me cleared for a psychiatric interview, she rushed off to clear someone else. Then I sat on the gurney in my cubicle and waited. And waited.
I remember being cooperative for what felt like a long time. I tried to sleep, and I listened patiently to what was going on around me. I swore that I would simply hold my breath and bide my time until someone saw me, so that, calm, I could present my case and they would see I was safe and sane enough to be sent back home, not admitted or sent to some hospital against my will. But it was taking so long, it was taking hours for someone to see me, and I knew they were doing it to me on purpose. Did they think I, too, was drunk or on drugs just like the others here? I started to complain that I had waited long enough and needed to see someone. I was NOT drunk, did not need to dry out. Where was the doctor? There was nothing wrong with me, I did not need to be here. I wanted to go home!
Things started happening then. Memory fails me however and even the chart, which I just obtained a couple of days ago leaves out way too much. All it says is that I was uncooperative, then irritable, screaming and combative. Meds were “offered”.
I remember this: When I refused to take soul-deadening Haldol by mouth, they descended on me, wheeled my gurney into a solitary room and jumped on me, intending to inject me by brute force. In the struggle, a guard gripped my neck and compressed the arteries, strangling me. I tried to get the nurse’s attention, burbling through forcibly compressed lips that I could not breathe. But her response, attending only to her needles and not even looking at me, was an impatient, “You’re all right!” In a pulse of panic, I jerked away as she started to shove the first needle into my arm.
“Damn!” she cried as a rush of blood spattered us and the needle danced away from my skin. “Hold still!”
I’d hoped to get some respite from strangulation but instead of letting go of me, the guard reasserted his grip on my neck and pressed down harder. I felt the light go black as blood failed to reach my brain. Darkness descended. Sounds grew confused and dim. Suddenly I knew that I could die, that this was how patients had been “accidentally” killed during notorious restraint episodes in Connecticut. I did the only thing I could: I went limp, hoping the nurse would get the injections over with quickly and that the guard would not kill me before she was through.
One, two, and then, astonishingly a third needle punctured my arm. She wiped my deltoid muscle with an alcohol wipe then removed herself from the gurney. “All done,” she said, removing her gloves with a smack and she nodded, indicating the door.
With a cruel leisure, the guard let go of my neck, but he leaned down as he did so and muttered in my right ear: “That’ll teach you a lesson about bringing a JCAHO case against M— Hospital…” Then he and all the others strode out of the room, leaving me alone in what I had already been warned was a soundproof room where you can “scream all you want, but no one will hear you.”
In other circumstances, I would have screamed, soundproof or not, as the door was left open. But nothing was ordinary anymore. A guard – thuggish bully, no doubt a reject from the police academy — paid to protect people, had just partially strangled me in revenge for – what? What had I done to him? My case against that other hospital should have meant nothing to him. But what was clear to me, trying to get a breath and calm myself, was that I was not only not protected in the this ED, I was in mortal danger. I could not scream or rage in outrage, I could not even complain or demand to see a patient advocate. My life was imperiled. Still panting, trembling, in shock, I lay in the semi-dark of that single room and prayed — not to any god, mind you, but simply for my life, prayed to get out of that ED alive. I promised myself that I would not say or do anything “wrong,” would comply with everything they asked from then on in order to survive the night. But it was a long night ahead of me and I had no idea whether or not the guard would come back and finish the job. I was so terrified my teeth chattered. I felt a hollow coldness inside me of unutterable fear. And there was nothing I could do but lie there and hope he did not return.
I did not name the hospitals in the piece above, though I usually do, and I refrained from doing so because I do not know whether what I am going to write now is indeed true or not. But if it is not, then I do not want certain people being alerted to this blog post and reading it and taunting me with “Yehaw, we got away with it!” Read on, and you will see what I am talking about further on.
So as I said, I am in possession of my chart, the entire thing, 60 pp for a mere four day stay in the hospital about which I speak, including an approximately 10 hour stay in the ED. In it, there is absolutely no evidence that anyone ever took me or what I had to say seriously at any time. Everything I said was dismissed as paranoid and delusional, grandiose, disorganized or confabulating. (BTW Confabulate does not mean lying, it means to unintentionally “fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.” But whatever they thought I was confabulating I have not the faintest idea. Or memory. Alas, the chart says nothing of what I spoke about.)
What has completely upset the applecart is my own statement, written in my journal and elsewhere: “Why on earth would that guard care whether or not JCAHO was involved in that other hospital?” On that thought rests everything, because of course, he had to have cared mightily to have wanted to strangle me for it. Or did he? Did he care, and in fact did he try to strangle me, and did he even say those words in my ear? I am serious.
You have to understand something: Once, years ago, I heard, or hallucinated, hospital nurses announce over the public address system in nearly the same words how they were going to “teach me a lesson” about — whatever it was I had done…and I knew I had heard it, knew I was hearing it at the time, except for the fact that I was on the phone with my sister at that time. I held out the phone in the air so she could hear it too, but she told me she heard nothing, assured me that I was hallucinating. What I described was not only unlikely but so beyond the realm of the likely that she was certain it could never have happened. “Its just your voices, Pammy,” she said, “you have to trust me, you are hallucinating.”
So remembering this, it gives me pause. For why would that guard care about JCAHO and that other hospital in the first or even the last place? What could it possibly mean to him? Security guards are usually hired from outside agencies so his over-involved concern with another hospital’s accreditation suddenly seems to me absurd. And if he did not care, why would he have tried to strangle me? Oh, maybe he did hold me down too hard, and I felt that, yes. But if I could speak, then I know I could breathe, so I was not actually being strangled either.
Perhaps I was simply frightened? And could it be that in fact he never said anything at all? That I “imagined” those words, hallucinated them, and then continued to believe that I heard him say them and that he wanted to kill me, all the time since then? Could it possibly be that some of what the hospital personnel said was true — NOT all of it, but some part of it. That I was in fact hallucinating and delusional? It doesn’t make their behavior right. It doesn’t justify throwing me into seclusion and injecting me with IM meds when I was not a danger to myself or others. It doesn’t even make admitting me to the hospital the proper thing to do in the first place. But, but, but…if I have heard people say things, visible people say things that they simply have not said, when they have not said anything at all, and I know this has been the case, then it is, I admit, just possible that what happened at the ED this summer might be another instance of the same…It pains me to think this. It frightens me to think that I could have been so mistaken for so long.
But what’s more, I worry that I am wrong to believe I might be wrong! That the guard DID say what I think he said, did intend to strangle me, and that I am giving him what he wanted: I am letting him drive me into believing I was/am crazy!
I do not know what to think. And I may never know for certain what happened. Not about this. However, one fact that I can corroborate in the record I am painfully aware I “knew” for months: I was given 3 IM drugs during that episode. Yet you only have to read my chart to see that I was given only 2: Geodon and Ativan. The third drug, Haldol, was canceled immediately after it was ordered. The records clearly state that only the Geodon and Ativan were ever administered. This is so striking an error of memory that it too makes me think again about trusting what I was certain I heard in that terrifying room where they held me down and injected me.
I don’t know what to do with this…I don’t know how to handle it or deal with it. It doesn’t feel good, or give me any sense of relief. I dunno how I feel. Just shocked, I guess. And perturbed, because I don’t know what else I have experienced that never “really” happened.