I have been away since December 17th, in the hospital yet again. This time the experience – at Natchaug Hospital in Willimantic — was vastly better than the previous two and not abusive at all. I want to tell you about this, but first let me go back to what happened to get me there.
In the beginning of December I began to have trouble again. The “people” came back with their jeering and mockery and commands. A general confusion assailed me. In my journal I recorded many “cries” of MATOOTAM! : “Kill the Ogre that Ate Manhattan” which many of you know means me. I also began to burn myself under the influence of those command hallucinations. I still believe this was all a Lyme disease relapse, but I had been on antibiotics previously for 8 years – with positive tests for Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses intermittently during that time — without being cured, so there was and continues to be nothing but symptomatic treatment. This means, as my new psychiatrist, Dr C, argues, at least temporary use of the hated, and loved, atypical antipsychotic, Zyprexa. I already am taking Abilify and Geodon, as well as Lamictal for mood stabilization and possible temporal lobe seizure activity. However, as has happened before, these were not effective enough to carry me through such a crisis, which is why I was encouraged to take Zyprexa, 20 mg to head off anything worse. Despite my resistance – I really hate the immediate increase of appetite and weight that accompanies taking it – I did so, I assure you. But the damage was already done and the crisis took on a life of its own, so to speak. By mid-December, I was no longer “safe,” the code word my visiting nurse among others uses for my listening to the commands the “people” give me. She didn’t know how true that was, though, until I finally admitted it after four days of what I will only describe as obedience to those same commands. I saw Dr C that Thursday, and though she was uncertain of my safety, she decided that I would talk with her every evening until I saw her again the following Tuesday.
The truth is, I do not really recall most of this, neither intellectually nor emotionally. I have had to be told and to refer to my journal in order to recount all of the preceding. However, I do remember what happened next. In addition to the reappearance of the People, I began to experience what I called “brain blips.” These were very brief episodes in which I felt as if my brain suddenly did a somersault, a little like the feeling when your heart skips a beat, except that it was in my brain and accompanied by a terrible dread and feelings of impending doom. After the fraction of a second in which the blip occurred, I would come back to myself – it felt as if for an instant I lost consciousness, but the blip was so very brief that it didn’t seem possible. These episodes were terribly frightening, even though nothing ever happened during or after them, not at least of the dreadful sort I feared.
That Friday evening, my heart racing and my mind itself awry, I was in another world, so confused that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I managed to call Dr C, who prescribed Ativan. It was too late to call the nurse to pick it up for me so I got in the car to drive the mile to CVS but as soon as I pulled out of the parking lot, the other world took over completely. I do not know how I actually got to the drugstore. I recall only that I could barely hear or see for the pandemonium in my mind but that I was aware enough of the danger to drive only 20 mph the entire way. Once there, however, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get home and I forgot about getting the Ativan altogether. Somehow I managed to tell the pharmacist that something was wrong, that I couldn’t drive home, but she thought I meant that the car had broken down, and called a cab for me. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for it, but I was so scared of the shoppers who came and went – the drugstore was open 24 hours a day so anyone in the area who needed something after 10pm came there – that I was unable to take more than a few drags, hiding behind a pillar. I returned to the pharmacist and whispered that there was something terribly wrong, with my brain, that as I felt, bugs had infested it and that I was in another world. Finally she understood and called an ambulance.
I won’t go into the drive to the ER except to say that I was so “out of it” that I wasn’t even upset that the EMTs made me get on the stretcher right in the middle of CVS and that everyone saw me being taken out of there. Once in the vehicle, I tried to explain to them that despite the large wound they would discover on my leg, there was something wrong with my brain itself, that this was not a purely psychiatric matter and that I needed medical, neurological care. Indeed, I still feel that way, but much good that did. Once a “mental patient” always a “mental patient” it seems. I admit, though, that having burned my leg did not help much. Still, I tried to explain that I needed an MRI of my brain, that something was wrong, a bleed or parasites or something! You can guess their response: of course, they summarily dismissed all of that and quickly had me packed off to the psych section of the emergency room. Although this is a very comfortable, large and separate unit of the ER, with single cubicles for each patient and a TV but also a video camera in each one, I waited 3 days before a bed was available for me, some 25 miles or more away at Natchaug Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Mansfield Center, in Connecticut.
I name the hospital openly – as opposed to the others I have written about — because it was amazing in so many ways that I want both to sing its praises and to “advertise” it so to speak, to describe what a really good psychiatric hospital ought to be like. It is true that most people were in for a very short time, Connecticut having virtually no long term beds any longer, not even in the state hospital, but whether acute care or for somewhat longer stays, Natchaug was quite simply the best place I have ever been. From the food, to the – well, let me go into more detail rather than a mere summary (though in my opinion, the food was indeed a cut above that in any place I have been in, both in availability, and, with a salad bar at every meal, quality.)
Upon admission there was, to my dismay, a requisite “clothing and body search.” This procedure was done in such a way as to preserve as much dignity and privacy of one’s person as possible but I feared at first that it boded ill for the rest of my stay. Also, I discovered that although there were, I think, two private rooms, I had been assigned a double, a semi-private room, with a roommate already installed. This was upsetting to me, as I had almost always had a single, or been moved to one because the unit staff either felt I was too disruptive or unable to tolerate the stress of a roommate. However, when I saw how the semi-private rooms were carefully partitioned with a floor to ceiling wall in between the bed areas, I was much reassured. Although I eventually did for a short time have a private room, or a double that was designated as private – I frankly do not remember why! – I was not bothered by either roommate that I had while there. The one who did try to get me to – Oh, I dunno. I just am no longer one to “socialize” with other patients and I simply did not feel like getting to know her, or to excessively “sympathize” or otherwise expend my limited energy on her problems. I feel a little bad about this, but this one roommate, the second one, at first tried to involve me in her “stuff” and even left a journal or something next to my bed “for you to read to find out more about me.” Well, this was so very intrusive, and nothing I had asked for at all, that I rudely, but decisively said, “Why would I want to do that?”
I know that I would have been terribly hurt and humiliated by someone’s saying such a thing to me, but on the other hand, I would never have been so forward with a complete stranger either. In any event, she quickly took the papers back and left the room. However, a day later, she seemed to have no hard feelings, and we got along, if distantly at least as well as I wanted to.
Where was I? Well, I will tell you that the worst thing about my stay, and I suppose unavoidable, since I was there over the holidays, was that I had three different doctors for the three weeks I was there. but the best things were two, or more, but two in particular. One was that there was NO seclusion room, that is to say, the seclusion room that they used to have was not only now designated at the Comfort Room, but in fact was comfortable, and open at most times for use by anyone needing comfort. In it, there were thick mats on the floor, a Grandma Moses-like mural painted on all four walls by artist staff members and best of all a “therapy chair.” This is a very large and comfortable rocking recliner that is built in such a way as to elevate your legs, while you recline against the back, and let your feet dangle over the end. This allows the person to position the very lightweight chair near a wall so as to be able to lightly touch the wall with the feet and keep the chair rocking with little effort all the while lying back and relaxing. Their next improvement planned is to get headphones, wireless, or MP3 players with a selection of music for additional relaxation and comforting.
I usually tell staff at hospitals that they “cannot keep me safe” and indeed “prove” it by obeying in some fashion the commands the People give me…This never exactly endears me to anyone, and in fact has more often than not earned me a reputation as very difficult, even as having a “borderline personality” as an Axis 2 diagnosis (not true). Be that as it may, I was in fact kept safe at Natchaug, and when I was not, I was on a very helpful rather than punitive 1:1 or constant observation. At Natucahug, one-to-one staff were supposed to talk to me, rather than kept from doing so as at other hospitals, “so that you won’t come to like the attention too much.” The few times I became very upset, screaming, just screaming, at the top of my lungs, and rather than choosing to go on my own was escorted to the Comfort Room, by “staff assist” people (there is no “Dr Strong” goon squad of uniformed security guards), the door to the room was open and someone talked to me the entire time. Thus, when I left, on my own, when I felt calmer, I also felt that the reasons that I had been so distraught were also alleviated.
Also, although Natchaug, like any other hospital, did have a restraints policy, they did not use them a single time the entire three weeks I was there. In fact, though there was a very disruptive, troubling patient there the entire time (for once it was not I) I do not believe they even came close to considering using them. This time I believe it when they said that they almost never have to use them at all.
But the very best thing about my stay was something quite serendipitous: it turned out that the Director of Nursing for the whole hospital is Sharon H, the very same APRN who had been head nurse during my many stays at a Hartford hospital, and who had taken upon herself to supervise my care, or at least seemed to have in some sense “taken me under her wing.” Sharon is, and always was, both extremely bright and compassionate beyond words. She is also insightful in a way that I found the first two doctors I had were not, and if the third was, I did not have a chance to find out because I saw her only 4 times. It is true that Sharon had the advantage of having known me well, if 17 years ago, but still, she seems to have this ability to size up a situation, at least with me, and both to calm me if necessary and to suggest a solution that simply fits…I have to say that I felt especially well taken care of. Sharon made sure she saw me every afternoon, though this was above and beyond the call of any duty.
This description scarcely does my stay at this hospital justice. Although, like any hospitalization, it was not an easy stay, nonetheless I can only say that I cannot thank Sharon and the Natchaug staff enough for all that she and they did for me.
(PS Forgive any typos I have not yet corrected but it is getting late and I am too tired to go back and check for them at the present time…Lazy me!)