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A Psych Hospital Memoir: In The White Room
November 15, 2019
When you spend enough time here you become an expert in compartmentalization. It’s just another day that a girl chokes herself till purple with the ends of her shirt. Her death = someone losing their job.
She spent every day starting new fights with her supposed chola attitude. Staff took great pleasure in the opportunities they had to put her in the restraint chair with necessary roughness. An older man I worked with recounted with a laugh how he got to slam her into a wall after she swung at him with all of her five-foot-fury. She was supposed to stay at the hospital for a year. She escaped from her Techs while she was being taken across the street to the hospital. She got in a car that was waiting for her outside and sped off. The staff was devastated.
We had this one patient — 11 year old girl from Honduras or some place like that. She was a big girl, about 5’6, 150, basically my physical match. Embarrassing to say, but true. Her favorite thing to do was bash her head into the wall, scratch herself, run up and down the hallways testing the angled doorknobs and generally being a nuisance. Her first weekend in the Children and Adolescent Unit she pushed me into a wall and tried to steal my badge. Restraint chair soon followed.
Even violent patients can earn enough “Empowerment Points” to afford some ice cream sandwiches.
Another time, she tried to steal a stabbing pen from behind the nurses station, other Nurses and I had to wrestle her to the ground. Restraint chair. Fighting other patients. Restraint chair. Encouraging a sociopathic girl two years her junior to scratch herself to get attention. A nuisance is the term that other employees used. It’s not so much of a crime if you agree without saying anything. Arms-length observation at all times. Happens to the more destructive patients. She was with one of our evening shift employees, he was known to be pretty slow. The nurse walked in on his rounds while this man, 25 years old, was kissing this child on the mouth. He noticed the nurse standing in shock.
“Ah shit, am I going to jail?”
“Uh… yeah, bro.”
This all used to get to me, on the ground level. Walking in between rows of pacing people, head on a swivel like they tell you to do. Your coworkers sure love to dramatize the environment — it’s generally not as dangerous as they train you to feel. Pain happens here and there, not to everybody, and on little frequency. It makes them feel a little justified, I realized eventually. How else do you feel good making $9 an hour as a 30 year old? Let’s make the scene feel a little scary, like not many people could do this. In truth, it’s exactly what it is. Unskilled grunt-work. Filling out papers that nobody reads. Filing them away where nobody sees them. The patients would receive the same amount of attention if all of these papers disappeared and most of the things they were documented on simply were forgotten. They’ve got to give every employee something to do, just like public school. Formatted business.
Recreation Staff gets paid as well as all other staff. Have hour long lunches, only about three ‘groups’ (playing DVD’s) a day on the weekend, and can freely cancel those groups or kick patients out as they see fit.
We all take pecking orders from the doctors, the supposed harbingers of intelligentsia and expensive education. In reality, we all know that most of them take about a semester of Psychology. But there’s money to be made with Pfizer, there’s an imagined air of circumstance around these brats. Of course, not all of them are bad, but the level of authority they are given is mostly unwarranted.
I once fed an old man his dementia pills stuffed in pudding while he looked me dead in the eyes and jerked off.
It’s trite hyperbole now to believe that the nerds on 4chan are nazis — obviously because these accusers have never met real ones. The one I worked with was schizophrenic, and had a tattoo that said “Eat Shit” right above his asscrack. I know this because we have to check every room when we do our rounds, and he made sure that he was changing and moisturizing when we passed by. He would call me a “fucker” every time I handed him his tray of food, apropos of nothing. He was the most hated patient I think i ever met. He was awfully industrious, swapping meds and working with two other patients to make a shank out of the metal lining of one of the Unit’s doors. If I’m stabbed on the job, I’m not allowed to fight back, I’d get fired. He’s mentally ill after all.
Revealing of the true nature of this Hospital, he stayed there for three long months in the Forensic Competency Restoration program. It was of great importance that State money be spent rehabilitating a former meth dealer with a penchant for violence against police officers and patients who wouldn’t share drugs with him. “We’re working on getting him out of here, we’re dealing with the legal system,” the Doctors would say, as he continuously racked up legal charges from patients and staff alike. He didn’t leave until he spit in a Doctor’s face. The next day, the police arrived promptly at 6 AM, took him in handcuffs, and supposedly sent him back to prison. He was released days later.
Same deal for a less politically-motivated patient with a great love for throwing piss and shit onto the Nurse’s station computers when our backs were turned. He kept asking to go back to prison, else he’d keep covering his hands in shit and punching people who walked into his room. The State however didn’t want to give up on him either, so he stayed a long two months even after breaking a patient’s nose to the point of surgical restructure.
I was named Dracula, the Antichrist, and Sean Connery.
The issue of yourself is always at odds with your environment. I was hired with a then- recent diagnosis of Bipolar 2, and the idea of living with such a thing was unbearable. I’ve had the daily habit of staring at the ground with my pug-face jowling, my dad always told me our family wore our emotions on our sleeves. Watching these lost people pace back and forth all day, stopping to do some sit-ups or laugh into their t-shirts. At least there’s some happy moments, I mumble to myself. You say this could never happen to you, until your shoe company goes bankrupt and your wife divorces you, so you have a manic episode and walk into a Starbucks screaming about the evil wizards sending shockwaves to your brain.
This system was always doomed to fail most of its patients. The luck that some psychiatric medications have in being effective were mostly what lead to success. Take our 10 year-old, for example. A kid practically raised in the system — in and out of the Private and State facilities. His mom didn’t want him, that’s for sure. Every day this kid would start punching and kicking patients to avoid going to the one-on-one school classes down the hall. His therapy sessions, like they were for all the kids, were glorified performances for an audience of Residents. Doe-eyed world change hopefuls who were so empathetic that they wanted to make six figures telling kids from the ghetto that they needed to use crayons to express their feelings. Patients like these are doomed to these facilities for the rest of their lives; moved in between units over the years, befriending staff, getting excited when they see them like old friends.
The slightly adept use this to their advantage. As we’ve all theorized, the nightmare abusers of the system are totally real, and in fact mock you for your stupidity in whatever attempt you’re making in a normal life. One patient I had spent all of her approximately fiftieth stay talking to her Observation about what she was going to spend her Social Security endowment on once she had reached a certain age. She had a full calendar drawn on a styrofoam dinner tray — scheduled days for socialization and the weekly expenditure of her new Labrador Retriever. She bragged to me once that when she took the Aspergers test in grade school, that she was only one point under being considered competent for regular education. And so began her life of spending every other conversation reminding you of the creative names women in prison had for menstruation.
Wednesday is Movie and Cheetoh day.