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.


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.