St. Joseph’s Psychiatric Services: About Me, Part One

On Sunday, when no staff were present in St. Joseph’s CPEP, Eddie threatened to hit me; when I threatened to throw coffee at him in self-defense, the staff were present in the persons of Carmen and Dr. Alou.  They tried to send me to my room.  I protested that I had done nothing wrong, that Eddie had threatened me.  Around the breakfast table, instead of protecting me from the aggressor, they threatened me with withdrawal of my freedom.  Eddie would continue to do whatever he wanted to do; I would be restricted.

            Finally, Eddie decided to let them send him to his room for ten minutes.  To show my good faith and willingness to work cooperatively in our limited space, I immediately said that after Eddie took ten minutes in his room, I would take ten minutes in my room.  Within minutes—if not seconds—the nurse, Pat Chelbus, told me that I was to go “out front” to the interview area.  Surprised and confused, I got a book and bottle of water and went.  She locked me out there and would not let me back.

            CPEP was on diversion, meaning they were closed to new admissions, so there were no other patients in the area where I was locked.  There were no staff members.  There was no telephone.  There was one door that had a glass slit in it.  The only way I could get any of my needs met was to knock on this door and hope that a staff member on the other side would respond.

            At one point, Pat told me that I was locked out because I threatened Eddie.  I am middle-aged, overweight, and five-foot-one.  Some threat.  For a while, a third-year medical student was sent to sit with me.  For a long time, I was alone.  I was very tired.  I have arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, celiac sprue, seasonal affective disorder, severe obstructive sleep apnea and a couple of other things.  I’m sick a lot.  I lay down on a bed in one of the interview rooms, but couldn’t sleep without my CPAP (a machine that supplies continuous positive air pressure).

I have bad reactions to all medication.  I can’t take anything to help me calm down, consequently, I had a Walkman for soothing.  They wouldn’t let me have my Walkman or CPAP.  There were things the CPEP staff could have done to calm and comfort me:  they did none of them.  They would rather punish than help.

            One time, I asked Pat for the snack in my room.  I am being treated for low blood sugar and am on a special diet of three meals and three snacks a day.  Pat refused to get it for me.  She said she didn’t know anything about that.  She walked away and wouldn’t talk to me.

            I repeatedly asked to see the doctor.  I was locked out around 9:00 a.m.  Dr. Alou did not see me until 11:00 a.m.  He told me I was being locked out for my own protection.  I told him he couldn’t punish the victim and leave Eddie, the aggressor, in the back with his bed, his CPAP, his food and his access to a phone.  I pointed out to Dr. Alou that he had effectively locked me in seclusion, and without access to staff. 

Dr. Alou left, acting as if he was going to check on something for me, and saying he would come back.  He never did.  Several times I knocked on the door and tried to speak to him.  At one point he said he would come “in a second.”  He never came.

            The other staff, whenever I asked for relief, said I had to talk to the doctor.  The doctor wouldn’t come.

            I kept asking for a phone.  Pat kept saying there was one.  I kept saying, “Show me, show me.”  When she finally went to show me, she saw that it wasn’t there.  She brought one out, but they kept taking it away from me.  I called the numbers listed on the wall for Commission on Quality of Care, and Mental Hygiene Legal Service.  It was Sunday afternoon and machines answered both numbers.  I left messages.  No one ever followed up on the messages.  A month later, someone told me they probably called and asked CPEP what happened.  No one ever interviewed me.  They either ignored my cry for help, or took CPEP’s word for it that everything was all right.

            I would make one phone call, then pace around trying to think of what to do next.  When I would go back to make another call, the phone would have been taken away again.  I had to ask and ask; they made me beg for help.  I called someone in my church, and another friend.  My friend and my pastor came to see me.  Staffer Julia walked into the interview room where I was sitting with my friend and said, “You have to stop calling 911.”  I never called 911.  The staff don’t ask if you did something; they make judgments without information, then punish you.

            I was so sick.  They locked the room with the bed in it so I couldn’t even lie down.  No food.  When the men came to sit with me, the staff finally brought me some fruit and some juice.  This was around 2:00 p.m.

            Earlier, a girl staffer came out and asked me what I was doing there.  I told her.  She said she was on my side.  She let me into the back.  I ate the cereal and fruit in my room.  I kept asking for the name of the nurse who’d locked me out front and wouldn’t let me back.  The girl came and said I should come with her and then she’d tell me.  I followed her.  She took me out to the front again.  She told me it was Pat Chelbus.  Then the girl left me in the front and wouldn’t let me back.  She lured me out there deliberately so she could lock me out again.

            I was terrified all the time.  I had been admitted to CPEP because I was frightened by certain life circumstances as I found them on the outside.  CPEP terrified me beyond anything I could ever imagine.   They wouldn’t give me food or drinks or let me sleep.  I went there for help; they hurt me so bad I’d rather die than go back.  (To be continued)


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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