Let me introduce myself. My name is Pamela S. Wagner, and I was for most of my 65 years a resident of Connecticut. I have a long history diagnosed with serious mental illness and have been on disability for many years because of it. Five years ago, I was admitted to the Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living on a 14-day PEC. I would like to tell you about some of the grotesque brutalities that transpired there and the egregious “treatment” that passes for care in that hospital.
Ever since I was discharged from the Institute of Living in February 2013, to which facility I had been committed as an involuntary patient under an order known as a Physicians Emergency Certificate. I have felt too terrified even to read the partial chart which the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy obtained for me. Indeed, every time I recall what I am able to, or reread the brief nursing notes about what was done to me that winter at the IOL, my heart races unbearably, my body sweats and shakes and I start crying. Even so, because of trauma-induced amnesia, I remember the month I spent there only vaguely and in “snapshot” or flashbulb-like moments” of clarity. It is only now that I have acquired these few records, and learned some of the details of what happened that I’m finally able to put some of the pieces together.
Before I say anything further, I want to say that I believe that I was grievously injured by the “treatment” I received on Donnelly 2 South, and that what the staff did to me was not only unethical and cruel but that it crossed the line into illegality more than once.
I was admitted to Donnelly 2 South, and right from the first I made it clear that I wanted to witness their searching my knapsack. I wanted to know what they confiscated from me. They assured me that, Yes, of course, that is our policy, Don’t worry, Pam, you will have ample opportunity to watch us search your bags… I calmed a bit and followed a nurse to a closed room to do an intake interview. When she released me to the Day Area, I was shown to my room, where I found on my bed, my already searched knapsack and bags. Needless to say, this upset me greatly and I made my feelings known, which did not endear me to anyone. I let the charge nurse know that I felt violated and that she had openly broken a promise and my rights, posted prominently on the hospital wall.
As the Donnelly 2 staff learned, I had arrived prepared with a detailed Psychiatric Advanced Directive and I made it very clear that my online electronic medical record was accessible from any computer. I made the Read-Only access code available to the doctor and nurses. That included documents such as my narcolepsy diagnostic consult and special documentation proving my need for a higher than usual dosage of Ritalin, written by my former sleep specialist (also my psychiatrist from 2000-2009.) Included as well was a letter she wrote to my present psychiatrist, Dr. C, explicitly stating her conviction that I do not, and never did have a personality disorder, borderline or otherwise, a conviction that Dr C also held.
According to Dr. Sanjay Banerjee, the doctor who first took over my care, he read every page of these and all the other documents that I brought with me. That is what he told me. Moreover, when he spoke with Dr. C, my outside psychiatrist, he brushed off my concerns about anyone misperceiving me as having a personality disorder. My brother, P, himself a psychiatrist, brought the same matter to the fore again when in discussion with Laurie Denenberg, LCSW. Again, her response was much the same: “Personality disorders are not a part of the picture here. We intend to honor her PAD. We are glad that she has had the foresight to prepare such a document.”
Nevertheless, Amy Taylor, MD, the doctor who took over my care after Jan 27th decided to summarize my psychiatric history from this stay in words such as these: “long psychiatric history of schizophrenia, paranoid type, PTSD, and personality disorder NOS with borderline traits.” I was treated for four weeks for an active psychotic disorder. No one could know – especially with the significant additional diagnosis of PTSD, whether or not I had any personality disorder, given the two Axis I diagnoses already present. I believe she decided to use this diagnosis as a way to “justify” the brutality that she had ordered to be used to punish me during the hospitalization I write about.
As I said, I was on the Donnelly 2 unit for almost a month. But I was admitted on January 10, 2013, right into to seclusion because of putative “blepharitis.” They called it “infection precautions” but never took a culture of my swollen eyelids to determine if there truly was any infection present. They simply said it had to be blepharitis – as if saying so meant that it was so (but the fact is that blepharitis generally speaking is a benign non-infectious condition, and one that doesn’t produce massive swelling in the entire facial region). There were other factors however that accounted for my swollen face: prime among them the self -inflicted second degree burn on my forehead the size of a half dollar. Knowing this, the fact that my face had swelled to 1½ its size should not have surprised anyone. Blepharitis? The doctor was looking for zebras instead of seeing the common nag right in front of her…
I know I was a difficult patient. I was loud and paranoid and hard for some staff to deal with. That is precisely why I wrote out my Psychiatric Advance Directive the way I did, with explicit and detailed instructions for how best to deal with me when I was upset… When ill, I am frightened, paranoid, and hostile, which makes me easily roused to irritability. I know this, from a distance as it were. But knowing this now does not mean I was in full control of my behavior at the time.
On Feb 5th, I was being held incommunicado in the so-called “side room”, which, when I called it seclusion, the staff insisted it was not so. That afternoon, I simply walked away from it. I had had enough of them saying it was not seclusion, then preventing me bodily from leaving it. So, when I could do so without someone actually wanting to fight me, I walked away.
I proceeded to enter the unit and walk down the hall to the end and looked out the window. I took a deep breath, heard staff behind me, and sauntered back to the proper end of the hall, the “lost end” where they kept anyone from seeing me or knowing what they were doing to me. Once I got there, they descended upon me, some staff I knew, but most I did not. I did not bother to look at who was doing what to me. I simply lay passively on the bed and put my arms where they could do what I knew they would do. Tightly, they shackled my wrists out past my hips so there was no play in the restraints and I could not turn on my side or do anything but lie stiffly on my back. At the same time, others jerked my feet apart and just as tightly shackled my ankles to the lower corners of bed. Then came the coup de grace. They twisted me over onto my side somehow, pulled down my pants, and injected me with three drugs: Haldol 5mg, Ativan 2mg, and Benadryl 50mg. Why, except as punishment I do not know. I had, just a half hour before, been doped up on involuntary Zyprexa 10mg. Then they walked out, leaving someone just outside the door for the usual monitor, and did not release me for 19 hours, despite the fact that I was sleeping much of that time.
Of course, this was punishment. The very fact that they told me it was “not punishment” only “what your behavior brings on every time, Pamela,” proves my point. At first and usually they only said, it was because I “didn’t follow directions” so if they were not punishing me, what were they doing? They most certainly were not following Centers for Medicare and Medicaid regulations for the use of Restraints and Seclusion only in cases where a person is in imminent danger of harming her self or others. Indeed, the best they could do, when I protested, passively, saying just those words, was to respond, “You are not safe” as if that proved somehow that I was in danger or posed any imminent threat to the safety of anyone.
They always restrained me in an X, spread-eagled so tightly I couldn’t move a muscle. They never permitted bathroom breaks or even let my hands free to eat, so several times I had to pee and even defecate in my clothing. I would fall asleep rapidly after those three injections–whether I was restrained while calm or not, it was routine: punishment needles in the buttocks of Haldol 10mg, Ativan (up to 5mg at one time) and Benadryl 50mg—and then they would invent reasons to maintain me in restraints even after I was asleep for hours. When I woke, hardly dangerous to anyone, they would grill me with questions that I was too groggy to answer, and they would use my inability to respond as reason not to release me.
Later in the evening on Jan 5 or 6thth, for the second time that day, they restrained me, this time for throwing half a graham cracker at the wall. Then they left me like that for hours, even after I fell asleep. In point of fact, I could never earn my way to release from restraints by good behavior or quietly, calmly asking for release. Of course not, because I hadn’t done anything to “deserve” them in the first place. They always refused to release me, always, until I cried, “Uncle” when they told me to.
As to those vaunted “shows of force” what does anyone expect? Presented with a cohort of threatening staff personnel I saw only one thing: an impending assault. I know they anticipated my panic; it said as much in my chart. Isn’t that the point of a planned “show of force” – to induce fear and panic? (which when you think about it is grotesque…What sort of person wants to induce fear and more panic in someone who is by definition already terrified?) But why else do it? So why should it be any surprise, when I defended myself as they grabbed me? When they stuffed me into a body bag and were trying to tighten the straps, surely you can understand why anyone would bite the hand of an attacker whose digits came near. It was a matter of life and survival instinct…
But none of it should have happened. My PAD explained in exquisite detail exactly what to do and what I respond to better than fear tactics and force. In fact, it is beyond comprehension, knowing that one of the admission diagnoses I came in with was PTSD, how the director of patient care at the time pre-approved on paper the emergency abrogation of my PAD and a “just in case they are needed” use of restraints and seclusion. Why didn’t he counsel the person asking for this advance “right to restrain” to do instead all in his power not to restrain me and to work with the PAD instead?
TO BE CONTINUED… SEE NEXT ENTRY.