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Monday, June 16, 2014

Behind Three Doors (part 2)

(continued from part 1)

With the winter Olympics on the small overhead TV every night, my first stay on the psych ward was imbued with an eerie sense of monumental circumstance. The Olympics, this universal worldwide event that interrupts all normal broadcasting and takes over everything, was happening at the same time as this catastrophic storm in my head. My normal broadcasting was interrupted too. I was in this strange place with strange people and at night they checked on me with a flashlight every fifteen minutes. I found out later that's suicide watch. That's what they mean by "suicide watch," a term whose literal meaning has skated right past me all these years.


The nurses push around dollies with computers on them, these rolling workstations they use to find you and dole out meds, which they do by scanning the bar code on my bracelet first and then scanning each pill. They had me on Risperidol at first, an anti-psychotic. I must have looked aghast when they said that, because they called it "just a baby dose." As if to say, "Oh, you're psychotic, but only a little bit, we think."

The people in charge work out of the cluttered nurses' station in the middle of the ward, but they aren't all nurses. There are also the Mental Health Workers, who wear scrubs but don't dole out meds but they are in charge of everything else, such as checking on me with a flashlight at night every fifteen minutes. Nurses and Mental Health Workers have different jobs, and I would spend the first few days utterly confused about who to ask for what information, and I was paranoid so I thought that they were all deliberately trying to confuse me. When my dinner tray contained food that I knew I couldn't eat because of my diabetes I thought they were testing me. I was suspicious and distrustful and confused.

There's a set of double doors adjacent to the nurses' station which stand open unless they need to separate the two halves of the unit. The unit is comprised of just two hallways, one going off in each direction from nurses' station. A common area for each hallway, but everyone stays in the one nearest the nurses' station which they refer to as "the milieu." The milieu is an open area with patient rooms off it. The far common room, located way, way at the end of the far hallway, is its own separate room. It's too bright and too echoey and it's used primarily for group meetings. There is a small overhead TV in each common area. The TV is covered in Plexiglas and you have to ask at the nurses' station for the remote.

There is this weird thing about the chairs. Though there are enough chairs for all of the people, the chairs are never where they need to be; if there is a meeting in the far common room, chairs need to be brought all the whole long way down the hall from the milieu. The chairs are heavy wooden things with vinyl seats, too heavy to carry, so everyone just pushes them, the stronger people pushing two or more like a little chair train. Back and forth all day.

There is no other group dynamic quite like a psych ward. There you are, with your own set of events that got you there, that you can't even begin to explain, and there are twenty-something other people that you have no idea how to interact with; I found it helped just to keep an open mind. I tried not to "guess" what anyone's problem was, especially since at that time I didn't even know yet what mine was, or how long I would be in this place.

The first stay was seven days. I'll write more about how the days go in future entries.