As the title says, pretty much. TL;DR warning, and you can read Part 1 here. Here's yet another public domain photo of a Porsche for your troubles (I particularly like this one)
Waiting For - And Being Watched Over - The Weekend
Thus by Saturday there was little to do but keep tight and go with the flow as much as I can. I visited all the group activities and meetings and helped out as many other patients (and staff even) as I can, read the same mags over and over again, watched TV with other patients, and continued to write these words.
Saturday College Football gave way to The Green Mile gave way to the local news gave way to more TBBT. I've become well versed in C/D's preference for last year's GTI over last year's FoST and what Nicole Behaire ofSleepy Hollow (who is a major hottie by the way) thinks about diversity in TV in Essence magazine.
Paging Jack Nickelson
Despite becoming relaxed, it's hard to fall into anything that can be called routine or a pattern. After all, we're still all imprisoned headcases here. I had witnessed a kerfluffle (yes I'm standing by that word) between two of the younger men (closer to my age). One had sneezed, angering the other. "Hey, you know what you do after you sneeze right?" asked the offended young man. They walked off to the rec room and started arguing somewhat heatedly. I was a bit worried they'd go physical. But what a difference a day makes - these two, while perhaps not best friends, get along quite famously now.
The group meetings and activities are probably the one aspect of the life here that most drives home reenacting One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (or at least it can seem like that at times). There, the nurse or staff member lays out your headcase to bare and discusses "coping" activities or exercises, to function in the outside world. Please forgive me if I express this as a little insulting, perhaps even more befitting a 7th grade behavioral time-out. These activities include diagrams we label with strategies or coping methods, review of stress-relieving thoughts or plans to enact when suicidal thoughts encroach. On Saturday, the nurse in charge of group asked if we wanted to play Pictionary or go over a list of thoughts or activities that can relax stress. Amazingly, the group near-unanimously voted that they were too "gamed out" for Pictionary.
I have to admit, in hindsight I didn't think they made the wrong choice after all.
So, obviously, they weren't all bad. A new charge nurse for the weekend (we'll call her "Carlie") wanted to track me down (as she was also the nurse assigned to me) and wanted to see how I was doing. She ended up going above and beyond - " told "Carlie" that I was finally starting to fit in, and not feel so anxious about my circumstances being here or my "stolen time" - that I was finally calming down and the new meds were working. "Carlie" agreed, noting that the observation notes passed to her even stated as much. I'm not so much a headcase as just on the wrong medication, "Carlie" assured me, and that I appeared to be on tract for a discharge as soon as personnel were available to do the sign-off. "Carlie" was also willing to let me talk her ear off about my own personal problems outside of the cuckoo's nest - my battle with cancer, my ex-girlfriend and her battles with rape and alcoholism, etc. So impressed I was with "Carlie" that I immediately dropped everything and actually wrote a letter of recommendation for her.
Not As "Almost There" As I Thought
I woke up Sunday with the most pounding headache and walked along the halls in a stupor, nearly running into the patient diagnostic machine and its crew. Which ended up at least somewhat convenient as they immediately took my vitals and concluded towards low blood pressure paired with an alarming heartbeat rate - signs of severe dehydration. Even hours and meals later, my mind remained in a foggy haze.
My counselor for that day is someone I'll call "Carrol" - like "Carlie," "Carrol" had been an exemplar of kindness and sympathy. Both "Carlie" and "Carrol" has made me feel that I had been making advancement towards finally getting discharged and making something of my "imprisonment" here.
Today is also likely the last day I'll interact with student nurses from a local medical college. Without exception they had also been kind of sympathetic to the point where I nearly think of them as personal friends. During arts and crafts periods, we shared our dreams and aspirations outside these walls - one student nurse, "Brianna," expressed how difficult it was to commute to her out-of-state college before transferring to the smaller campus and enjoying it more. "Cathy" mentioned that she wanted to be an equine nurse, but unfortunately the job prospects were low beyond stable hand. Either way, all of these students brought an immense ray of sunshine to my stay.
While at the art room I resumed something I've been hesitant on but my mom has been pushing me toward - actual art. I drew some mountains, and freehand traced a cat from a book. I must say, the results aren't bad in my judgement (I'll post them here in the near future).
I also talked to one of the other nursing students, "Maisie." Our conversation was very affirming, including how she hinted at having some mental illnesses and other head-based maladies herself. She also thoroughly agreed that my "incarceration" through the weekend and the resulting automatic 96-hour total extension up to that point was bullshit. My conversations with "Maisie" is probably one of the memories I will cherish most from my stay. We talked about hunting, about school, and about my own aspirations as a teacher and writer and/or author. She even noted tht I had that "English teacher look and attitude." That I'm obviously very intelligent, articulate and I have a passion for education, reading and writing. Needless to say I took it as a compliment. The details of my conversation with "Maisie" have already been lost, but the details don't matter. The attention and the witty, sharp and complimentary observations she gave me are what's truly worth treasuring.
Meanwhile, other patients had been visited by friends and family and showing their own artistic sides. "Bob" (who insisted I use his real name, but that's not going to happen) went so far as to share the first song he'd written in two years and it turned out to be a thing of beauty. Another patient and friend, "Alex" is obviously very passionate about his girlfriend "Amy." He made a mosaic of an elephant and wrote "Amy" on the underside in amber - "Amy's" eye color. Naturally, the elephant also had amber eyes. He talked of plans to enclose it in a white basket tied off with an amber bow and with rose pedals embedded within - that it was his present and way of making "Amy" "his girl." And remember "Roommate's" incessant bragging about how impossibly gorgeous his girlfriend was, to the point where I doubted he had one? Imagine my surprise when I see his arms embrace exact the girl of his descriptions. "Roommate" and I, as it turned out, may not have been best of friends but became pretty good buds. Like me, he also read voraciously, reading every book he can get his hands on and spending most of his time in the room alone, curled up in even more curled-up coffee-stained pages. I'll never understand his habit of leaving the curtains wide open even when the sun is beaming right in, however. Maybe he just hated being reminded that he was essentially caged.
Meanwhile, "Alex" told me that he likes talking to me - about "Amy," about the elephant mosaic, about how I remind him of John Lennon. I told him that was one of the nicest compliments anybody ever gave me. I asked him exactly what was it that made the resemblance; he said it was a combination of raw physical resemblance and just the fact that I come off as a really nice, cool guy. I then had to correct myself - that was one of the nicest compliments anybody ever told me. Though I was obligated to add that the only reason why I grew my hair out in the first place was for Locks of Love as a way of paying it forward from my cancer survival experience (they told me I could either shave it all off or grow it out and hope it hides the bald patches - and I took what was to me the most logical choice).
"Alex" said that was cool.
Another young patient that I'll call "Max" later came up to me and offered to shake my hand. He told me that he greatly appreciated the time I took to talk and listen to him. I told him I was free to talk about anything - ex's, anxiety, whatever happens to be on his mind, anytime. That elicited a fistbump from him, and a stroll to bed.
But perhaps the most "fun" activity that Sunday was my bloody nose - due to the extreme lack of moisture in the recycled air, my nose was a wine-stained sluice. "Carlie" was nice enough to take care of it right away, but it was a bit annoying trying to watch Two and a Half Men through under the rim of your glasses.
Everybody Can Be Jack Nickelson
One of the most solid friendships I had made was with a woman we'll call "Jackie." At first she had a tough time keeping herself together as she deeply missed her family, breaking down for hours on end. In no small way did this even drive my friendship towards "Jackie." She needed someone to talk to and I was a sympathetic ear. We even made promises to ride our motorcycles in the Southeast Aurora and Elizabeth, CO area when we got out. After watching a video of behavioral, stress and depression expert Dr. Melinda Lineham, she asked me to record the e-mail address presented at the end of the program because she was so inspired by Dr. Lineham's message. She hoped to e-mail her and receive additional information on how to lose anxiety over the small stuff, like missing her family (ok, not exactly small stuff). Late on Sunday, "Jackie" approaches me as a nearly completely different woman. She talks about how much of a jerk and asswipe her husband (we'll call him "Nutty" - on "Jackie's" own request) is - how even kissing him upon his visit earlier caused her to become physically ill because he felt so dirty to her. How his last phone call up to that point was a threat to humiliate himself if "Jackie" strut around with makeup around the psych ward (yes, it really was getting that nutty). How he was getting jealous of her being surrounded by other guys. "Jackie" was also upset at the economic abuse "Nutty" had put her through - he refused to put her on any health or home insurance, how everything they own including all cars and homes (they inherited multiple homes) is in his name, how she practically owns nothing and was contemplating legal action to at least get something of her own. How her sons had been in legal trouble and were substance abusers, and how she was tired of supporting them. We shared our love of the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon classics - we bonded over Suite Life on Deck, Wizards of Waverly Place, Jessie and iCarly. For me, those shows meant an escape from a rough break-up and chemo; for her, it was bonding with her grandkids who have now since been taken away out-of-state by a resentful son after being virtual prisoners in their own beds, with their grandmother's visits being their only connection to a proper childhood. "Jackie" also talked about her own troubles with her mother, who would try to solve all of "Jackie's" problems by pushing over-the-counter and prescription meds on her and leading to a lifelong addition to the hard, street stuff. How her parents had even kept an animal head and remounted it over a prominent doorway even though she had been essentially raped under it.
I had actually been feeling great up to that point. Now I just started to feel guilty.
One Tried to Fly Out of the Cuckoo's Nest
I anticipated Monday being my last here, but I also had to prepare for the possibility of being kept for further observation - and as it turned out, that suspicion turned out correct. Either way, I've had much time during my "incarceration" to think about the people and situations I've encountered.
On the one hand, I've made invaluable friends - both other patients and even staff. So impressed I was with the staff in fact that I would end up writing not one but several letters of recommendation, often for individual staff members and especially for students and interns, singing their praises and hoping that even these small pathetic and meaningless words would lend to some career advancement. Especially the visiting student nurses from the small medical college. Those student nurses made by far the biggest contributions to my weekend being tolerable and bearable. They really were like a ray of sunshine and it made me feel like in a true sociable environment again; that everyone here, patient or student nurse, could be walking down the street to the local pizza joint any minute. That is not to say that I've only made small successes with the patients themselves, especially "Alex," "Max," "Jackie" and even "Roommate" along with a few others. They had been an outlet not only for my own frustrations (including those outside of the facility) but made me feel validated as an individual, as a creative and expressive writer and person and and as a decent person listening to their own stories. As I like to say, everyone as a story to tell, and the stories I've encountered here are heartbreaking and amazing (as you've already witnessed with "Jackie.")
That said, not everything is rosy either, or that my initial impressions of this facility being likened to a minimum-security prison are completely without validation. At this point I still feel as if I've had 96 hours of my life stolen from me. I still think the system itself is agonizingly slow and apathetic towards actual treatment of patients - at the very least, morning rounds feel as if they take forever as the minutes tick by and morning turns to afternoon with many patients still left wondering. "Max" in fact is getting suspicious and frustrated of his psychiatrist to the point where he's demanding a second opinion. He's wondering if he's being kept in this facility instead of discharged merely because it's too much of an inconvenience to bother the staff responsible. He tells me he finds the second opinion much more comforting, but it could be window dressing for all I know. And not having anyone on staff over the weekend authorized for discharges feels especially agonizing and outright unfair.
And to make things worse, I now find out that what was supposed to be 72 hours has turned into 96 and now 120 - nearly an entire week stolen from me.
I was informed that I had in fact passed the exit evaluation save for one small detail - a neglected blood test had been failed to be ordered for me and I wasn't able to be discharged without it. The equipment for that won't be available until the next day. Needless to say I was a little frustrated over it.
Just a little. Ok, maybe a little bit more.
At this point I can't help but feel that someone in this hospital, perhaps the system itself, is jacking around with me.
Not that I'm really that upset over it in the first place. I recognize this is a failing of the system, not of the great and terrific personnel I've met. As I've said before most of the hospital staff, nurses and counselors are nothing short of exemplary. In fact as I was originally penning these words one of the nurses, "Trey" sat down to see how I was doing. I said that I would be remiss if I didn't extend the same courtesy and ensure he was having a great day too. Other nurses and counselors like "Tasha" and "Stacy" were sympathetic to my admittedly bullshit reason to my plus-one day (at least) extended stay and understood my frustration. Like "Carlie, "Maisie" and the others, they were highly interested in knowing about my passion for reading and writing and how it led to me wanting to be an English teacher.
Another thing I've noticed concerns that drug I mentioned that kicked off this whole thing, "Celexa." Talking and trading stories with the other "inmates" it seems that "Celexa" had negative side effects and caused disturbing behavioral changes to a great number of people currently seeking treatment here. It makes me wonder how in good consciousness a company can even manufacture this drug anymore - and it's something I wish to contact my lawyer about.
The scariest moment of my "stay" by far concerns "Max." He seemed a little lonely and down so I asked hi how he was doing. He simply said he wasn't feeling good. I asked him if he could share any additional details. He told me that he was worried about being psychopathic. I was genuinely shocked as he certainly didn't strike me as one. he explained that he was worried about his girlfriend and how he treated her, used her, cheated on her and considered her little more than a place to stay. I joked that this doesn't sound like psychopathic behavior, only normal guy behavior (advanced apologies for the joke, as I said it only to try to lighten a potentially and literally suicidal mood). He told me that he knew his psychiatrist knew in turn he was psychopathic and that he was "going to do something about it." I asked him what that meant, and he gave me a vague answer - that one way or another he was leaving this place in less than a week. It scared me enough that I contacted one of the on-staff nurses about it.
When you're "incarcerated" (and I still don't think using that word is that much of an exaggeration) in a place like this the simple pleasures seem invaluable - but conversely can take some time getting warmed up or used to. I was still shocked and hesitant of my surroundings (and literally paper-thin hospital clothing which I refused to change out of) to enjoy the 15 minutes spent outside in a barbed wire and fenced-off 30 by 30 foot enclosure, but by Saturday I was at least standing in the doorway for morning sessions and for the afternoon session actually standing outside and enjoying the characteristic-for-Colorado 70-plus degree weather. "Stacy" was nice enough for not one but two extended outside sessions Monday, a whopping 30 minutes long. During this session I notice psychiatrists pull "Max" off to the side, no doubt in response to my concerns. Later, when I asked him how he was he told me he was doing "Much better. Much better."
I cannot tell you how relieved I was to hear that.
I also rediscovered I initially missed or forgot about on Friday - the 45-minute long mandated "quiet sessions" that occur with each shift change where all patients are required to be in their rooms. To be honest, it felt a little insulting. I'm left wondering why we're free of such humility during the weekend but then treated like 3rd graders on time-out during the work week. Understanding some of these thought processes confounds me, but I'm sure there are good reasons besides messing with our heads. And at least I saw some evidence of that as there were a number of blue-shirted female staffers gathered around the reading table near the front TV - the same TV where most patients and even staffers end up congregating, and where I even originally penned most of the words you're reading now.
There is at least some allowances for fun and games as well. During one of our group meetings we had to name various things - food, girls' and boys' names, clothing - that started with particular letters. I was able to get down into a draw with a tie-breaking letter and then finally a number guessing game (it helps to use probability to your advantage!) Given how regimented mine (and our's) day had become, with such tight schedules, mandated group therapy sessions and even a lack of basic privacy (staffers are prone to at least cracking our doors open at all times as well as checking in during the top 15 minutes of the hour) little things like winning games suitable for middle schoolers hold even greater importance. The stupid little cat drawing I freehanded and even the stupid printed game board of the aforementioned middle school game became prized possessions. It might seem exceedingly silly to you, but to me they are as precious as gourmet meals or oasis watering holes in the middle of a caravan trail. They represent moments when I no longer felt like a prisoner in here. That same thing goes for people, too. They remind me of the humanity that will always be present - and at least this hospital is staffed with people who want to make it their mission to bring out the best in humanity out of their patients, even when the hospital administration, system and environment itself see to be working on the contrary.
Now the nurse has checked our room twice, which means she's either double-backing or we're only 15 minutes left of this ridiculous exercise left. This constant reminder does make my stay excruciatingly frustrating, and reading, socializing (and this journal) are my best coping mechanisms.
While I'm sitting here I'm reading a not-so-ancient issue of People Magazine (it's at least the last August issue) and I'm reading about the "Creepy Doll Mystery." You remember that, don't you? A good while ago a number of families in San Clemente, CA kept receiving porcelain having "eerie, vague" (we'll ignore the contradiction) resemblances to girls who had lived in those homes, right on their doorsteps. I remember hearing about this at firs and like many immediately thought it was some ultra-creepy dude putting a lot of money into something he needed to stop. Well it turns out it was a churchgoing lady who loves collecting vintage porcelain dolls putting a lot of money into something nice and thoughtful for families she knew. I know that if I had a daughter and a nice old church lady gave her a vintage porcelain doll that looks like her, my heart would sing for gratitude.
For some reason, rereading this story makes me want to cry. Badly.
(I also read a heartbreaking story about a transgender woman named Robina Asti in the same issue.)
With no clock and no way to know how long this "quiet time has left to go, I start to wonder. I start to wonder if the 45 minute period was over ages ago. I start to wonder if they really are playing headgames with us for whatever nefarious reasons. And I just feel so frustrated, so trapped so isolated and lonely and even scared I wonder how much longer I have to go until I just break down and cry.
Just one more day, not even one more day just 16 hours until I'm out. That's what they promised. Then again, I've been deceived before. I feel I've been rushed and consequently mislead to get me into this miserable place to begin with.
...as ti turns out, "quite time" ended 30 minutes ago - they can't even be bothered to make an announcement of it.
This is all I feel like writing for now again, looks like it might be four parts although I only have 2 1/2 or so pages of notes to go (though I didn't finish the last three or so hours of my stay, but that's mostly going to be a postscript anyway). I've received almost nothing but good and kind words as responses, so I give a heartfelt and tremendous thanks for all of you. If anybody from the GroupThink crowd wants to share this there, please have my full permission. Also, should I repost/reshare this for the morning crowd? I'll probably be too busy reading or other things for the morning so it'll probably be more like "afternoon" but eh.
I'm also debating about actually finishing this because it is a lot of effort and most of all very honestly emotionally hard to write. But then again, that's kind of a lame ass excuse is it?