St. Joseph’s Hospital Psychiatric: Tam (Part 2)

About Tam

            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.


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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