I have been interviewing psychiatric inpatients for thirty years. This woman does not need psychiatric treatment. She needs a serious wakeup call that she has to confront the problems in her life and do something about them. I make it very clear to her that this hell of CPEP will become her lifestyle if she doesn’t get responsible. She is like a rabbit in the jungle, suddenly realizing she is everyone’s dinner. She has no skills to deal with the psychiatric system, and no protection from it.
Later, she comes out of the psychiatrist’s interview, chastened and clutching a scrap of paper with referral numbers for counseling, but now she is sitting at breakfast with Eddie and me.
Two or three of the day staff have “called in,” meaning they will not arrive for work on time, if at all, so the night woman (Carmen?) is staying on temporarily. Theoretically, she’s getting breakfast. In fact, breakfast isn’t around. She variously leaves the floor to get milk, to get bagels, maybe just to get out. She is not present when Eddie takes all the juices and hugs them to his chest. Nor is she present when Eddie takes all the milks. Eddie tosses unopened cereal boxes in the trash, all the while keeping up a daring banter that I ignore.
The staff person has left the canister of coffee on the table, which she’s not supposed to do. Eddie deliberately pushes down on the top of the vacuum bottle and let’s coffee run onto the table. I tell him to stop. He doesn’t. I tell him to clean it up. He doesn’t. I fall silent as he continues to be harassing.
Now he tells me about being arrested three times for violence, about stabbing his brother, about intending to stab his brother’s baby. Eddie starts rocking the unstable table to deliberately spill the cup of coffee on my tray. I whisper in the Stupid Woman’s ear that I am trying very hard to ignore Eddie, but it is tough.
Eddie keeps escalating. He hasn’t gotten me yet, but he intends to. There are no staff members present. Eddie is six-foot-six, weights 420 pounds, and is sitting across the table, looking directly at me and hammering words at me—every other word being “fuck,” said angry and brutal. He says he’s going to hit me. I am too scared to move. Pat Chelbus, the day nurse, is at the end of the hall in the med room. I yell to her. She stands down there and yells to me that I’m not to yell. If I have something to say, I’m to go to a staff member and say it quietly. I am too scared to move, and there are no staff members present.
But that was me, and that was Sunday. This is Tam, and this is Monday, and nothing has changed: there are no staff members present, and Eddie is harassing a small woman. Tam cannot get out of the alcove. She screams for staff. No one comes.
I go to the nursing station and tell a staff member sitting inside that Tam is calling for help. The staff member, a female, acknowledges that I’ve spoken, then turns away and continues to talk to another staff member.
We are in terror here in CPEP. A violent man-mountain runs the show, and the staff let him.