About St. Joseph’s Hospital Psychiatric Services (Part 1)

 “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)

 About Michael

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.


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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