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

Social Behavior

Someone should write a book of etiquette for psychiatric inpatients.  What do you do when your warm, supportive, friendly roommate informs you that Erik Estrada brought her from Vietnam as an orphan and she is now married to the lead singer of Guns ‘n Roses?  Do you smile benignly and murmur acceptance?  Do you guffaw outright?  Do you suggest that she’s receiving transmissions on a frequency that’s not on the air?  You cannot laugh with her because she isn’t laughing.  It poses an interesting social problem.


I was getting no scheduled individual therapy, no group therapy and no passes.  In despair, I called my old friend and co-worker Stan Bennett in the Education Department and asked him to go to the library and seek out for me some literature on the subject of borderline personality disorder; if I had to commit self-therapy then I would. 

Stan was quite willing but noted that he was currently in hot water with a bunch of doctors and–if his boss recommended it–would I mind if he went through the motions of clearing it with my doctor?  Of course not; I understood.  So Stan went to Jim, and Jim said he should ask Dr. Jane Kou, so Stan did.  Dr. Kou said he could not bring me any material; he could, however, bring material to her and she would screen it.

My father was a college professor.  In the home in which I grew up there was a room called “the library.”  It contained hundreds of books.  I have always assumed that the free movement of ideas on paper was an elemental right.  And that one thing one could be proud of was one’s openness to new or different ideas.  To be denied free access to books fills me with terror.  And please remember the context in which this happened:  I was on a locked psychiatric ward and was being denied passes.  I was, finally, being denied freedom of thought.

Dr. Kou, when I confronted her, used the word “like”; I would be permitted to have material if she liked it.  What do you do with a mental health system in which one person has the power to deny ideas to another person?  I indict Dr. Kou for mind control.

Stan, however, gets cheers and orchids and assorted kudos for being a guerrilla fighter in the war for freedom of the mind:  he photocopied the title pages of the books that he gave to Dr. Kou, as well as photocopying an article in a professional journal.  When Stan came to see me on the locked ward, he took me to the end of the nearly deserted sunroom, hugged me and slid the photocopied material into my hand, muttering laughingly, “If you’re captured, eat this!”  I had already been captured.

Jan Kou never let me see the books.

The Discharge

I was admitted in a suicidal state and discharged the same way.  The social worker called me to Dr. Kou’s office where Dr. Kou told me I was to be discharged without medication, without a program, and without a therapist.  This frightened me so badly that I became suicidal; I was already regressed.  Dr. Kou was not responsive to any discussion of how I felt.  So I repeatedly asked that I not be discharged without a therapist but the doctor wouldn’t listen.

It is said that the discharge plan is something the doctor and the patient work out jointly.  This is not true.  It was not planned with any input from me.  It was done unto me; I was informed that I was being dis­charged.  Then—then—came the grand moment:  I was asked to sign the discharge paper.  I reached out my hand and took the form only to discover that it had not been filled out.  Incredulous, I looked at the social worker and said, “You don’t actually expect me to sign a blank form, do you?”  Yes, she did.  I refused.

My signature may not mean much to anyone else but it means a lot to me.  It means, at the very least, that I have been present and conscious.  Often it means more than that:  it may signify my agreement, consent or contractual commitment.  It is my pledge, my honor.  I take my signature seriously ultimately because I take myself seriously.  I am a person of substance.  I think, I feel, I hope.  I engage with other human beings and commit myself to action.  All of that meant nothing to Hutchings: they wanted my signature on a blank form.  I refused to give it

I walked out of Hutchings–let me be rudely specific about this.  I walked out of Hutchings knowing that if I walked into my apartment, I would kill myself.  So I didn’t dare go home.  Instead, I drove for several hours.  I drove along, screaming at some times, at other times pressing the gas pedal to the floor and flying along in a blur.  I came out of one of these forced runs to find myself behind a school bus.  I am sorry.  As a citizen, I owe you an apology.  I tried very hard to prevent that sort of thing from happening. 

What I later received in the mail was a copy of the discharge form that had been filled out in my absence.  On the discharge form, they had noted that if I had any suicidal feelings then I should contact my therapist.  Obviously, they anticipated that I might feel suicidal yet did not let me get a therapist.  After they filled out the form, they noted on it that I had refused to sign.  Understand this very clearly:  what I refused to sign was the blank form; the completed form was never given to me.

It has been fourteen months since I was last at Hutchings; I am on medication and see a psychologist twice a week.  I have bad dreams about Hutchings all the time.

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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