What follows is a multi-part story from my journal about my ten-day experience in a hospital that focuses on depression and anxiety and my participation in my healing. The people I met, the food I ate, and the treatments I utilized.
They kept coming in last night. I swear it was more than every 15 minutes. And they kept opening the door! One of them brought a flashlight in – that’s new. I couldn’t sleep at all. Every time I found myself dozing off, the thunderous sound of the door opening would jar me right back. After an hour or so of this, I started to feel like they were on to me. But there was nothing to be on to. It was as if by the very opening of the door they could elicit thoughts in my noggin that I was hiding something. When I wasn’t. I’m never going to sleep again.
It seems there are people who live here. Or come and go enough that it’s a second home. This is supposed to be a short term unit, but I’m not sure what short-term means. Days? Months? Years? There is a person here who waters the plants lovingly with a spritzer. He clearly found and propagated these plants. And they are thriving. How long does that take? I want to know his story. But we don’t talk stories here. At least not in the hallway.
WHAT TO EXPECT…
- There are only two mirrors, one in each bathroom. After a day, you will not even think twice about looking in a mirror.
- Most people just stop wearing shoes altogether – socks are the shoe of choice
- It’s never quiet. EVER.
- The beds are ok, but the pillows… Jesus the pillows. I don’t think they can be called pillows.
- The staff knows everything you did that day. They really care about all 28 of us.
Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I don’t like it when someone stands behind me. And “don’t like” is a gross understatement. I fucking hate it. Sit next to me. Sit across from me. But for the love of all that is holy, please don’t sit behind me. Now I don’t care.
The only place to sit and read puts you with your back to the ward. Feet shuffling in slippers that don’t fit, cleaning folks rolling garbage cans, the marching step of patients doing laps, the soft footfalls of the staff making the 15-minute rounds… I don’t even look anymore.
8:15 You kind of become a pharmacist when you’re here. Listening to my fellow bunkmates rattle off the extras they’d like today is a bit like watching two people speak in a foreign language. You see, you get your prescribed meds every morning/night whatever your doctor says. However, there are add-ons called PRN’s. PRN stands for pro re nata which basically means “as needed” or “as the situation arises” in Latin. For me, a PRN was Ativan. Taken only as needed for anxiety. So if I was anxious I could go to the med window and ask for a PRN. This was near impossible for me. I felt like I was asking a drug dealer for a fix. I started to feel like people you see in movies who lie about their symptoms to get drugs. I have a bit of an addictive personality (read: I used to do a bunch of drugs and drink too much) and my RN has been hesitant to give me anything in the benzo family. Benzodiazepines are a tranquilizer and it can be pretty addictive. Sooooo, the fact that I was not prescribed these for a reason and now am being given the opportunity to have them when I need them really fucked with my head. I sat in the window shaking and crying asking in a very small voice if it would be ok if I could have my Ativan. I could hardly look at him. He put my tiny pill in the tiny cup and gave me my tiny water and I took it. I felt so much better but the thought of having to go back up there if I had another episode was almost more than I could take. My nurse pulled me aside because he saw I was uncomfortable and said “you do need this. I wouldn’t give it to you if you didn’t need it. ” Then he added, “I’m not trying to get you addicted to benzos”. I smiled, felt so relieved, and was able to move on with my day. A day that didn’t include me devolving into a giant drug addict.
10:30 Having a plan is job number one for me. Ask anyone. And up until this moment, I didn’t really have a plan – but now I do! Met with my doctor and he has recommended that I do Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS. TMS uses focused magnetic impulses to stimulate the brain in the pre-frontal cortex which is the region of the brain associated with mood regulation. It’s used to treat severe depression when the meds just aren’t doing the job. Now, at this point I have no fucking idea what he’s talking about or how they get the magnets into my head, but dammit it’s a plan! Before I know it I’m having a Zoom consultation with one of the doctors in the TMS office. He’s a nice man, but having to rehash how many times I think about dying makes all that anxiety start over again and I’m back at the med window.
If someone needs you in the ward (mostly people who don’t work there daily and just come and go to do tests and things like that) is to yell your name. I mean they are polite, but still. So a small woman says “I’m looking for Kennedy” without even turning around I raise my hand in the air and say “me”! Turns out I need an EKG. Ok then. The small woman and her big box of equipment follow me into my room. I lay down on the bed and she attaches 12 stickers to my chest and then attaches 12 clips to said stickers. I lay there for 5 minutes and I’m done. Someone yells your name and you get your ticker checked. The gifts never end.
No, they don’t. Apparently, it’s urine sample day. And you have to carry that sample all the way from the bathroom, down the long hall, to the nurse’s station. And of course, literally, everyone is sitting up there. And of course, it’s a dude who takes it and then says “UM… WHO GETS THE URINE SAMPLE??”
It’s a novel feeling having so many strangers know your life story. You answer a question, one you’ve answered a million times, and then they check the file to see how you did. “I see here that…” something I did, didn’t do, drank, ate, snorted, slept with. It’s super offputting coming from someone you’ve never met. There is a folder in the computer that houses my whole life’s dysfunction and it will stay there forever. It’s just weird.
One of the people I met on our walk yesterday is leaving today. I saw him reading in his usual spot with his back to the hall. I turned on my heel and walked the other way. Why? I was happy for him. But I didn’t know that we had anything else to say. So I said nothing. And I feel kind of bad about it.
3:00 Back from a walk and some porch time. Sitting in the sun hearing birds, smelling lilacs makes coming back inside a stark change and with it my spirit. I say now I will never take the out of doors for granted ever again. At least I hope not. (Since I’ve been home I’ve taken it for granted)
4:33 – VITALS! Line up line up line up!
The time between being a newbie to an old-timer is about 12 hours. The first hours are confusing, jarring, frightening and you don’t know where anything is. Twelve hours later you’re showing the new guy where the ice cream is and you’re a hero.
7:03 – Movie night. It’s Pitch Perfect. Hard pass.
7:30 – There are people in the kitchen making paper chains to decorate their rooms. I think very hard about doing the same thing. But decoration means ownership and I don’t want to own one god damn thing here.
7:45 – There is an old man here who doesn’t leave his room often, but when he does he shuffles and huffs and puffs and swears. It sounds like this. Shuffle Shuffle “Ah Shit” Shuffle Shuffle “Jesus Christ”. I have found my spirit animal.