Writing the post yesterday about my first time in a psych ward got me thinking about the other two times. I can truly say my first time was a decent experience, but the second time weighs in one the other side of the scale.
It was late fall in Tucson, Arizona but it still felt like summer, with the temperature pushing 92 degrees. I was working in a phone support company on the Yahoo Broadband project. It was a far cry from my last job, both in salary and satisfaction.
It was a particularly difficult day on the phones, and I just was screamed at by a customer who couldn’t connect to the internet. There was a problem with the network somewhere on the east coast because this was not the first time a customer yelled that me during my shift.
I was halfway through my workday when the anxiety hit me. I often felt this anguish from talking to rude customers and today it was quickly turning into panic. After I finished my call, I logged out of the phone and went to the bathroom. Once inside, I made a beeline for the stall furthest from the door. I didn’t have any medication with me to quiet the worsening panic attack, so I reached in my back pocket where I had tucked my razor blade before I left my desk. Just holding the blade immediately eased some of the pain, but I knew from experience that I would have to use it on my arm to get any real relief.
Fifteen minutes later I was sitting on the toilet, blood oozing down my arm despite the ball of toilet paper I was holding against the fresh wounds. Blood was dripping down my arm to my hand, only to splash on the floor and puddle in the pool of urine surrounding the commode. I was sitting there, dumbfounded, because unlike all the other times, cutting had provided me no release from the panic. My heart was thudding wildly in my chest and sweat was pouring down my brow. I knew immediately that there was no way I could get back on the phones in this condition, so I pressed harder on my cuts to stop the bleeding so I could walk through the call floor and outside to my car.
As I was trying to staunch the blood flow, I was thinking about how I had been feeling for the past few months. I had been horribly depressed and nothing I did seemed to help. I still took all my medication religiously, but it seemed futile because it never eased my discomfort. I was cutting every day and spent many sleepless nights sitting at my computer writing suicide notes to my children.
When the bleeding had slowed down enough, I rolled down my sleeve to cover the evidence of my deed and walked out of the bathroom and across the center to my desk. I logged out of my computer and gathered all my belongings into my backpack and threw it over my shoulder. I could feel eyes on me as I walked quickly away from my desk to the door. I bolted out the door with a quick look over my shoulder to make sure no manager has seen my rapid exit from the building.
Halfway across the parking lot tears started streaming down my face and I knew very soon I would be crying uncontrollably. I was correct, because as soon as I got in the car and closed the door, I broke down. Thankfully I had parked far enough away where no one in the smoke-break area could see me blubbering endlessly.
I drove away and steered through the parking lot, blinking away the tears that were obscuring my vision. I pulled out of the lot and on to the highway. I quickly accelerated to 65 mph and tried to stay on the road, all the time crying hysterically. I thought how easy it would be to steer off the road and into a tree, ending my life. Instead I sped up so I would arrive at my house, and safety, very quickly.
I didn’t make it very far. I was crying very hard because the panic seemed to be getting worse for every mile I went. My hands were shaking so badly I was losing my grip on the steering wheel. So I exited the highway and pulled into the parking lot of a Burger King.
I saw that they had a pay-phone and I got an idea. I got out of the car, picked up the receiver and put it to my ear. I dialed my parents’ number and waited for them to answer. My dad answered the phone, and crying, I told him what was going on and where I was. He said they would be there shortly to pick me up.
I felt slightly relieved after talking to my dad. I got back in the car and grabbed a discarded old napkin to wipe my eyes and nose, and waited.
After about 45 minutes, my parents pulled in the lot and parked in the space next to mine. I got out of the car and slipped in the back seat of their car without saying a word. I could see my dad staring at me in the rearview mirror, but he didn’t say anything for a few minutes.
“So, what do you want to do?”
“I better go to the hospital, I need to be somewhere safe”, I said, and wiped my nose with the tissue again.
We debated which hospital would be the best, and I suggested Kino hospital because it was very close.
Ten minutes later, we pulled into the hospital and parked next to the emergency room sign. I didn’t want them to have to wait a long time, because my dad wasn’t feeling well, but they got out of the car without a word and followed me to the door of the emergency room. As we walked in, I headed straight for the desk and my parents grabbed the last two seats that were available.
The nurse at the desk seemed to be engrossed in a book and didn’t notice me walk up. I politely cleared my throat, but she continued looking down at her novel. I stood there for another ten minutes, before she finally acknowledged me. She didn’t bother to say a word, she just looked at me, so I finally spoke up in a hushed voice and told her what was going on. She turned to another nurse that just walked up, and in a loud voice that everyone in the waiting room could hear said “This guy says he is suicidal, what should we do with him?” The other nurse smiled at me and told me to sit down and wait. They didn’t even bother to ask my name.
There were no seats in the waiting room so I walked over and stood next to where my mom and dad were sitting. Everyone in the waiting room was looking at me. I hoped it wouldn’t take a long time, because I could feel the panic rising up in me again.
Two hours later the nurse with the book stood up and motioned for me to follow her to the back of the desk where there was a door to the emergency room. I told my parents to wait and I would find out how long this would take because I didn’t want them to have to sit there too much longer. As I followed the nurse through the door I asked how long it would take, but she didn’t say a word. I thought she would lead me to a room where I would be evaluated, but she walked back past all the open rooms to another door and waved her hand for me to follow her. We walked a little farther down the hallway and stood in front of a security guard reading a newspaper with a shotgun lying across a little desk in front of him.
“This gentleman is a suicide risk, they want him to stay here till they call for him.” Book nurse walked away and I was left with the security guard.
No one had even asked my name yet.
I was ushered into a small room and was told to sit down and wait till they came for me. I noticed the fluorescent bulbs in the room were flashing off and on as the guard told me to take a seat on the lone little bench in the room. The guard went back to his newspaper and I was left alone. As I sat on the bench, I noticed the room smelled terrible. It was a combination of urine and vomit and I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I could see someone had tried to pee in the trash can and missed, because there was a little puddle around the small container. I couldn’t figure out where the vomit smell was coming from.
The only contact with another person in the next seven hours came when a short bald man came in the room to take my belt and shoelaces. I sat in that smelly room the whole time trying not to throw up everything in my stomach. I was left alone with my depression and panic and no one once had asked my name or how I felt. The only thing in the room besides the bench was a clock on the wall, so I watched the minutes click by as I waited. At four hours into my lonely vigil I popped my head out the door and asked if he could get a message to my parents to leave because I didn’t know how long this was going to take. The guard didn’t say anything, he just shrugged his shoulders and motioned with his chin that I should go back in the room.
At exactly seven hours in the room, a portly nurse in pink scrubs came in with a clipboard and asked my name. Then she went about taking my vitals and asking me how I was feeling. I told her I was very sick because of the smell and she said I wouldn’t be in the room much longer. She was right because right after she finished another nurse with blue scrubs came in and told me that I should follow her back to the emergency room. I asked her if she could find out if my parents were still waiting and she asked their names and said she would go talk to them as soon as she was finished with me. She took me to a room and I walked in and immediately sat on the bed and started taking deep breaths, trying to clear the smell of vomit and urine from my nose.
I should have realized it long ago, but I was feeling like I made a huge mistake coming here in the first place.
So ends part one of my story. Please come back tomorrow for park two. In the meantime, please leave a comment and let me know what you think so far.