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

The Doctors

Dr. Curly saw me first, and told me she was holding me over for Dr. Moe’s return from vacation.  Dr. Moe saw me, but said that Curly was my doctor.  Curly went on vacation after saying that Larry was my doctor.  Moe saw me again but said that Larry was my doctor; Larry said Curly was.  This routine would have been funny were it not that my life and freedom were at stake. 

 Larry—Dr. Jane Kou—told me she wasn’t sure what to do with me and was, therefore, holding me over for the senior psychiatrist, who was on vacation.  People are dynamic, not static; you can’t put a patient on the shelf like a can of tomatoes and have it wait:  life happens; patients change.

I deteriorated rapidly and badly from being held on the ward without activity and without passes.  The terms of the hospitaliza­tion actually made me sicker.

In the vast emptiness of the state hospital’s unprogrammed day, I discovered that there are three kinds of patients:  the pacers, the sitters and the sleepers.  The pacers would walk from one wing to the other, back and forth, for endless hours.  Sitters watched pacers.  Sitters sat in the day rooms or the elevator lounge; I was a sitter.

Sleepers would pull two chairs together for a couch or lay in the day room on the floor, often completely shrouded in a sheet.  What is going on here?  Why are people sleeping on the floor?  Because they are locked out of their rooms, so they can’t sleep in bed.  The lockout eliminates the “in bed” part of the behavior but not the “sleeping” part.  If we are actively going to prevent patients from doing anything then shouldn’t we be civilized and at least let them go to bed?  Locking a sleeper out of her room doesn’t turn her into a sitter or a pacer, just a more hostile sleeper.

There was nothing to do.  Simply and finitely, nothing.  There was the “patients'” television, which was usually turned on to whatever the staff person wanted to watch.  The fact was that staff people often watched television; it was the anchor they dropped in the chaos of the ward.

There were no radios or stereos; there were no games or puzzles.  The only newspapers belonged to the kitchen staff.  There were playing cards but we had to keep score with a crayon because we were denied pens and pencils (the crayons also came into use as poker chips:  “I see your yellow and umber, and raise you one turquoise.”)

There were no activities for those of us who had no passes, and Dr. Kou, not knowing what to do with me, held me prisoner.  For me, on my second hospitalization, there was no occupational therapy, no recreational therapy, no group therapy, and no individual therapy.  The can of tomatoes sat on the shelf and the tomatoes turned rancid.  I do not believe that a hospital staff is obliged to provide entertainment for the patients but they should not deny the patients access to their normal self-entertainment.  There was one week when the total sum of my activity was thirty minutes of a game called Scattergories.  This, for an adult with forty-five years of life experience and a college education.


Trudi is a white woman about forty years’ old; she is blind.  I do not know what Trudi is doing in a psychiatric hospital.  She is brought up from the first floor every morning and seated in a chair that is separated from where the group sits.  She is seated in a chair between two windows out of which she cannot see.

At one point she loudly asks the silence that surrounds her, “Is today Christmas?”  Why does she say that?  Perhaps because if she says, “Is today still nothing-Tuesday?” she will get little more than a grunt in response but asking the bizarre question “Is it Christmas?” here in dismal February stimulates a more stimulat­ing response.  And stimulation is something Trudi sorely lacks.  Yesterday, she told me, she did nothing.  Simply and totally that:  nothing.  All day.  She flutters her hands in helpless frustration.


What, I ask her, did she do before she was hospitalized?  How did she spend her time?  She is slow to answer (sooner or later we are all slow to answer) but I wait, and then she carefully tells me that she liked to read.  What did she read, I ask?  Talking books, she answers.  Well, I say, reciting the litany of the psychiatric hospital:  ask your social worker to get you some talking books.

Several days later, I ask her if she has gotten any talking books.  No, she says.  Did she ask her social worker for them, I ask?  No, she says.  Her social worker has not come to see her.  Did you ask to see her, I ask?  Yes, Trudi answers.  I can think of nothing more to say.

Trudi is blind, and is seated in a chair between two windows out of which she cannot see.  She is waiting for a social worker who does not come.

A young female patient at Hutchings stomped to death an elderly female patient.  The young patient had experienced both Hutchings and jail and decided she preferred jail; there was no limit to what she would do to get out of Hutchings.  (To be continued)

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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