Hutchings Psychiatric Center: Notes from a Hospitalization (Part II)


The psychiatrists never came to see us.  Where were they?  In meetings about the patients?  Writing notes in the patient’s charts?  There were five psychiatrists and the patients would go for days without seeing them.  This, compared to a private psychiatrist in another hospital who used to see me every day, including a brief check on Saturday and Sunday.  Her stated philosophy was that if you were sick enough to be in the hospital then you were sick enough that you needed to be seen every day.

If I ran the zoo, I would stipulate that doctors had to spend the same amount of time with the patient as about the patient.

What I learned was that ultimately it comes down to the doctor.  During my first hospitalization at Hutchings, I had a very bright, highly competent doctor, James Megna.  He had a Ph.D. as well as an M.D.  He used the hospitalization creatively and hand-tailored it to suit my needs (my needs being diagnosed at that time as Personality Disorder, No Specific Origin).

One of the most important things he did for me was keep me free.  In fact, at one point he had me “hospitalized” to the tune of about two hours a day.  I would check into the hospital in the morning for group, lunch and my therapy session with the doctor then I would go home.  The hospital, instead of being a prison, was an anchor that kept me from drifting too far off center.

A word or two about the therapy.  First, Dr. Megna ran the group and it included about eight of us on the second floor (the fully locked ward was on the third floor; first and second floors were less severe).  Given the reality of a state hospital and its chronic, low-functioning population it was a very good group.  It worked.

The second thing that worked was a daily forty-five minute psychotherapy session with Dr. Megna.  Daily sessions are unheard of in state hospitals but my doctor offered it and I accepted.  Do I feel guilty about it?  Somewhat.  The time I got was the time that other sick souls lost; I wish there had been enough to go around.  As it was, Hutchings was like being on a sinking ship.  The cry went out “women and children first” and I realized that I was both woman and child.

I have discovered that there is a direct correlation between the intelligence of the therapist and how well I do in therapy.  Given half a chance, I work well.  Dr. Megna, for whatever reasons of his own, decided to give me a chance.  He thought he could help me and decided to try.  I did hear later that daily psychotherapy for me was not a popular decision with the staff and that he had to defend his actions.  What defense can you offer for treating a patient well?

Where did this paragon of virtue come from?  He came from the federal educational program wherein the feds pay the bill for the doctor’s education if, in return, the doctor agrees to work in an area that is designated as deprived.  Hutchings was deprived; the doctor owed for his training, and sometimes the system actually works.

The problem is that state hospitals have the worst patients–patients with multiple diagnoses who have run through all their insurance money and ended up on Medicaid–and the least experienced doctors are staffing them.

The second time I was hospitalized I drew a different doctor.  Actually, I was passed back and forth between Larry, Curly and Moe.  (To be continued)

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Hutchings Psychiatric Center: Notes from a Hospitalization (Part II)

  1. Man Zych says:

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