St. Joseph’s: The Perverse Pathology of Mary Corbliss (Part III)


            My doctor had written an order that I could have my radio and its headset at my bedside to be used as an alternate to the normal pharmaceutical tranquilizer.  Mary Corbliss took it away from me, ostensibly because the small cords from the headset to the radio—according to 3-6-counselor myth—can be used for dangerous purposes.

            My doctor had written an order for me to have my CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine at my bedside.  It is the necessary treatment for my severe obstructive sleep apnea.  It has an electrical cord.

            Mary had, retroactively, taken away my consultation with a doctor who might help me, and, proactively, taken away the outside passes and radio ordered for my treatment.  I hadn’t blinked.  I had been patient and tolerant throughout all this, certain that when I next saw my doctor then he and I could straighten it out.  I did not imagine that a counselor could successfully subvert a doctor’s orders.  Mary had agreed to note in my chart that I was behaving with grace and dignity, despite my disagreement.  Now she took away my CPAP.

            I objected.  She said she would take it up with the medical director.  Counselors do not take things up with the medical director; they take them up with the charge nurse.  Nevertheless, Mary Corbliss went to Dr. Roger Levine and my CPAP was removed from my room.  At this point my health is so poor that I have to take naps approximately every three hours:  I was told I would now have to take them in public in the front lounge.

            Later I would learn that at some point on this Wednesday afternoon, a treatment-planning meeting was held about me and out of it came a new Treatment Plan.  The Treatment Plan said that I had borderline personality disorder.  My doctor has never diagnosed me with that.  It is an onerous label that gives on to the meanest sort of treatment for the patient.  Many experts think there is no definable illness that can be called borderline personality disorder and that when the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM, the codes-and-criteria manual for mental disorders) comes out, it will have been dropped.  The diagnosis of borderline personality disorder usually says more about the diagnostician’s inability to work well with an intelligent and strong-willed patient than it does about the patient; the patient is smarter than the counselor or nurse.  Average people work as counselors but even very intelligent people get sick.

            “Nursing,” with Mary Corbliss as my primary contact, decided I had borderline personality disorder.

            The “treatment” for this, agreed upon by staff members, who—at least on St. Joseph’s Unit 3-6—are more interested in power and control than service and respect, consists largely of coercing obedience from the patient.

            Mary—“my” primary—did not tell me that there was a new treatment plan in effect.  She probably did not have the courage to go eyeball-to-eyeball with me, so instead of telling me that there were new rules, she only told the staff—those people who referred to her as “Our Mary.”  It worked the same way as an electric fence works on a dog:  you don’t know it’s there until you run into it and get a shock.

            I was sitting in the day area chatting with George, another counselor who actually started working on 3-6 the same week Mary did seven years ago.  When he talks about Mary, he laughs deep in his throat, raises an eyebrow and says sardonically, “Oh, you mean our Mary?”  At the exact moment that Mary walked into the day area, George and I were winsomely singing 1950’s commercials (“Remember ‘Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a, it’s the new Ipana?’”).  Mary did not approach us; she left the room.  Moments later the phone rang and George was called.  When he returned, I looked at him quizzically and asked, “Mary?”

            “Yeah,” he said ruefully.  “It seems I can’t talk to you.”  We were not having a deep one-on-one discussion about my complicated mental condition; we were passing an idle moment singing old commercials.  I was now to be denied contact with all staff members except Mary.

            I asked the day room staff person for a plastic knife.  On 3-6, you are denied the opportunity—apparently it isn’t a right—to eat like a civilized human being.  Julienne salads are sent up from Dietary containing tomatoes cut into quarters.  The only eating utensils on 3-6 are plastic forks and spoons.  (One adolescent inpatient remarked sadly, “This must be a picnic—all we get are paper plates and plastic utensils.”)  There are plastic knives but they are kept locked in a closet.  Most patients—and staff members—do not know they are available.  You cannot cut a tomato with a [cheap] plastic fork, consequently, you have to spear it and chew around the edges, unless, like me, you have been around too long and know too much.

            I went to the staff member, asked for, and got a knife.  Two hours later, I asked the same staff member for another knife:  she refused to get it for me.  She said I had to ask Mary.  When I asked her what had changed in the previous two hours, she turned her back and refused to answer.  This was to become the classic 3-6 staff response to my direct questions for which they had no reasonable answer:  walk away.

            I had left some things on a table in the day area when I went to answer a telephone call.  When I returned they were gone.  I approached the housekeeper and asked him if he knew about them.  Mary appeared out of nowhere and stood three feet away monitoring our conversation, poised to interrupt if she didn’t like what she heard.

            I had been quietly recovering on the psychiatric unit; I was not suicidal and my doctor had not diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder.  Now, because of the intercession of Counselor Mary Corbliss, I could no longer sing commercials with a staff member, cut a tomato into bite-size pieces, or find out where my lost belongings had gone.  (To be continued)

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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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