Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Psych Ward - Part Two

Day two of the looney bin started off stranger than day one ended. I woke up at 7:30 to a nurse and a lab tech wanting my blood—again, followed by a full physical exam by the ward medical doctor. I was hoping for breakfast in bed.

I also realized I forgot my toothbrush. I asked my nurse if I could get one from somewhere; she came through not only with the toothbrush, but deodorant, soap, shampoo and hand cream. Apparently I didn't need to pack anything for this vacation. I borrowed my razor (I had to sign it out), and took my newfound supplies and headed for a shower. The showers in this place are far and few between. There are three on the floor, one was out of order. That of course, was the one across the hall from my room. After waiting in line for a while, I was not impressed. The water was luke warm at best, I also realized this in my bathroom, they keep the temp fairly moderate so nobody gets any ideas about scalding themselves to death. After my trickle of warm water I got dressed and headed for breakfast.

Breakfast is normally served at 7:40am. But because of my inspection and needlework, I didn't get there until around 8:30. The room was almost empty - just a few stragglers. This made it easy to find my tray containing cold oatmeal, a muffin and finally, coffee. Yuck. I spent about a minute and a half choking that down. There was a menu on my tray, this was a good sign. I checked off the options for lunch and dinner - you get no breakfast or weekend choices, and went on my merry way. I was hoping to catch some news in the lounge, but alas, music videos.

The doctor had informed me earlier that my blood showed a high cholesterol count, so my meals would be adjusted accordingly. It's kind of ironic that after spending the first 42 years of my life underweight—just a shade over 140 pounds—that now I had a fat-free diet. I also had lost 15 pounds prior to going in. I was so depressed that I had just stopped eating. I now weighed in at a normal looking 185.

The woman in the next room should be here. She had been screaming all morning. None of the rooms have call buttons, so instead of walking up to the desk to get assistance, she screamed. A lot. By the time the nurse came down, she had almost completely ripped a hallway railing off it's mounts. She worked it so much that the heavy duty wall anchors let go leaving the railing dangling. She of course decided it was in her best interest to add the smashing sound to her own chorus of screaming. All she wanted was a drink. The nurse was very professional and very stern, giving the women a ribbing any high school nun would be proud of. Tough love? This behaviour kept up most of the time I was in there. Later that day a maintenance man came up with a security escort, shook his head a few times, asking to whoever would listen "How the hell did she do this"? He finished ripping off the railing and patched up the wall. It stayed that was until I left.

At one point they moved her to another room closer to the nurses station to keep an eye on her, but after about five days I heard the alarms go off and security teams come running. She had belted a nurse. This woman was small by comparison, but that didn't matter, she had the ability to do some real damage. At one point in my life, before I had a life, I was a hospital security guard. All we did was take money at the parking lots and tow illegally parked cars. These guys, given whatever jokes you wish to make about cop wannabees, are good. The ones on the psych duty are huge—one towered around 6'6". It wouldn't surprise me if he was just waiting for his admission to the police college. Four came running when the alarm went off. Each staff member on the floor carries a personal alarm with them, when they hit that, sirens sound, guards come running, and even lights flash indicating the direction of the problem. Essentially, lock down. They dragged this woman to the PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). This is the place where people sleep on a mattress on the floor, have all their personal belongings taken away, and are under 24 hour surveillance. I didn't see her again before I left.

The rest of the afternoon was spent pondering that incident. Lunch came and went, the TV finally got changed, I read a book, and met some fellow patients. Luckily I did know one person in there, and she helped me out with some issues the book doesn't tell you. For example, on the menus, mark X2 on which items you want more of. I marked X2 on every spot marked coffee.

Kim came up to see me that night. It was a beautiful two hours. She brought timbits, coffee, Reeces Peanut Butter Cups, a homemade pastry from a friend of ours and a smile. It made my day. At 8pm they kicked out the visitors, and I was again alone with my thoughts. But at least I had munchies!

At 9 we all lined up for meds. This is where people's illnesses come shining through. There are six nurses on in the evenings, and one dispensing machine. This machine is biometrically operated - it takes a thumbprint to fill a prescription. Once the order is taken, the meds are fired up from the pharmacy in another part of the building and into the machine. I envision one of those old systems of clear plastic tubes one used to see in offices for firing memos around. Given all that, it takes a while to get all 25 or so patients (I never really counted them) their meds. Not one has any patience. The yelling begins. The entire process of medicating this many patients takes about an hour, but the patients want it to take three minutes. My first thought was hey, got somewhere pressing to be? My second thought was what a bunch of selfish egotists. The nurses had the patience of saints. They dealt with the barrage, like they do every day, three times a day. Once in a while, they'd yell back, but only when it got out of hand.

These people really are sick. These people really do need help. Not that there was any doubt, but seeing the mad race for pills and a complete lack of order, not to mention the self-serving attitudes brought it all home for me. I stood back, watching the show, shaking my head. There are people here who would never again survive outside these walls. There are people here who would attack any authority figure given the correct circumstances. There are people here who need more than just being warehoused in a psych ward.

Then there was me. I realized this night that with all the problems I've had over the past years, with all the headaches I've caused, and with all the confusion going on within my own mind, I'm relatively normal. I just needed to get evened out. I was only in here to get my medication straight. I don't see things that aren't there, I've never tried to overdose, I don't want to hurt anyone, I realized that I can again become a decent contributor to society. It opened my eyes. There were others like me in there, all for different reasons, but of the population of that unit, I estimate that over half will be institutionalized for the rest of their lives. That is a scary statistic and one that should be pondered. What scares me most is that these sick people are being warehoused - locked up and put away because they can't rejoin society in the way that you or I can. (I want myself included in that because I have the motivation to do just that - become normal again).

I'm home now, in the house alone, drinking coffee and considering my future. I am making jokes again, doing chores, pondering ideas, being creative and having fun. I feel like I'm normal, but inside I know I'm not. I have a mental illness that will be with me the rest of my life. During the summer, when I made jokes about things people wondered if I was off my rocker again. Believe me, I'm not. I can differentiate between right and wrong, and even with the judgement problems I've encountered, I could still understand that concept. Now, when I make a joke about something, it's a little easier for someone to say "That's OK, he's been to the nuthouse, we expect these sort of things from him". It makes me laugh too. The other day my daughter slept in and needed a note for school. I wrote her teacher telling him that she was late because when we woke up there was a Jabberwokky playing XBox in the living room and we couldn't get rid of him, so I needed her cast to bonk him on the head until he left. Or, we slept in. You decide. I signed it "Father of the Year.

Some of those people in the unit would actually believe that. That's the fine line between mental illness and mental illness. I have it, and as long as I keep myself on the right track, I'll never again be in that psych ward.



  1. your Big Sister :)25 November 2011 at 11:36

    Glad you're back, I missed you. :) <3

  2. Keith-
    I've been to the Windsor psych ward myself too. Watching other people and their ways really makes you sit back and think "they're insane", I've just got a mental illness. I'm so happy things are working out better for you. You've got one hell of a wife!

    -work friend of Kim's

    p.s that note to the teacher was hilarious!

  3. I'm so glad you are feeling better. Working for a "Community Psychiatrist" here in Mississauga, I can tell you with 100% certainty that mental illness is very alive and well. We see several people suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, drug addiction, dementia every single day. The stories all vary, but at the end of the day, these people are all very sick and need help and understanding. There is a light at the end of the tunnel Keith, and looks like you are well on your way to finding your way there. Some others live with the demons of 'voices', delusions and psychosis their whole life. It is a sad way to live no doubt, and we need to be so thankful for those that put themselves out there every day to look after those that can't look after themselves. Thinking of you and keep up the great writing and personal perspective that you share with us in your blog!


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