Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Things to strike off my bucket list - The Psych Ward

Almost everyone knows by know that last May I was diagnosed Bipolar. Just to recap, this is a mental condition in which the brain cannot regulate itself properly, resulting in highs and lows in moods. Where a normal person gets into a mood to clean things out and plan dinner 6 months in advance one day, and the next day is very tired because of it, a person in a Bipolar, or 'Manic Depressive' state endures that everyday. It's difficult to manage and can be very irritating for the people around him or her. Not only because of the ups and downs but because of the degrees in which that person fluctuates.

For example, I could never control my anger, at one point this summer I was intent on selling the house and moving to Scotland, I went for short walks that last most of the day, instead of writing notes to someone I would write long lambasting insulting messages, etc. After each of these incidents, I would crash for a period of time, the depression kicking the shit out of me. Being near me was not fun. Being me was not fun. Add to that the fact that I had absolutely no filter - what seemed like a good idea to me was just plain stupid. For example, I thought it was a good idea to bring a bottle of scotch to a cadet weekend camp. I'm not even going to try to justify that one. There were many more dumb decisions, but you get the idea.

I spent the summer off work visiting a psychiatrist once in a while to get new drugs, and with each prescription came new side effects, some even had the effect of increasing the problems instead of fixing them. Even though I had a 6 month summer vacation, it was the worst period of my life. Something needed to be done in order to keep my family and friends. Something drastic.

On November 5th, while cooking dinner for the kids I collapsed in a manic attack. I have no recollection of the event. Because I was hyperventilating so much I blacked out. I was later told that as well as paramedics in my kitchen, someone also decided to invite the police. I still don't remember cops in the house, but apparently they are dispatched to all mental health ambulatory calls. I came too in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Kim sat patiently with me for hours in ER waiting for 'service'. As I slowly came to, she filled me in, and my first reaction was one of embarrassment. Not only because I really didn't feel I needed to be there but I hadn't done the dishes and the kitchen was a mess The previous week I begged my psychiatrist to admit me to get the drug issue straightened out. When the attending Psych finally saw me and looked over my meds, he expressed a rather colourful displeasure with my pile of daily drugs. He immediately admitted me to the hospital.

Only a handful of people know why and where I was admitted - Hotel Dieu Psychiatric Ward. There, it's out for the world to see. I was officially a looney. or so I thought.

As there were no beds readily available, I was allowed to go home, pack and spend a night with my family to discuss how the next little while would play out. None of us knew how long this would last (like most visits to the the hospital). So we planned for a week or so. My palms began to get sweaty, my heart raced, I felt afraid of what I had just gotten myself into, essentially, I crashed - again.

The next day at noon, my sister and Kim drove me and my kit bag to the hospital for my 'stay'. Kim didn't want to come up, she was already not dealing well with the concept, even though we both knew it needed to be done. On the floor there's a phone to call the desk, the doors are always locked. I introduced myself and waited for a nurse; once inside the doors they closed with a loud crash that sounded more like a prison gate that a hospital door. I just stood there looking back, scared.

They ripped open my bag, confiscated my electric razor (just in case I felt the need to shave myself to death) and my shaving cream, because it had alcohol in it. Have you ever tasted shaving cream? I felt this was overkill. They brought me to a small interview room and began the intake paperwork. It felt like a college level exam in it's scope and complexity. Questions I had never thought I would ever be asked, such as 'have you ever had electro-shock therapy', to which I replied "They still do that?"

After about an hour of this, I was taken to my room. The rooms in this ward are doubles, with standard hospital beds, a chair, one of those funky elevating tables, an upright locker and a small bathroom. No shower though, they're in the hallway, one per wing. I took a few minutes to examine my surroundings and a few things caught my eye. First, I had a nice view of the downtown skyline, not so bad, some rooms looked out over the mechanical systems for the entire hospital. What really got me was that there were no locks. On anything. Not even the showers. There was a hook on the inside of the bathroom door that collapsed if you hang something too heavy on it - to prevent someone hanging themselves. And to think they also took away my electric razor.

I was allowed to keep my own clothing, because I hadn't been brought in by the police. Voluntary admissions only have that privilege - other than that, you're treated like everyone else. There are varying degrees of admission. It took me a few days to see this system of 'forms'. Police can incarcerate you from 72 hours for observation to a month of treatment. During this time you wear what the hospital gives you and all your personal items are confiscated. If you're good, they give you some shoes. If you're really good, after a while they start allowing you to keep some of your own stuff. Luckily, I bypassed that little rule.

I sat on my bed for a while wondering what the hell I just got myself into when a nurse came in, shoved a needle in my arm for blood, and took my BP. They left just as quickly. It must be said that the one thing that always through me into a panic attack is a needle. This did not go well. Another hour later my new roommate showed up, practically unconscious and tossed onto his bed. He was talking to the nurses a little, but almost illegibly. I left the room to give them some privacy and went exploring. Two TV lounges, a long hallway, and a dining room. That was home. Already people were doing the daily 'psycho shuffle', nothing better to do than wander from one side of the unit to the other. Those that didn't watched TV. Being an introvert I wasn't too quick to introduce myself, I just sat down and watched what was on - music videos for top 40 crap. Nice start. After a while I went back to my room where I found my new roommate unconscious on his bed, legs and arms draped over the sides. He woke up several hours later complaining that he couldn't see. That was a side effect of taking over 120 pills at home after he left a note. Welcome to day one.

There was a handbook for the unit, but someone really should look at revising it. Just as in a jail (from what I've heard, really), you learn about this place by the other patients and watching what they do. Dinner was interesting. We had to all eat in the dining room with every nurse on duty supervising - mainly because dinner usually was accompanied by knives. A large truck of food trays is rolled in and someone just starts handing trays off to people in the room who then randomly place them on tables. Each tray has a patient's name, at that point we play hide and seek. Wandering around to find your own tray, in the process invariably pissing off someone because you're looking over their shoulder. Once I found mine and sat down, I had my first introductions to my new colleagues.

Did I mention this was a psych ward? I was told to fuck off within minutes of starting to eat. This was even before I opened my tray and muttered the same thing to the kitchen staff. Halfway through the first meal I experienced the swapping ritual. Because everyone in there has a specific diet, people begin yelling out what they really want. "Anyone got any milk?" "Who's got butter?" and so on. I had Shepherd's Pie, Tomato Soup, a piece of bread and butter, tea, an orange juice and sliced peaches. It wasn't too bad, but it certainly wasn't home cooking.

After dinner I took my tea to my room to have some privacy and take in the day.

Privacy. Did I mention there's a closed circuit camera in my room?

My roommate was finally awake. He introduced himself, and I in return. We didn't talk too much about why we were there, but he did say this was his second trip in - the first being a month. He had been let out a week before and promptly tried to kill himself. As it turns out he was a really nice down to earth guy (I won't give his name here). We both had families, both Bipolar, both messed up, and both of us already hated this place. After a while I ventured out to see if I could watch the news, but to no avail, still watching bad music videos. I went back to my room and pulled out a book. My friend Dan loaned me his Kindle, which quickly became my best friend. Over 15 days in there I read five and a half books on that thing.

At 9pm I was told to come to the counter for my meds, weigh-in and more blood pressure. At this point I realized how sick I was - In mid October I weighed 200 pounds. On day one in this place I was down to 185. I had just stopped eating.

I crashed around 10, wondering what was next.

For the first time in my life I felt like I was in a cage. Doors slam shut behind you, cameras on you at all times, people you can't trust everywhere, security guards (big ones) making hourly rounds, and staff everywhere barking orders. It truly was culture shock. Most days were like this, but in my next post I will tell some more stories of the people in there, and some things I saw that opened my eyes to mental health forever.

So now you know. Feel free to pass this along, and if you've been there, please don't be afraid to keep your stories quiet. The underlying goal of this ward is to help people, and in my time there I met some success stories and wonderful dedicated staff. I also met a whole pile of lunatics.

It's good to be home.


  1. Welcome home brother! <3

  2. Wow, Keith. I'm so glad that you are home and all is getting there. My brother was in a Psych ward when he was very young and I think that it colored the rest of his life. This was back in the 70's. We will never know what actually happened there, but that's how it is sometimes. I send you lots of healing strength and love!


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