-The operation was a success, but the patient has died!!!
-Steve! Shut the fuck UP!
It was 3:00 AM, his bed was only about ten feet from mine, and he had kept me up all night with his pained nocturnal screams. I looked at the situation for a moment and and contemplated what I had been reduced to, spending the night shouting back and forth with a discordant schizophrenic.
-The baseball player was right! He was right all along!
Sighing, I rolled over and covered my head with my pillow, and tried to get some sleep.
It was my second stay in the psych ward, known euphemistically as the “mental health unit.” This visit stands out as maybe the worst psych ward experience I have had. I was in a very low state emotionally, and it was my longest period of captivity in such a place to date.
Steve was actually a pretty nice guy, overall. Although he annoyed me and thoroughly succeeded in depriving me of sleep, I felt for the guy. He had been handed a pretty shitty life, and was rather docile compared to some of my fellow vacationers. I was happy I wasn’t him.
The psych ward wasn’t too bad of a place, honestly. The patients were given relative freedom to roam about and spend their time as they pleased, so long as they didn’t try and leave. Unfortunately, I found myself held in the worst part of the mental health unit, which is where I met Steve. It was behind a metal door with a massive metal bolt, referred to simply as “Escape Risk.”
I quickly discovered that keeping patients from bolting was not the unit’s sole purpose, as evidenced by the old man in the wheelchair. It was really a place to keep the truly sick ones. While the main unit was intended for those suffering from manic episodes, suicidal thoughts, and depression, Escape Risk was used to keep the raving schizophrenics, mentally retarded, and those prone to violent outbursts. I definitely felt that I didn’t belong back there. I wanted so badly to get out, and all that stood in my way was the signature of my psychiatrist, declaring that I was no longer a threat to myself or others.
Psychiatrists who work in hospitals are notoriously overworked, with far too many patients on their caseload. There were only three psychiatrists on the unit, which probably held forty to fifty patients at the time of my stay. My psychiatrist clearly did not want to deal with me, and showed absolutely no interest in my concerns.
I had started off my stay in the more relaxed portion of the psych ward. That ended when I had an emotional breakdown and subsequent freakout in the hallway. Dazed by Ativan, my brain still ravaged from the heavy drinking I was doing prior to my admission, I began pulling my hair and shouting,
-I can’t be here! No, no, why did I do this! I have to get out, please, please let me out!
This was a pretty mild freakout by my standards, but apparently it was enough for six impossibly huge men to materialize out of nowhere. They politely escorted me to Escape Risk. I was desperately pleading all the while, but I knew that if I tried to run or resist they would pin me down and give me a shot of Thorazine in the ass.
I ended up in the psych ward as the result of a string of events which ended with me running out of the hospital wearing nothing but a pair of tight jeans, covered in my own blood, with a quickly reddening towel wrapped around my arm. I screamed as I ran, doing a couple of laps around the hospital before it dawned on me that I had nowhere else to go. I returned to the hospital to complete my intake into the psych ward. I held my head down like a sad, blood-covered dog.
I have come to consider myself a psych ward aficionado. I’m pretty crafty and know all of the ropes. For instance, I know how to get them to give me the strongest nicotine patch they have, which I take bites out of over the course of the day and chew for a brief nicotine buzz. I know which foods the kitchen staff are willing to prepare, and to write what I want in on the order form rather than circling one of the preselected options. I know what to say to get them to give me more Valium. I don’t know for sure if this is really something I should be proud of.
I swore my psychiatrist was holding me hostage. You would hardly ever get a chance to speak with her aside from the scheduled visit, which would come three times a week. Every time she came to assess my status, I would plead with her to put me back in with the “regular” patients. I tried to convince her that I was coherent, that I understood my circumstance, and that I was totally compliant. Every time she left without giving me that one precious signature, my heart would sink.
After several days of intense boredom and zero sleep, I was broken. I could hardly even get to use the phone, as it was guarded by an old man who swore that his son was about to call at any second. As far as I know, his son never called him once.
So I decided to kiss up to my psychiatrist. It became apparent that she was on a power trip, so I was as nice to her as possible. Vitriol boiled inside of me as I smiled and went along with her every word. I no longer pleaded for my release, no longer tried to convince her of my sanity. After eleven days in her grip, she finally granted me her signature. I tried to conceal my joy, worried that the slightest show of emotion would get her to revoke my freedom.
The next day, as I packed up my meager belongings, Steve suddenly ceased his delusional ranting. A cloud of clarity seemed to settle over him. He then spoke the only meaningful sentence I had ever heard him speak.
-Goodbye Hanuman, sorry for all the screaming. I wish you the best in life.