“Mindfulness, the capacity to be here, to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, is the beginning of enlightenment.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
“You must make the unjust visible.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP)
Michael is ten years old and has freckles. He was a skinny kid wearing a tank top and too-big shorts on June 16, Father’s Day, when he came to me in CPEP and asked for a drink. CPEP is the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I had been admitted to CPEP on Friday night, but that morning they had locked me out in the hall and I was sitting in an interview room. I had no drink to give Michael. There were no cups, nor any drinking fountain.
The next time I saw Michael, a man had tied down his feet, and was tying his wrists together with something black, then pulling his wrists over his head and tying them down while Michael screamed in terror.
This is called “four-point restraint.” My friend came to visit me and heard the screaming. My pastor saw the child tied down.
The NYS Office of Mental Health did a study of restraint and seclusion policies at mental health facilities and concluded that if an institution has a policy of restraint, then it finds the need to use it; if it does not have a restraint policy, then it never seems to have patients who need such restraint.
When I was at Benjamin Rush Center, a private psychiatric hospital, I was told that if they need to restrain a child, they do it by having a staff member sit cross-legged on the floor and wrap her arms and legs around the child; the child is restrained with humanity. Among other things, the child can hear the adult’s heartbeat and feel her breathing, which has a calming effect.
Later, after they had untied Michael, I went and sat with him while he had something to eat. Dr. Alou came in to talk to him, so I left.
The next time I saw Michael was around midnight. Michael had been admitted to the back and I had been allowed to return to my room. The child came to me with his arms outstretched. I hugged him and got him a drink. Then I sat with Donna, who looked like a suburban housewife, but she talked strange. I don’t know what was wrong with her.
I saw Michael again in the morning, Monday. He was in the bed in the first room. The morning nurse, Kathy, and the night nurse, Anthony, were shut up in the medication room, counting meds. Administrator George Van Latham was supposed to be on the floor but he wasn’t there much.
Eddie is 20 years old, 6’6” tall, weighs 420 pounds and is a patient. The day before, Eddie told me that he had been arrested for violence three times, that he had stabbed his brother, and that he was going to stab his brother’s baby. When Michael came out of his room, Eddie pressed the child to his side, with his arm around him. Nobody could have gotten Michael away if Eddie turned mean. (The day before, Eddie threatened to hit me; that’s why they locked me out in the hall, and the day before that, the security men were getting ready to put Eddie in four-point because of the way he was acting.)
When George came back, I was afraid to tell him about Eddie holding on to Michael because the staff get mad if you do, but Michael was cold from only having a tank top and shorts, so I asked George if he could get something warm for Michael. He said no, he didn’t have anything.
Next thing, a patient, Donna, took Michael into bed with her. She’d slept on a cot in the day area. Michael was lying on his back staring at the ceiling. Donna was snuggled up next to him with her arm across his chest. Nobody was around.
There was a man there who looked like a biker. He had long dark hair, a jacket-shirt with the sleeves torn off, and tattoos. I was crying. I thought that maybe if he would just walk with the child, Michael would be protected. I asked him, but he went and lay down on his bed. The man’s name was Al. Later he told me that he’d been in Sing-Sing, Attica and other places for drugs and weapons and killing somebody.
In the afternoon, an older woman with a hearing aide in her left ear came and took Michael away.
Jesus said, “ . . . and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” will not lose his reward. I keep thinking about what Jesus did to the moneychangers in the temple, and wondering how he would tear up the place if he saw what was done to Michael.