I have been hospitalized 3 times in my life for mental health issues. The past few days, thoughts of my first time have been coming back to me at the strangest times. It was while I was sitting on the toilet a few hours ago that the pieces all fell in place and I remembered the whole story of how I got there.
It was an abnormally cold winter day in Massachusetts. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my therapist office trying to get up enough nerve to run the razor blade I was holding across my wrists so I could bleed out and die. But, even though the voices were telling me to do it, my mind was flashing images of myself cutting the tendons and handicapping myself for life. I was scared of botching the job and surviving the attempt with no use of my hands.
I had been sitting in my car for an hour, enough time for the windows to freeze up. I was wearing a thick winter coat, but I was still cold. I thought instead of cutting my wrists I could just remove my coat and freeze to death, but that would take too long and be too painful.
It was then I realized that I really wasn’t going to actually kill myself, because if I really wanted to, I would have done it already. The most I had done was create a whole new batch of deep cuts on my arm. I could feel fresh pain as I moved my arm and it brushed up against the inside of my coat.
I figured since I wasn’t going to kill myself that I would go to my appointment since I was already sitting in my therapists’ parking lot. I finished my cigarette and got out of the car. I remember how my feet crunched as I walked through the frozen snow to the door of the office. I pulled on the door, but it was locked. It was still 10 minutes till my 8:00am appointment, and the doctor hadn’t arrived yet. I lit up another cigarette and wrapped my arms around my body trying to warm myself a little as I waited.
A few minutes later a maroon Cadillac pulled into the parking lot and took the spot next to my beat-up Geo Metro. As the doctor got out of his car I thought that the head shrinking business must be very good these days for him to own such a nice vehicle. The doctor noticed me standing there and met my eyes then smiled and went to open the door.
As I walked in the door behind him, I noticed that the office was very hot. He must have left the heat on all night so it wasn’t cold when he returned to his office in the morning. I thought about taking my coat off but didn’t because I didn’t want him to see the fresh cuts on my arms.
I sat down in the waiting room and I could hear him shuffling papers in his office, perhaps trying to find my file. A few minutes later he popped out of his door and motioned for me to join him.
As I sat down, I noticed he was staring at my jacket and I looked to see what he was seeing. There was a huge bloodstain on the arm that came from my freshly-opened wounds.
“What is all the blood from?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything. I just sat down and looked at the floor, trying to come up with a good excuse, but failing miserably.
So instead of responding with a lie I told him everything.
I told him how I had been laid off from my six-figure job the week before and how I had spent the time since in my basement at home getting stoned and cutting myself. I told him about how I had run out of medication and hadn’t bothered refilling my prescriptions. I told him how I had been taking walks in the woods, thinking about ways to kill myself, and about the ten different suicide notes I had saved on my computer at home.
He hadn’t said a word the whole time I was talking; he just sat behind his desk writing notes in my chart. When he looked up and I saw the concern in his eyes. What he said next would change the course of my life forever.
“I think we should talk seriously about getting you in the hospital”.
Since I had never been in a mental hospital before, I was immediately frightened. The only things I knew about them were what I had seen in movies and television, so I didn’t have a clear picture of what it would be like to be in treatment.
I mean, up until that point I only saw myself as going through some problems. Only crazy people get hospitalized, and I wasn’t crazy, was I?
He asked me if I would check myself in willingly. I thought about it for a minute and then thought about it again. Then, I asked him what would happen if I didn’t go willingly.
“Then you will go unwillingly. Either way, you are going to the hospital.”
He had painted me in a corner I couldn’t get out of. I looked him in the eye and asked him if this is what he thought was best for me. He said I wasn’t safe, and I need to be somewhere where I could be safe until things were straightened out for me.
It all happened so fast from that moment that I didn’t have time to think. I was worrying so much about myself, that I didn’t even consider that I should call my wife and tell her what was going on, and that was a huge mistake.
An hour later, I was strapped in the back of an ambulance, on my way to a safe place. The EMT was taking my blood pressure and asking me for the 4th time if I felt like hurting myself or others. I noticed the flashing lights and sirens weren’t on and I was glad for that.
We arrived at the hospital and Greg the EMT told me I would be going to the emergency room first to get my cuts looked at by a doctor and to be evaluated before I was to go to the mental ward. I asked if I could have a cigarette first before I went in and he agreed. I stood out in the cold without my coat along with Greg and quickly worked my way through the cigarette. We didn’t say anything, but I could see him looking at me. I imagined he was thinking that I didn’t look like a crazy person.
When we went inside I noticed that it looked deserted, but then a nurse poked her head out of a room and told Greg to put me in the last room on the left. She arrived in the room a few minutes later as they were moving me from the stretcher to the hospital bed.
I waved goodbye to Greg and the driver and focused my attention on the nurse. She was wearing black scrubs and had her mousy brown hair pulled up in a bun. She told me to take off my shoes and clothes and get in a hospital gown. I left my underwear and socks on, but she told me I would be given some red non-slip socks because I was considered a fall risk. To this day, I still don’t know why.
Shivering, I pulled on the thick red socks and sat on the bed. The nurse took all my vitals and asked me again if I felt like hurting myself. I told her I didn’t right at the moment. She looked at the wounds and announced that I would be getting stitches in a few of the cuts on my arms. She didn’t say very much to me and neither did the doctor that came in 30 minutes later to perform the procedure.
It must have been a very slow day because as soon as the doctor was done and the nurse put bandages over my stitches, someone from the mental ward arrived. She spent the next hour asking me questions about my mental state, stopping every so often to ask me if I felt like hurting myself or others.
When she was done with her questions, she poked her head out of the room and asked the nurse to bring in a wheelchair. I daintily got off the bed and tried to gather the hospital gown around me so my ass wouldn’t stick out. The woman from the mental ward didn’t seem to notice my embarrassment at having no clothes on, she just helped me in the chair and wheeled me down the hall to the elevator. I waved at the nurse as we went by the front desk and she waved back and smiled at me like she was wishing me good luck.
After getting off the elevator we went up to a locked metal door and the woman swiped a card through the reader to open it. We had finally arrived at the mental ward. It looked just like any other hospital ward, except all the windows had bars on them. The patients inside all looked “normal” to me, not like the people you see in the movies. Most were younger, maybe teenagers, but a few were older like me.
I was wheeled up to the nurses station and I was handed over to the nurse in charge along with my chart and a plastic bag that contained all my clothes and personal belongings. Nurse Williams looked me over very closely then opened my chart and started reading.
My arrival gained some attention, because many of the other patients started to gather around me. I started to feel very scared and nervous and a little embarrassed at my state of undress. I started to shake and I was sure I would start to cry at any moment. Nurse Williams looked up and saw I was having issues because of all the people staring at me and chased everyone back to their rooms. She left me by myself for a few minutes and returned carrying a pill and a small paper cup of water.
“Take this, it will make you feel better”, she said and handed me the pill and water.
I took the pill, never knowing what it was she gave me. Then, she told me to get out of the wheelchair and go into a room. More vitals were taken and questions asked, along with the question of the day, was I feeling like hurting myself? Then she took out the plastic bag and went through everything, removing anything that could be used to cause damage to myself or others.
After all this was done I was taken to what would be my room for the next two weeks. It was a small room with two beds on little platforms on the floor. This room also had bars on the windows. I was told the bathroom was across the hall and I could use it whenever I needed, but it didn’t lock.
Finally, I was given some pale blue pajama pants and top and instructed to put them on. Nurse Williams left the room and I started to change. By this time however, the pill she gave me had started to have an effect on me and I started to feel very calm and my limbs didn’t work like they were supposed to. Putting on the pajamas took a long time and required extreme concentration. Just as I finished, another nurse came in and told me she would be taking blood. I told her how I was feeling and she told me to lie on the bed and close my eyes while she went about removing my blood.
The bed was not very comfortable, but I found myself falling asleep anyway. Thankfully, they didn’t bother me for the rest of the day so I slept the remaining daylight away and a whole night.
I got up at 5am the next morning and asked whether I could call my wife. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and realized that I had not called her and she was probably frantic. She was, and she was very angry, even after I told her what happened and where I was. After she cooled down a bit she agreed to bring me some clothes and a carton of cigarettes, as I was told I would be given three opportunities to smoke during the day.
The next two weeks were a blur, but consisted of a regular routine. First thing in the morning at 6am we filed into the cafeteria and ate breakfast then lined up to receive medication. After meds we went to our first group therapy session of the day. During this session, we had to tell everyone what our goals for the day were and how we expected to complete these goals. Then, we have free time while we waited to see our assigned doctors about our medication. After that we sat one-on-one with a therapist and talked for about a half-hour. Then we had a smoke-break where we would be ushered downstairs and outside in the cold to shiver and smoke as many cigarettes we could in fifteen minutes. After smoking, we had lunch and then another group session. Around two every day we were allowed to see visitors if we had any. The rest of the day we were left to our own devices except for a few more group sessions. After dinner we had a final group session where we would be asked about our goals and if we reached them. Then we would take our final batch of medications and go to bed. The only days where this routine was different was on the weekends, where we wouldn’t see the doctors or therapists because they didn’t work.
I look back on that two weeks as a great learning experience. I spent much of my time analyzing myself and my actions and saw what things I could add to my life to aid in living with a mental illness. I was also able to connect with a great group of people who were going through the same things I was. We were asked to not make friendships that lasted after our time in the hospital, but many of us did, although after a few weeks, I never talked to them again as the responsibilities of life left me very little time for friendships.
So, although I was very nervous in the beginning, the whole experience turned out well and I look back on it with a certain fondness. I can’t say that about my other two hospitalizations, but that is another story for another time.
Have you ever been hospitalized, and if so, what was your experience? Please leave a comment and let me know or just tell me what you thought of my story.