Or subtitled "Never Again." If you've been wondering where I've been now you know. Just a few notes before you read: first of all, this is major TL;DR (close to one of the longer articles published on Gawker itself). Second, this certainly isn't an indictment against the health care professionals who took care of me during my stay/incarceration (most of them were class acts at the very least, as I extensively describe) or even the ones who I feel most responsible, as they were legitimately doing what they feel was the best course of action. But it is an indictment of what I feel is a system that is problem and only creates much of the same problems it's trying to cure. This is also nearly 100% transcribed from raw notes I wrote during my actual stay, starting from this point onwards.
As I had written about previously, I had been seeing a therapist for my depression, who consequently prescribed medication. Apparently I've had some concerning interactions and side effects from a drug called "Celexa" that's been known to cause increased bipolar-like symptoms and impulsitivity. Interactions with people, particularly strangers, had become harder and more prone to loss of control. Last Thursday, someone cutting me off and giving me the finger set me off on a mild road rage incident (extreme speeding) that was far away from my characteristically safe driving habits. I had immediately visited my therapist who, along with a psychiatrist, had made the determination that the "Celexa" was likely the culprit, and told me to immediately stop taking it. My therapist and psychiatrist were running low on time, so they forwarded the suggestion of a 72 hour hospitalization watch. They told me I would merely be checked out, and quite likely allowed to return to my own recognizance immediately. Since it seemed reasonable, I agreed. They also used some pressure tactics on me so that even though it was completely "voluntary," I felt like I didn't have much real choice on the matter. I felt like I was being misled into signing the paperwork that would lead to my hospitalization. I feel that was my first and biggest mistake that lead me to eventually having 144 hours of my life stolen from me.
Consequently, let this story be a warning to the rest of you - be wary of when mental health professionals even when acting in your best (supposed) interests. Especially when they start pushing for actions that result in control of your own life being taken away from you, especially when it involves hospitalization or institutionalization.
That is when a 72 hour semi-voluntary watch turned into a 96-hour one - then a 120 hour one, and finally 144 hours - nearly a whole week. 144 hours of my life stolen from me.
Little White Room
I was escorted by medical personnel and loaded into an ambulance. Along the trip to the hospital I saw an old school 911 (hence the opening pic) and an awesome matte black Q50, so I guess it wasn't all bad. Upon arrival to the hospital I was escorted to a little while room where I had been asked to take off my clothes, don a cellulite two-piece hospital gown (that I would end up wearing for nearly my entire stay, though I did have the option of wearing my own clothes and apparently they had fresh gowns available, but little effort was made to inform me of the latter) and place all my belongings in a bag after giving a urine sample. My belongings were later taken away and I waited, and waited, and waited alone in that barren decaying room with only a thin broken door for any sense of privacy, and the only furnishings being a hospital bed, an adjustable table (which was no longer adjustable) and a nurse call switch whose plastic handle had been long torn away into a jagged edge. I was free to poke my head out the door, but little more in terms of movement. I lay on the medical bed for a seemingly interminable amount of time until the security guard on duty brought in a food tray. On it was a receipt with a time stamp - 4:14. Even thought I had been told by nurses that I would be sought after immediately, I had been left along for 74 minutes. I pulled down the broken plastic handle and stuck out my head waiting for a nurse to pass by, and told them of my long wait. They told me I'll be seen to shortly, and that doctors were coming and a room more appropriate for a longer-term stay was being prepared. It would in fact be several hours until such came to be.
The experience - at least in this little white room - wasn't a total loss. A change of shift for security guards brought a girl who I can safely say was "cute." Not just on the outside, but on the inside as well; she was cheerful and talkative and had a great attitude and gave me badly needed company. I was made aware of the this when I heard a voice laughing and stuck my head out. She was sitting at her station laughing at apparently nothing.
"Hi" I nervously said. "I couldn't help but overhear so I was hoping I'd join in on what was so funny too." I tried to keep as cheerful a voice and as large a smile as I could given the circumstances.
"Oh, I was just laughing at something I remembered." She reciprocated the friendly voice and smile. A few minutes later she did a routine check on me.
"You mind I ask you something?"
"Um, sure." Her eyes reflected the semi-nervous tone in her voice.
"Actually can I ask you any thing, even somethign that could get e in trouble? I just wanted to tell you that I think you're very cute!"
"Oh, thank you! That's so sweet!" Even I could tell that her nervousness melted away in favor of genuine appreciation.
"So am I in trouble for telling you that?" I nervously replied.
A look of confusion occupied her face. "Why would you be?"
"Because the last time I told that to a female security guard I got banned from the premises."
"Well it sounds like she's an asshole then." We both laughed, and I can tell mine was far more nervous than hers.
"It really wasn't her fault, it was just the administration she was working for."
"Well it sounds like they're assholes too." She laughed again, and shot a high-beam smile at me. She asked me if I wanted anything to read, to which I replied of course. She dug a number of random rags from the nurse's office. A few Car and Driver's, a Vogue, a few Peoples and a US Weekly which I voraciously read cover to cover. In the meantime I made small-talk with my new-found cute friend and flagged down a passing nurse asking when my intake would be finished. But mostly I was simply lying down on the bed staring at the ceiling. Enough time had passed that the security guard's shift was up - at my request, she stopped by to say goodbye.
We Are All Prisoners
Several hours passed and after giving up my pretense of being let out on my own recognizance after a quick check-up I was finally given a room upgrade by 9:00pm - a whole six hours after arriving. A male nurse from "upstairs" (who would turn out to be an upstanding guy, for the record) brought in a wheelchair - and the same cute security guard from earlier as well to carry my belongings (or what was permitted at least) to my room for me. I like to think that she came by as a favor for our brief friendship. My intake consisted of a basic physical examination and medical history - and I couldn't help but break down when I recounted my battle with cancer. As it was late I had little to do but flush my tears, take some Ambien and fall asleep over an impossible jigsaw puzzle (with missing pieces haphazardly replaced by ones from mismatched puzzles) and ancient issues of People and MotorTrend. From the first waking moments the next day proved as rough as I had feared. Based on my initial impressions, on how the staff treated the patients and how the patients conducted themselves, we weren't patients at all - we were all prisoners. That's not to say we were mistreated, but we had extremely little in terms of the freedoms of movement you take for granted nearly every waking day.
I was given a list of patients' rights and responsibilities - and quickly found it difficult to actually practice them. In particular my requests to communicate with my lawyer were impeded at every turn - as all my belongings except my basic clothing had been surrendered, I didn't exactly have his contact information handy, and the best they were willing toward was to hand me a phonebook and told me I was on my won. As many of you know, I don't have the best relationship with my parents - especially my mom. But given the isolation and no means to communicate with friends or family other than clumsily thumbing through a dusty phonebook and trying to remember phone numbers, I began to sorely miss home. Even given the recent fight I had with my mom (from which we had made amends). Being isolated from my family, being denied access to the Internet from which I interact with most of my friends, and having only communal access to TV and long-outdated magazines, I've never felt so alone while surrounded by so many people on a continuous basis. Nurses, mental health professionals, other fellow headcases - they were all complete strangers, practically extraterrestrials under a collective quarantine with whom I must avoid contact. And avoid contact I did, with most of my first day spent in bed as I wished to follow the "do not make physical contact with the patients" rule to the extreme with the help of a drowsy dose of Resperitol. I missed all the group meetings, and was weary of making eye contact as I got my food. Anything to avoid interaction with people whose own stability was an enigma upon first glance.
Of course, the hospital staff encourages social and verbal interaction among the patients as part of "rehabilitation" - and to that extent a number of events forced my mingling into the general population. I finally met with my assigned psychiatrist and social worker. I had tried to explain to them in as calm a manner as possible that I wished to be discharged as soon as they allowed, that it was my understanding that my incarceration was as temporary as possible - made clear as part of my agreement to spend time at this facility in the first place. I explained to them of the extremely dim view my parents have of the mental health profession and that I wished to be discharged immediately to not raise suspicion. That I was legitimately fearful of what would happen if they found out. Instead, the psychiatrist and social worker only took my impatience and fear of my own parents as further proof of my extended stay being necessary and said that this was for my own good "due to a lack of support system at home and need of further observation." Furthermore because I was admitted on a Thursday the 72 hours would be up on a Sunday - but nobody on staff is available over weekends with the authorization to discharge patients. That meant my 72 hour watch period instantly turned into 96 hour "voluntary" involuntary stay, and that such was always the case - and that I was completely ignorant of this until well after the actual length of my stay was officially established. Needless to say I felt deceived, betrayed and no longer felt as if the mental health professionals I had sought for help were trustworthy. Naturally I also felt more than a little angry and had made repeated requests to contact my lawyer - which was only interpreted as additionally hostility. And no, they didn't give me additional assistance in contacting my lawyer either. Their only recommendation - stick it out, suck it up and go to groups.
Meet the Roommate (and General Pop)
The other two events that precipitated my mingling with the general population was sheer boredom and loneliness, and being assigned a roommate (let's simply call him "Roommate.") Not that I immediately wanted to be sociable with "Roommate" but on the contrary, to have an excuse to get away from him. "Roommate" was an odd fellow and immediately struck me as a legitimate headcase, perhaps even making me look sane in comparison - he frequently talked about previous medical stays, how much he hated hospitals, how much the doctors and nurses were messing with his head by stealing his belongings (which made me especially concerned, not against the staff but for his own sanity - though I did hide my bags of clothing in the closet as a consequence). He talked of going to one of the area's most expensive colleges on his parents' behalf and hating it; he talked of how he'd rather pursue his extreme sports career instead of higher education and how these mental health holds keep costing him sponsorships. He talked of how his sales position at a company that makes a superior health supplement offered in turn superior lucrative opportunities than the degree he was pursuing (if you're getting the impression of some Amyway-like scheme, allow me to join you). He also talked extensively about his Porsche Panamera - and when I asked him if he was racing down I-25 on a certain Monday night as if everyone else on the road existed just for his inconvenience, he admitted that it might very well be him. He finally extensively detailed his girlfriend and how impossibly hot she was and stop me if you're also with me in a little disbelief. As it turned out there would be a twist to this - but more on that later.
I finally decided to see what the other patients were like and what these "group meetings" were all about. About a third of the patients were young men like "Roommate" and myself - afflicted with deep but unknown mental maladies , with a consistent thread of broken romantic relationships between them (with a few notable exceptions, as I'll get to) and an interesting common trait of all being musically inclined with both instruments and vocally (myself excepted). The remaining portion of the general population consisted of about equal mix of men and women- the youngest of which appeared to be pushing 50 - and the vast majority of whom were grandparents. Regardless of their ages, I found out that they all have stories to tell. Many had broken relationships, well into their twilight years with lovers, children or other family. Many had taken to substance abuse - some merely taking advantage of Colorado's marajuana legalization, others getting into more hardcore stuff. We all weren't just prisoners, but broken, too.
Easing In - and the Social Value of Bazinga!
Increasingly, I started to cope with my surroundings. I passed the time by watching TV, reading whatever rags were available, and writing - principally, the very words you're reading now. I also tried my hand at some additional puzzles, although most were far too gone to be even remotely finishable. Mostly, it was discovering what the big deal with Bazinga!and The Big Bang Theorywas. And that's how I learned for the first time the importance and social power of television.
Even dumb television.
There is a scene in the classic modern novel Flowers for Algernonwhere post-cranial surgery Charly Gordon waxes on the social value of the movie theater; even if he's not paying attention to the film being played, he still finds massive comfort and solace in being anonymous in the large crowd. I have to say, I think I'm finding out what Charly's getting at. Those who bemoan the idiot tube miss the true social power - or at the very least, were never introduced to it. There is a socializing element to this whole small community gathering around to witness Sheldon's latest awkward social or romantic misadventures. If nothing else, at least for me, there is comfort in being around people in a comfortable, non-threatening environment and losing all of my anxiety and worries to the airwaves.
That's not to say say communal TV-viewing here isn't completely trouble-free. Conflicts are kept at a minimum with two TVs (plus an additional TV strictly for movie viewing) which are enough to satisfy most channel surfers and everyone else is content to mostly go with the flow, but it is frustrating to not have total control of the tube. IT serves as yet another reminder that I lack tremendous control of my own life while staying here. Late in my second evening, I have become friendly and amicable to everyone here, including if not especially the RN's. I wave to my assigned RN and I thank her for how she's treated me so far. Just moments later, she shoves a bunch of paperwork in front of my face and goes over what they are in confusing fashion, assuring me that all it means is that I have received the paperwork. I find out only the next day that I had in fact signed a waiver allowing them to keep me here beyond the 72 hour initial period. Needless to say I was a bit miffed and felt betrayed and taken advantage of yet again.
This is all I feel like writing for now, so it looks like I'll be dividing it up into three parts. So I'll see if I can at least work on the middle part by tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed my personal ramblings and whinings whether you find it a legitimate horror story or just some over-privileged kid who didn't know what true strife was like, and still doesn't.