I have been able to speak now for at least a month, but before that there were four months of what I can only call subconsciously self-imposed silence. Not “selective mutism” because I did not speak at all. There does not seem to be any term for this intermittent affliction, when I cannot speak for long periods of time, but as my poem says, “Nothing locks my lips or seals my tongue” — a paraphrase I fear because I do not recall the exact words.
I would write more, but I have no time this morning. I post this small, 3.5″ by 2.5″ drawing because of Sue B’s comment on my most recent post…as it most eloquently I think answers her question. Whatever the reason for my muteness, I do not consciously choose to go silent. It simply happens, with a bang, so to speak.
This muteness can lift, I have found, with music, with singing, and people encouraging me to sing…and then to sing-talk my words, until finally I “forget” and simply end up speaking.
Here is the poem I wrote that expresses some of htis, It can be found in my newest book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, available on Amazon and through any bookstore.
I haven’t spoken out loud for many weeks,
bullied by “voices” to a frightened into myself silence.
Still, what does “speechless” mean
in these days of text-to-speech software,
with its choice of Vikki or Samantha or Victoria voices,
especially when I’m possessed of a blog and writing fluency
enough to speak my mind to my heart’s content?
Even so, being mute is not a manner of speaking.
Yet I tell you I cantalk. Nothing physical impedes
my tongue, or locks my lips
except my brain’s hallucinated snarls,
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy thrown
into surrounding shadows
ordering up this stoppage, blockage, blockade.
Now, like Stevens’ fire-fangled bird at the end of the mind
feathered unlucky, tarred, locked in golden cage
my voice remains only a memento
I wanted to say, but could not get out,
I couldn’t get it out, I could not get it out…
*In the Greek myth, Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by Tereus, the husband of her sister Procne. Rendered mute, Philomela weaves a tapestry detailing the crime to inform her sister, who, enraged, takes revenge on Tereus. At the end of the story, both Procne and Philomela are transformed into birds. In some versions of this story, Philomela turns into a female nightingale, while in others she becomes a swallow. However, neither of these birds can sing.
*Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy are two famous American ventriloquists’ dummies
Only nine days after that last adders-pit hospital —
You still wear sunshades to protect others from you
though no one out here believes they are in peril.
Nevertheless, the staff there described you
as “assaultive,” dangerous to self and others,
unfit for company or visitors.
Neither accurate nor truthful
they wrote lies for the sake of their convenience.
Now you are a week from making new friends
in far northeastern Vermont,
in a place magically named the Kingdom
and it’s a move your bruised mind
requires, still unable to let go of
the half-nelson grip of hospital guards
bent on eliciting pain, who, when told to strip you
then four-pointed you naked to a mattress,
replaying their favorite rape scene,
yanking each limb apart to expose and humiliate, knowing
that the nurses’ own official policy was hands-off
and would protect their asses.
You want truth, you wish for reconciliation
but how, you wonder, does any Truth or Reconciliation proceed
when so many refuse to acknowledge
that hospital staff broke every rule,
stopping short of murder only
because you submitted nick of time,
your terror strangled in a towel they wound
around your head and face,
before they injected punishment drugs into your buttocks,
then muted the intercom and sealed the door
No one was ever there to bear witness.
That was always the point,
from your father to the hairdresser
and all the hospital staffs in-between.
They’ve made a religion of secrecy
and no one Outside wanted to know
what they didn’t want to know…
Call this, “our family business,”
call it, “a private shampoo,”
call it, “necessary treatment.”
they could always do what they wanted to you.
And when it broke you, as it eventually would,
when your sudden screams split the night,
and no one could explain what drove you
to empty your lungs,
ripping the air to shreds,
they stood aside and declared you
just “one of the family” now,
no better and no different than anyone else,
now that they’d finally fixed you for good.
6:30pm this coming Wednesday evening Sept 13, 2017.
Please join us to listen and participate!
Please listen to this. You will find Cortland Pfeffers intro fascinating, and of course pamela as usual has much to say!
Here is a little new art to entice, just a small drawing i did while at fhe hostel in Boston during the Hearing Voices Congress. I hope to post that power point soon.
Available at Amazon.com here (dont worry about the different covers, it is the same book!):
Am I opinionated or what? But someone has to SAY these things!!! Peace!
Just want to keep people aware that these things are absolutely continuing to this day. They have not stopped persecuting psychiatic patients just because YOU dont hear about it. Every single thing in this post has happened to me within the last five years, and is still happening to others. Remember, and dont forget it! Your relatives may not talk about it, but it is happening to someone.
All i can say is everything in this picture was as deliberate as i know how to make it, without planning it at all, and it contains symbolism both public and private. With reference to my signature quotation, (see below) it makes use of what the negative spaces offered me without leaving any in the end.
“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner
(for those who are not familiar with WWII, over the gates over Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp where Jews and many other despised groups were taken to be tortured and killed, were emblazoned the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, or “work will set you free,” which was of course a lie and a horrible joke, because it was only meant to kill you at what was not a labor camp but just a death camp. )
PSYCHIATRIE MACHT FREI?
Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″
All art copyright of Pamela Spiro Wagner
Edited on July 29, 2016 and reposted.
The poem below is the introduction to my third book, and my second book of poems, this time with art, which should be published in the spring of 2017 by Sundog Poetry and Green Writers Press, both Vermont publishers. Wowee!!! I am thrilled. Tamra Higgins of Sundog has generously said that she wants to make sure that I have an art show and reading at the time of the book launching. Moreover I believe that Sydney Lea, Vermont’s wonderful former poet laureate, who had agreed to write the forward for it when it was still going to be published by CKP will still do so for the new publishers. I feel especially blessed!!!
I am very much a novice watercolorist and these are two beginning paintings.
TO THE READER
who may be sitting as I am
in a green recliner with a cup of tea
staring out through the porch
to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,
with a book in her lap, mine, I hope
the only one I feel I should have to mention
if I mention a book in a poem I write;
to the reader, the nitpicker, the one
who may be wondering why
on p. 47 there are two ands, one
right after another, and whose fault that is;
and to the reader, who may be tired
after a long ride home on the bus
after dark and a meal not worth mentioning
who picks up my book but finds his eyes
closing before he has opened the cover,
I say: Forgive me
I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner
with a cup of tea, I can’t explain
those two ands or the mysterious
streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired
reader in his bed. I can only put music on
and tell him stories to make movies
turn in his head, to let him wake
with the sudden understanding that poetry
may be all it takes to make a life—
well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,
and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,
staring through the porch to the streetlamp
where what happens so mysteriously is poetry—
and the whole night is wrapped
in the words spoken by two strangers
meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,
and all of us who listen are waiting
for the music of what is to happen.
Counterpoint Summer 2016 please see this important article that just came out in the Vermont paper. It is very important! Thanks, pam
Living in a hospital is like living in an Ice Hotel
where all the appointments beneath the furs and fleece
are hard frozen to the floor
Like Ice Hotel staff, the nurses try their best
to be kind, to find compassion for those suffering
here on their sub-zero beds.
But really, they have their warm lives elsewhere.
The psychiatrist knows better. She visits briefly
once a day at the height of the sun, chewing her Vitamin D,
and encourages Hotel visitors to Happy Talk
and Life Skills. If she fails to ease their suffering
in any part, it is because she does not see it, blind
to the fact that the beds are frozen pallets that chill
to the bone. She sees only the furs and warm fleeces.
She cannot fathom why one would not rise and walk
under her cheerful ministrations after a few nights
spent on a banquette of ice. Only the aides
are savvy enough, being low-paid and long-working,
to bring in oil lanterns and hot water bottles.
The patients love them and when finally it comes time
to leave, strange how difficult it is to say good-bye
to even the hardest corner of this place.
luckily i no longer live in a hospital but in a little corner of paradise, in Brattleboro Vermont. And soon I will be writing you about my place. All week i had a headache, which was a beach that was decidely not Miami. But I stopped taking the Abilify on a whim, and wouldn’t you know, immediately the headache ceased. I cannot tell anyone this, because they will become up in arms at my stopping a “necessary medicatoin” but if I do not tell anyone, and things go just fine, won’t that be funny as hell? I think so. And that is precisely what happened when I stopped the Zyprexa, the last time. Everything was fine fine fine,. for six months, and never stopped being fine. I mean I did just as good off it as on it, and we never started it with any good being done, again.
But no negativity from me today. Instead I will leave you with the sunny face painting I did for a member of BRattleboro TIme Trade, in preparation for a papier mache sun we want to work on. Love to all of you!
Please note that i am reposting this frorm a week ago as it got accidentally deleted, but i cannot repost the comments. Anyone who wishes to recomment is welcome to.
It all started when i bodily “escorted” the nurse,KJ out of my bathroom, where I had situated my mattress, and had her leave my lunch on the table outside. I had been vocalizing loudly and softly virtually only the three words, “oswall wistofi matootam” for days uncontrollably, and over the past hour i had screamed at the top of my lungs from my room, which the nurse had to have heard but made no response. When she simply left my lunch at the table, i felt utterly ignored and abandoned, and in a rage of certainty that she was plotting against me, picked up the cup of coffee and threw it straight at her. With unusual accuracy, it found its target in her center. My next lob hit only the wall.
In certainty of repercussion, i slammed my door and waited. Soon the usual code was called, but instead of burly men bursting in the door, i heard them packing up the sitting area for quite some time, and it knew it took them some several minutes to prepare an injection of my medications. But my terror only increased, so i grabbed a chair to defend my self. Finally they opened the door. KJ in an oh so nice voice said, “pam, i have medication for you.” And they quickly grabbed the chair and four men upended me and laid me on the floor near the bed frame, which was covered in my artwork and books. It took quite some time for the staff to methodically pack up all items they feared, apparently, might go flying at them afterwards ( though if proper protocol had been followed from tHe first, nothing would have).
This proper protocol, by the way, had been developed by another nurse and i after much discussion of my detailed advanced directive and my intense horror of locked seclusion and mechanical restraints, both of which i have experienced in abundance and usually for discipline or convenience, almost never for any truly emergent reason. That said, i believe the first nurse, KJ had lost her temper with me, and decided not to follow this protocol on the unit because she wanted to punish me, as will be demonstrated by what followed.
Having brought the two IM medications with her, which the protocol for agitation we had worked out calls for, she eventually called for the men to deposit me on the bed frame so she could inject them, one in each leg. She did so. Then, instead of having them keep me in a protective hold for as long as i needed to calm myself and potentially fall asleep, which usually took little more than 10-15 minutes, she said, she was having everyone leave and locking me alone in my emptied room. I screamed aloud at this. “I have an advanced directive! You cannot do that!” I pleaded but they forced the door closed against me and locked it.
I screamed to no avail and then started hitting my head in terror against the door in an effort to get them to open it. This worked in a short time, and three aides were sent in. We sat on the bed frame and they actually held my limbs, i thought in such a way as to comfort me. Little did i understand the truth, because even as i very quickly calmed down, soon through the door, the same angry nurse pushed a big prison-issue restraint chair. She yelled at me, “now you are going to have to sit in this!!!
I yelled back, “No!!! No restraints. My advance directive says so!”
I want to interrupt here to quote the government’s own research. SAMHSA’s issue brief #1 March 2010 on promoting alternatives to the use of seclusion and restraints says:
“…the use of seclusion and restraint has often been perceived as therapeutic to consumers. This misconception has been challenged and refuted. Increasing research has identifed the role of trauma in mental and addiction disorders. Research into trauma and trauma-informed care identify common themes about the impact of trauma and how traumatic life experiences can impede an individual’s ability to manage his or her own behaviors or engage in appropriate behaviors in the community.
“Also, there is a common misconception that seclusion and restraint are used only when absolutely necessary as crisis response techniques. In fact, seclusion and restraint are most commonly used to address loud, disruptive, noncompliant behavior and generally originate from a power struggle between consumer and staff. The decision to apply seclusion or restraint techniques is often arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and generally avoidable . Moreover, some studies indicate that seclusion and restraint use leads to an increase in the behaviors staff members are attempting to control or eliminate.”
But they grabbed me and forced me into that chair and despite my struggles and terrified screams of protest they forced nine straps around my body, yes, 9-point restraints because K— J—-, RN, was still angry with me and refused to utilise our calming no-restraints, no seclusion protocol. This protocol had not only helped me but had also since then, so i was told, been used to calm and help other agitated patients without seclusion cells or mechanical restraints after i insisted that the unit staff start doing their “best to avoid restraints” with everyone, not just for me because my A.D insists on it.
Once strapped in to that horrendous chair, i screamed at the nurse, “You are just punishing me!” And calmly, she answered back, “Well, you threw hot coffee at me, what do you expect but punishment!?”
Then she walked out of the room, leaving two aides in the room to tighten the straps so tight that i could not move and felt the circulation in one hand go dead.
In horror, i shrieked for help. I pleaded for anyone to help me, for god’s sake. What the hell were they doing to me?!? Please just help me, someone!!? It upset the other patients to hear this just outside my room. I even begged them to put me in regular 4-point restraints on a bed where at least i could relax and fall asleep. Why hadn’t the nurse not brought me to the seclusion room to begin with, where the walls and door were all were padded if she was not going to follow the protocol?
In the end, it took two hours and two episodes in that terrible chair before they freed me.
That evening, as a response to the trauma, i defecated on the rug in the dining area, and painted with feces on the wall.
Surely this is no way to treat an animal, let alone a troubled psychiatric patient, especially not when there is already a calming,non-violent protocol set up to deal with her when she is agitated?
I say, chairs like this need to be trashed. Once a hospital orders one — and where do they get them? From prison suppliers!) they will use it. They say they use it for emergencies only, but as i have shown, once they have such a chair, it will be used abusively–always, always, always.
The only way to end seclusion and restraints is to stop it now and. For good. The more hospitals dilly-dally saying, soon, we will when we can, they will never stop. There will always been someone to say, no, what about this or that. But abuse is abuse and restraints are abusive by definition. Stop the use of a restraint chair and bed and all use of mechanical restraints by stopping. And then you will find a way to deal with problems arising that work better.
The painting i did below depicts the chair they held me in, minus the waist strap but with the toe restraints.
“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner
Pamela Spiro Wagner
rutland regional medical center
Rutland vt 05701
802-747-1855 until i can use my cell phone
These are the latest fractured portraits and artpieces i have done at Rutland Regional Medical Center’s PICU. The portraits are not meant to be recognizably anyone, unless of course, they are. The set of small oil pastels were just experiments. The last picture is a gouache painting, about 22″ by 36″. The others are about half that size and in colored pencil.
So sorry to every one for disappearing so unexpectedly. I was sent to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Emergency Room on December 31, 2015, largely because MRR was short on staff, and there i was brutalized for 6 days before Rutland Regional Medical Center took me in, on their state hospital PICU unit.
In the ER not only did they restrain me as i have depicted, but they injected me with 15mg of Haldol and much more over the course of those 6 days, despite my advanced directive, signed by four people and notarized, that explicitly states that under no circumstances am i to be given Haldol!
The ER doctor admitted that he violated, knowingly, my advanced directive. Due to facebook supporters calling the local newpaper in outrage, the newspaper called not the hospital–that would have violated my privacy, so they claimed, even though i had alerted the paper myself to their treatment of me! No, the newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, called my twin sister, Carolyn Spiro MD and asked her if this treatment of me, her sister, and her twin, was proper, and her amswer was, Absolutely!!!!
So you see where she stands on the issue of the torture of both psychiatric patients and her own twin sister! I have had nothing to do with her for years because of this.
Meanwhile, i have many many good words to say about the Rutland Regional Medical Center PICU but i don’t have enough time on my iPad tonight to say them all. So i will just end with this other artwork. I hope tomorrow i can tell you more about RRMC where they are trying, in a very small constricted place, to do things right, at least in terms of seclusion and restraints.
I was left alone like this, offered neither food nor water and given only an apple when I begged for one, for three days and two night at John Dempsey Hospital in the 1980s at University of Connecticut Health Center, in Farmington Connecticut. If anyone remembers having been through this, Please get in touch with me! ( If anyone know whether Jim or Don Steadman, the aides, are still alive, please let me know…or have them get in touch too. I believe they would remember attending to me while the doctor kept me trussed up like this…)
Oil Painting, Maybe unfinished…..
After they had me trussed up in restraints…No, let me back up a bit, because it was not that easy…Hannette was the point person, shall we say, the person who had my head between her hands and was cradling it, “oh so gently” as she “oh so soothingly” commanded me to CALM DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!” Again and again, she subjected me to these absurd demnds as if I could possibly do so upon her order. And as if I ever would do anything but attempt to writhe away from her clammy awful grip on my ears that nearly deafened me to her voice even so.
Finally the job was done and they had fastened a thick plate of velcro across my chest so I could not even sit up or do more than bend my neck a bit to see their handiwork, briefly, before i lost strength and had to lie back down. But I was emotionally overwrought with the situation, and what had happened in the space of only minutes.
WTF? How could this have happened when all I ever wanted was an Ativan to calm down and help me speak? And now what?
But they just trooped out, with Annette leaving last, saying, “You will tell us in WORDS when you are safe enough to be released, or you will remain in restraints.” She then departed too.
Although two monitors were posted silently in the adjoining room, I could not see them for my position, nor were they permitted to speak to me, as I knew from prior experience. I let out a scream that echoed through the empty chamber like a banshee howl but it made no difference. Yes, I could hear Chelsea from somewhere, — a sweet female staff member who remembered my Advance directive and the other times I had been restrained — saying, “Pam, take a deep breath, try to stay calm, I am here, you are not alone…” And I mentally thanked her. But as soon as I could remember that she was there, she was taken away, removed by someone who was told not to talk to me….and so it went. A Dr. Lasix came to me within the half hour and told me he wanted me to come out of the restraints as soon as possible but I would have to agree to talk with him. What did I have to say to that?
I could not respond with a shake of my head or a simple nod so I remained silent. He shrugged and left.
Several people attempted to engage me in conversation, but as no one phrased their comments as Yes or NO questions, I had to remain still. I was not unwilling to answer, simply unable to. But time and again they told me I was “unresponsive” or non-compliant, though I was calm and had been rewarded with the requisite assessment to possibly come out of restraints every fifteen minutes. But no one let me, because they would not let me answer their questions without speaking aloud.
The hours passed. First one then two then three. Finally the nurse Jennnifer decided to relent and allow as how I might answer the safety questions with a shake or nod of my head.
“Will you remain safe and not hurt anyone?” she asked me, standing above me.
I nodded my head.
“Will you remain safe and not attempt to harm y0urself?”
I nodded again.
Will you get up go back to the unit to and to your room and continue to behave safely if we let you out of restraints?”
Nod nod nod.
Jennifer seemed happy with my responses but also at a loss as to what to do with them. She paused. “Okay, thank you Pam. I have to go back and confer with Hannette and see if she will agree to take you out of restraints now that you have agreed to be safe.”
She left, turning her back, promising to be back within a few minutes.
Instead, it took a good half hour, and when she did, both she and Hannette arrived with a plan. “We have decided that we want to free up one hand and you will write a safety plan with the free hand. Then we will approve it and if it is adequate we will see about taking you out of restraints.”
I frowned. Even as she spoke, Hannette had moved to the end of the gurney where my stocking feet lay exposed. Her belly squished against my toes and soles of my feet, and I felt an immeidiate disgust and worse. I felt instant revulsion, as if I were being deliberately molested by someone who knew I was helpless to resist. So I kicked at her mightily. If I could have spoken in words I would have yelled something too, like “You effing …something or other…!” but alas, I could say nothing in protest, only scream, and kick. This did have the effect I wanted of getting her to stop and move away. Someone told her to move past me at the head of the bed next time and she did…
But the safety plan writing thing was their way of upping the ante abominably. How dare they? They had already illegally kept me restrained in FIVE points for far longer than necessary, just because they wanted to prove a point and force me to speak. without even offering me Ativan to calm down let alone to promote speech. Now this??? I flat out refused. And so somewhat triumphantly they trooped out, leaving me alone again, still in restraints at 6:00 o’oclock in the morning.
I knew I had to remain as still as possible to earn yet another assessment within the next fifteen minutes. But my muscles and veins hurt becuase I had remainedstill for so many hours, and no one had done any range of motion exercises on me, actively or passively. I was becoming afraid that I would develop a blood clot if I did not move my limbs on my own, and no matter what they interpreted it as, I began a methodical program of movement. I carefully circled each leg ten times in each direction, the restraints clanking as I did do. Then I bent each knee up and down, up and down. Ditto with my arms, until I was satified that I had exercised them at least a minimum and could relax into the required absolute stillness for the next fifteen minutes so I could earn an assessment.
Finally, Jennifer returned a final time. But this time it was only to tell me that they were leaving for the night. “First shift will have to take you out of the restraints. It is too let for is now.”
when end I herd this, I let out a bnshee scream of exhaustion and utter frustration, but it was too no avail. Only when first shift finally came on and found me still in restraints at 7:00 am did they relent and give me Ativan and take me out by 7:30.
“In India when we meet and part we Often say, ‘Namaste’, which means: I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us." ~~Ram Dass~~
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