I moved to Brattleboro Vermont on February 4, 2015, leaving my home state of Connecticut where I’ve lived for nearly 60 years. l had to move because of the horrific psychiatric abuses I experienced in Connecticut hospitals and my fear that if ever I were hospitalized again I would be killed.
I feel guilty, however, just getting out without accomplishing something to stop what continues to happen in Connecticut psychiatric units and hospitals.
The experience of mechanical four-point restraints – leather cuffs that are tightened around the wrists and ankles to immobilize a patient to a bed – or being isolated by force in an often freezing seclusion cell is almost universally terrifying. Nevertheless, both cell and/or restraints are routinely employed to curb loudness and undesirable behaviors at the Hospital of Central Connecticut on Grand Street in New Britain. I know this because I was subjected to both seclusion and restraints multiple times in the spring of 2014, despite a diagnosis of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, as well as PTSD that was triggered by precisely this sort of thing.
Bizarrely, the hospital psychiatrist, Dr Michael E Balkunas, treating me at HOCC challenged my PTSD diagnosis. “Patient misperceives her treatment as traumatic,” he wrote in my chart. Well, maybe so, but I don’t know how I can be accused of misperceiving three entire days callously abandoned alone, tied to the four posts of a metal bedstead at U-Conn’s Dempsey Hospital (for trying to escape the locked unit) as anything but brutality, even if it was in the 1990s. I also think it is nearly by definition traumatic to be forced to defecate in one’s own clothing while tied to a bed which is what they did at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living in the winter of 2013. This was after I was told to lie down and place my own limbs in the leather cuffs (“as a consequence but not a punishment”) for walking away from the very same “Side Room” that I had just been assured was “not a seclusion room unless you call it a seclusion room.”
Again, maybe I misperceived being grabbed and held face-down and nearly suffocated numerous times by staff at Yale Psychiatric Hospital in August 2013, who injected 10-20 milligrams of Haldol, a known drug of torture. Maybe this was just kindliness that I misunderstood as traumatic, maybe it was merely a “psychotic misperception” on my part? Maybe, and maybe not.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that in the ED of New Britain’s HOCC, a security guard in May 2014, grabbed me by my left shoulder immediately after he was warned by the nurse that it was my left shoulder that had a rotator cuff tear.
My New Britain chart records that I was admitted to that hospital, and to the IOL and others with a detailed Psychiatric Advance Directive, the first page of which states that seclusion, four-point restraints and forced medication invariably result in regression to “primitive states and severe worsening of symptoms.” It also makes several concrete suggestions how better to deal with me when I am upset. Even though I spent many hours on this document, Psychiatric Advance Directives have no legal clout in Connecticut and doctors can and do ignore them freely.
Perhaps because of this, HOCC staff literally forced me (“escorted me”) to seclusion and/or restrained me again and again. They took to stripping me “for safety’s sake,” and even though I put up no resistance, they had the male guards spread-eagle my limbs while still naked and put restraint cuffs on without even covering me.
Is it any wonder that what resulted was someone who would wash her hair in her own urine, defecate on the floor of her room and smear feces on the wall? Yet Dr Balkunas, the director of W-1, the general psychiatry unit at HOCC claimed that my trauma was imaginary. Why? Because treatment cannot be traumatic. He simply never got the connection between my horrendous decompensation and his so-called “therapy.” Maybe he never appreciated that he was torturing me, like a person who ripped the wings off butterflies as a child. Someone like that would not have understood how those creatures suffer either.