St. Joseph’s Hospital: About Carol (Part III)

            Tuesday night Carol and I both sleep well, and Wednesday morning we are both up and dressed by 7:30 a.m.  She wishes for something to drink.  I explain to her that Cathy, the night nurse, will not give out any of the juice that she keeps in the nursing station to give with meds.  Also, that in the kitchen area in the back there is an ice machine that is broken, a refrigerator that is padlocked for staff use, and no coffee or tea supplies to be used in the filthy microwave.

            When breakfast comes at 8:30, Carol sits with me and drinks some juice and some milkshake, and tastes the coffee cake and eats some scrambled eggs.  She is up, dressed and alert for a significant portion of the day.  When she goes back to bed, she says it is because she is bored; there is nothing to do.

            The combination of ECT and my help have gotten Carol moved along the road out of depression—or dehydration and malnutrition, whichever it may be.

            That night, for reasons perverse, I am made to sleep in the front lounge.  When I tell Carol they will be moving my bed back and forth, she is incredulous.  She cannot believe the staff will do this stupid thing, nevertheless, they do it.  During the night, I grow faint and collapse on the bathroom floor; I do not know if Carol is awake and aware, but the next day I am too sick to continue helping her.  She tries a little to help me.

            She has ECT again, and again they put her to bed and leave her side rails up all day.  When a staff member asks her if she wants the side rails down, Carol says no and the staff member is compliant.  Reclusive behavior is encouraged.  Carol is brought a few liquids but no breakfast, lunch or supper.  Putting food within reach and where she can smell it might make a difference.  Carol does say that a staff member has put the side rail down so she could go to the bathroom—but then the staff member has put it back up.

Carol tells me that three times she has asked to have her IV pulled, but it has not been done.  What little effort she has made to take control of her life has been rebuffed.  The staff continues to be in control.  Carol says the last staff member said maybe the IV needed to stay in case she had a treatment the next day.  ECT is never done two days in a row; it is Thursday and she will not possibly have ECT again until at least Monday.  The patients know this; the staff member does not.

            Carol was admitted on June 18.  On Friday, June 28, the housekeeper changes our bed sheets for the first time.  Carol’s sheets were not changed for ten days, mine for nine.  (Lynn and Cindy say theirs have never been changed, so they change the sheets themselves.  Lynn says her roommate is sleeping on “brown” sheets.  When I ask if she means fecal matter, she says yes.)

            I think Carol spent all day Friday in bed without food, liquids or the side rails down.

            It was Saturday, if memory serves me right, when a nurse came in with the medication cart and asked Carol if she wanted the side rails down so she could go to the bathroom.  Carol said she didn’t need to.  The nurse administered meds.

            I could no longer keep my peace, and said to the nurse, “At the considerable risk of offending you, it occurs to me that maybe the reason Carol doesn’t need the side rails down is because she doesn’t need to go to the bathroom because she is dehydrated because her liquids are out of reach on the windowsill.” 

There was a brief discussion, during which the nurse became hostile, then walked out of the room.  My questions were relevant, reasonable, and based on cogent observation:  the nurse couldn’t answer them.

            Twenty minutes later, three staff members came into the room and told Carol she was being moved to another room.  When Carol asked why, the staff members mumbled, then said something vague about “It was decided it would be best.”

            Carol was moved because the staff realized I was watching, and they could not answer my questions about their failure to provide proper care.  Out of my sight, they could continue to provide incompetent care.  Nobody would know.

For the antidote to inpatient psychiatry, see Dr. Nasri Ghaly at


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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