I’ve been asked a few times, “What can I expect if or when I go to the hospital.” Well, I’ll tell you.
My experiences have over all been positive. Not everyone can say that, but I can’t speak to other’s testimonies.
The first time I went to the hospital I was both suicidal and homicidal. When I was told to go by my new psychiatrist I arranged for someone to watch my toddler and went directly to the hospital in a medium sized city in California.
I met one of the higher ups in the psychiatric unit. He interviewed me. I asked him if I could have my daughter come in to nurse and we worked out an agreement that she would be able to come twice a day. He said nothing to me about her age even though she was going to be two in the summer. I agreed to be admitted.
My bags were checked, gently. The second time I was there they inexplicably took away my shampoo and conditioner. My roommate was allowed to keep hers. I pointed out the incongruity of this and they gave them back to me. They were actually very kind about it. My parents came to bring me food and the baby and they said no to the Dr. Pepper because it was six at high. Other than that, I was allowed to keep everything. There were no strip searches or anything humiliating. A doctor came to me for a perfunctory physical and blood test, it was about typical of a general physical. I was assigned a psychiatrist. They gave me a (shared) room with a woman there for electro-convulsive therapy (shock therapy) and that was that.
Just real quick, there are some misconceptions about ECT. It is given to severely depressed patients. They are put to sleep, so they don’t really know what is happening. They lose memory, usually temporarily. There was a man in the hospital before me that got the shocks twenty years ago and hadn’t needed any treatment since then.
In the morning they come around and take our vital signs. It ticked me off because I like to and need to sleep and they were waking us up very early. I complained to my shrink that I thought that was stupid and he wrote not to wake me up in the morning. Most of the nurses didn’t honor it, but still, it was nice of him to do that. He also wrote me a prescription for real coffee and the nurses gave me Peet’s every morning. Life wasn’t all that bad.
We woke up and had breakfast. Usually it was not something I would normally eat, but the food was fine. After that we were given our meds. I had to sign something that said all sorts of information about the drugs we were given, and to give permission for them to give them to me. There were no needles. They didn’t slip narcotics or sleeping pills in to my cranberry juice.
They made us sign something saying we wouldn’t kill or hurt ourselves.
Next came morning group therapy. It was ran by a Social Worker and he talked about all kinds of things such as: When is it wise to hide your disability, discussions about medications and a recording of a message of the Infinite Mind. We had a break and had another group. Lunch came and it was generally the same quality of food as lunch. I tried to find some of the snacks they kept around, but they were gone. Another patient saw what I was going and showed me where they hid the chips so the schizophrenic woman that ate just about everything (such as her own cigarette butts).
I asked one of the nurses if this job gave her lots of cocktail party laughs and she said no. She told me that these patients are at the worst times of their lives and she would never make fun of us. Humbling for me to hear, but the more I am around mentally ill people the more I agree with her. And since that conversation I have begun to have more respect for what we go through.
People like to imagine psych floors as filled with crazy, flamboyant folks hitting their head against the wall or whacking their heads against the wall. It’s not true. Everyone there is just sad. People with mental illnesses are statistically not anymore violent than the general population. The last time I was there I was pretty manic and I spent a lot of time laughing, but it wasn’t too inappropriate.
After lunch the program got stupid and ridiculous. One woman was a dance therapist. Another, a music therapist. (In retrospect, this was a good idea. She played different kinds of music and asked us to name the reaction we had to each one. A lot of us psychiatrically interesting people aren’t good at identifying things we can do to relax or just enjoy in a healthy fashion.) We’d have art therapy, like painting or collages. I officially don’t like to do crafts, but in reality I found I liked these activities and finishing them gave me a sense of accomplishment. I’d proudly show what I did to my parents and my husband proudly. Later, when I found these crafts I was so embarrassed I was so pleased with myself and threw them away. They fulfilled their purpose and I didn’t need them anymore.
We met one on one with a nurse just to talk about what was going on in an informal counseling sessions. I appreciated this time. Psychiatrists came and visited and adjusted my meds. There were group meetings, too. All of my care team met together and talked about me, the progress I was making and when I could get out. They said I could leave at any time, but I would get an AMA (Against Medical Advice) and they didn’t think that was the best idea. At one meeting the psychiatrist suggested we call Child Protective Services, but the Social Worker talk him out of it. He said all they would do was send me to counseling and I was already doing that. I thanked him later and he told me there was nothing to thank, it was just an inappropriate thing to do.
Nights were pretty free. We ate dinner. Some folks watched a movie or played games. Really depressed people went to bed. Some had their supervised smoke break. My parents usually came with Small and my husband came every day he could. I don’t remember bed time, but we were given our medicine in the evening, and I want to repeat that I had to give authorization for every pill I took.
We had to get the key to take a shower. There were a lot of towels there. They let us take as long and as hot a shower as we wanted to do.
I was very excited about going home, so I couldn’t sleep the night before. They gave me a pill that caused hallucinations. I was surprised that I could tell the things I saw were not real. The voices were ordinary, like a patient talking to a nurse outside of my door. I could tell they weren’t, but I felt scared by where my mind was going.
I went to sleep, woke up the next day. I told the nurses about my hallucinations and got better for the next six days.