I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself lying on a thin plastic mattress that feels like a cheap cot. I sit up on the side of the bed and put my feet to the floor. The floors are hard and cold. The bed next to me is empty. My mind feels foggy. My vision is blurred. I look out the window and see a helicopter landing pad with a red sock. Christmas is only a week away and it looks like the red sock was put there purposely, with a little red light on the end to represent Rudolph’s nose.
I decided to make my way to the bathroom. It is also cold and sterile and there is no lock on the door. The sink is odd and looks more like a mini-drinking fountain, so I bend down and take a sip of water. I look in the mirror but I don’t recognize the person looking back at me.
I don’t know how I got in this hospital-looking place but decide I will just leave. Once outside, I will just find someone to give me a ride home. I begin my escape. Right outside my room is a door. I try to open it, but it’s locked. I walk down a deserted hallway and at the end I come to large double doors. There is a nurse’s station on the left. That’s ok, I thought, they won’t see me. I try to open that door and it is also locked. I go back to my room and I sit there, on the side of my bed, for what seems like hours. I’m locked in this deserted hospital-like place and I can’t leave. Where’s Tim? Where are the girls? How did I get here?
I close the door to my room and I lay back down on my cot-like bed. Someone keeps opening the door and shining a flashlight on me. This happens all night long about every hour. Every time they shine the light in, they leave the door open, but I get up and close it again so the room stays semi-dark. I don’t sleep. I just lay here and wonder how I will get out of this place. Where am I? Why is my brain so fuzzy?
In the morning, I walk back down the hall. There are people now stirring. They look strange to me. They are all kind of dazed and in a zone. Are they also drugged like me? They walk without picking up their feet. They talk to themselves in the hallway. Their hair is all crazy looking. Do they see me? Who are they talking to?
I walk to the activity room across from the nurse’s station. In there, is a table with about 8 chairs. There are people around it eating breakfast. A lady named Mary says to me, “come and sit down and I will get your breakfast.” She walks in the hall and there is a tray of food. On it is a slip of paper with my name. She puts it in front of me and I pick at it a bit. I don’t talk to anyone, because I don’t belong here. I eat my breakfast and they give me a slip of paper and a dull 3-inch pencil to select my own meals for tomorrow. There are two white thermoses and Mary tells me there are two kinds of coffee – one is with caffeine and the other is without. The only way to get the caffeinated coffee is to get there early, because one of the men in the unit will drink it all himself before anyone else gets any. I need my coffee, I think to myself. But is it really caffeinated? It doesn’t taste good. I go back to my room. I look out the window for hours. There is the Christmas stocking, with Rudolph’s red-noses light on the end. I don’t fill out my menu for tomorrow, because I don’t belong here.
Someone comes to me later and says its group activity time. On one side of the activity center, opposite the breakfast table, are two cold brown vinyl couches and a TV. There are also books and games. Everything looks old and sterile. Pictures hang on the walls; they look like they were painted by children. Is this what the group activity is all about, coloring pictures?
There is a counselor and she asks a question – we go around the room and talk. Everyone looks strange. They talk about wanting to kill themselves. Some have bruises on their arms. Others have large bandages around both wrists. Some talk fast, some talk slow. Some seem angry, others are indifferent. Some stare at the counselor and some stare at the ceiling. Me, I don’t say anything. Why am I here?
Visiting hours are only once a day from 6 pm to 7 pm. Tim comes to visit, so do my mom and dad. “Please don’t let the girls in this place”, I tell them. Don’t let my sister come up to see me either. I don’t want them to see me in this place. I don’t remember what happened during their visit, I guess we just sat in my room and talked. I don’t ask to go home. I hear things that aren’t real. Visiting hour is over. I fill up my water from the water cooler at the nurse’s station. I start to hang out with three of the other women patients. Their names are Mary, Sonia and Andy.
Mary is in here as it’s the fourth time she’s tried to kill herself. Mary lives in a well-to-do subdivision in Huntley. Her family never came to visit Mary. Not her husband and not her adult children. She’s in this acute unit now for over a week and has bipolar disorder. She reminds me so much of Tim’s step-mother in Utah, Angie. Her voice, her body, everything about her is Angie. Sometimes, she seems so normal to me, I often wonder if she is a “plant” and is really a nurse. I try to “behave” when I’m around Mary so that she thinks I’m normal and should be released.
They are giving me a lot of drugs. They force me to take Risperidone every night. They think I am either schizophrenic or bipolar. I keep thinking, “How can this be?” But deep down, I believe that this is true based on how my brain is working right now. Yet no doctors are treating me. One comes and sees me every day and asks how I am. I say I’m fine. Then he leaves. That’s the extent of my patient-doctor interaction. Then I go back to staring out the window at the red sock or lying in the bed just questioning how I even got here.
There is a pay phone in the hallway. I see people sitting in the chair talking on that phone all day long. I find out that I can also use it so I pick up the phone to call Tim. It is dead. I go to the nurse’s station and she tells me the phone isn’t turned on until 9 am. I go back to my room and look at the red sock. There are no clocks anywhere, so how will I know when the phone is turned on? I wonder if the people I see talking on the phone are actually talking, or are they delusional. Maybe the phone doesn’t really work at all.
I go back to the phone later and there is a dial tone. I call Tim and talk to him. He’s going to come up to the hospital later. The phone really does work! It’s exciting yet I think they are listening in on my call to see if I am normal or not. That’s what I think is happening. This whole place is a set up. Trying to make me think I’m crazy or something.
Tim brings me two magazines, “People” and “Us.” After he leaves I look at the pictures and try to read. I can’t read anymore, because my focus is all gone. I re-read each sentence over and over again, but the words don’t make any sense to me. I can no longer concentrate at all so I stare only at the pictures. The hospital and staff must have sold Tim these magazines, because the pictures are all distorted. The women in these magazines all look fat. Looking at these super thin movie stars looking fat is all part of a big plot to make me feel better about my own body. But it’s not real and it’s not working. There are also all these ads in the magazine about drugs. One is an anti-depression drug to treat bipolar disorder. Another “plant” by the hospital staff trying to trick me. There are three pages of small print all describing the warnings. It’s a trick to see if I know it’s not real. They do not believe the drug Chantix brought me here, so they are trying to convince me that it’s ok to be either bipolar or schizophrenic.
The TV is also a “set up” to try to trick me. It’s not showing real TV. The commercial are a trick to see if I’m sane or not. And get this - the nurses have names that apply to my life. There is a nurse named Jennifer. There are several named after people I work with. I look on the white erase board in the nurse’s station that lists bed numbers and patient names. My name is on there. I hear someone talking on the phone. It’s about me. I hear my name. It’s a trap. They all think I’m crazy. When I walk up to the nurse’s station, they put on a “skit” to make me feel I’m crazy. I remember my mom and dad saying, they had no idea a place like this existed, but that they were so happy it did. It’s all a test to see if I’m sane or not and everyone is in this together.
About four days later, I feel better. I want to go home. I see my social worker and ask her what I have to do to go. “Can I just leave?” I ask. She says no. I would need to file a court order to be allowed to go. It looks like I’m a ward of the state now or something. I tell her I will hire an attorney as my rights are being violated. At this point, I’m getting pissed off so I must be getting stronger. They tell me that an attorney would have to file an order in court which would take five days to be heard in front of a judge. What the hell is going on here I ask myself?
The psych unit is locked. Similar to prison, you cannot come and go freely, nor stand on the other side of the locked door. The feeling of confinement is so great, that even me, a 47 year old professional woman, sat in a room with a psychiatrist crying and begging to be let out after five days. “Please let me out I cried. My children need their mom right now and it’s almost Christmas. Please let me go home. I will be good and will never need to come back to this place again”, I promised. Two more days the doctor said, as I continued to beg.
I would give up anything just for the chance to be released … so I tell him with all the energy I had left in an emotionally frail state, “But doctor, I have something these other women don’t have … I have a strong support system at home, a husband that loves me and would do anything to help me, two teenage girls that are literally scared to death because they don’t know if their mom is dying or has gone wacko, and parents that would give their life for me at a moment’s notice. Please, please, please let me out.”, I begged of him. After what seemed like hours of pleading my case with tears in my eyes, he agreed to set up a meeting between a hospital social worker, me, and my husband. In the end, I agreed to a five-day outpatient group therapy session at the hospital starting on Monday.
For the first time in my life, I see my husband in a brand new light, that of a true protector. When I was weak, he was strong. When I was impatient, he was patient. Thank you God, for allowing me to see the good in my husband 18 years ago when we first met. Thank you God, for helping me to love him more than ever today. And thank you God for putting your hand on his back to give him the strength he needed on what was also one if the worst weeks of his life.
It was a great feeling walking out of the cuckoo’s nest …. or what seemed like the hospital straight out of the move “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I’d rent the movie, but at this time I may find it a bit too painful to watch. They handed me my personal belongings which consisted of two things that had been locked up for my own safety. My tennis shoes as there are no shoe strings allowed in “the nest” and my confiscated iPod. I say confiscated, because I was caught with an illegal iPod shuffle Tim had snuck in for me. Even though it was a “head set” type set up, one could hang themselves with this type of apparatus. You see, “the nest” has to be very cautious with any type of item that patients could use to commit suicide. Even things most people wouldn’t consider, such as bed linen frequently used by patients to hang themselves or even a 3-inch dull pencil. On my last morning in the nest there was a handsome middle aged man who must have been admitted in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, he had two bandages wrapped around his wrists from the failed suicide attempt. The bottom line - rules like this are in place for a reason.
Other precautionary measures are also taken in the nest. For one thing, this unit uses medicine to sedate patients when needed. At one point in my visit, a young normal looking guy in his 30’s was getting belligerent in the hallway while talking on the community hallway phone. He was gently escorted to his room by two police officers, followed by a nurse ready to administer a healthy dose of… something … which they did. For about three hours after the injection, we did not hear a peep from him. We all knew what had happened to him.
As for me, I was set free. Thank you Pfizer for giving me Chantix to help me to quit smoking. Now I leave this place as a 47 year old woman wondering what my new life would be like living with a severe mental condition such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia. Only time and a lot of medical treatment would tell.