About Mickey. There are four Marys on the unit, so one goes by “Mickey”; she is a tall black woman who wears big hoop earrings. One night over supper we begin to talk. She asks where I’m from, and I tell her about the Valley in Pennsylvania. My people have farmed the Valley for 250 years, and I am deeply homesick for the shape of the land and the angle of the sun. When I was growing up, the Valley was full of my family: grandparents, three sets of aunts and uncles, eight first cousins, three sets of great-aunts and uncles, countless second cousins and such.
Mickey tells a similar story of growing up in her grandmother’s home in Alabama, of family stretching into the unseen distance, of barbequing every night on the cement-block grill in the backyard, then sitting out listening to the night bugs while darkness gathered. We talk about being alone hundreds of miles from home, and how, without family, you’re as good as dead—you’re on 3-6. Absence of family, both cause and effect, runs concurrent with mental disorder. Mickey and I are quietly alone, and bonded by our sadness. She begins to weep softly.
In further conversation, Mickey tells me that for ten years doctors have been telling her she’s going through menopause. None of them have ever referred her to an endocrinologist. She’s never even heard of endocrinology, so I tell her some things about the interaction between hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas and ovaries, and suggest she ask her psychiatrist for a referral.
Mickey and I hang together some—mutual respect and understanding, commonly held strength and wisdom. I tell her about the time I testified against my Onondaga County government boss in a political conspiracy; she tells me about winning a racial discrimination suit against MONY. I got a full-page newspaper headline, “Woodlen testimony most damaging of trial”; Mickey got the front page.
Mickey, not having been in psychiatric hospitalization for twenty years, comes to 3-6 with real-world values and expectations. She has not been subdued into compliance by the psychiatric system; her backbone is still functional. She tells me that one morning she waited at the nursing station for her medicine for fifteen minutes, then got fed up and left. No message ever went out over the public address system asking her to come back; no nurse ever came to find her. At 3:15 p.m., her 9:00 a.m. medicine was administered. The nurse said, “You’re a hard person to find.”
Should a nurse be working who cannot find one patient out of thirty on a locked unit in six hours? Or a nurse who isn’t doing her job and doesn’t try? Under management that does not check to see if medicine is being correctly administered?
Patients are not allowed to visit each other in their rooms, so Mickey and I decide to bring our papers out and work together in the day room. No matter how sick you get, there are always papers to sigh over, try to puzzle out. Sitting at the table, Mickey says she guesses she ought to fill out the satisfaction survey from CPEP, where she too began.
“What are you talking about?” I ask her. “What satisfaction survey?” She picks up her discharge paper from CPEP and shows me the questionnaire stapled to the back. I pull out my discharge paper. There is a staple in the corner but no questionnaire on the back. They removed the questionnaire so that I couldn’t register my dissatisfaction.
About Tall Michael. Michael is a counselor who works both at CPEP and Unit 3-6. He is the tall, thin fellow who says he threw Eddie out of the nursing station. The next time Michael is working on 3-6, I go to him and ask questions about the satisfaction survey. With cheerful willingness that indicates that it is of no matter to him, he describes how CPEP staff either do or do not pass out the questionnaires. If a patient seems satisfied with their CPEP experience, you give him the questionnaire. If, on the other hand, you know that the patient had a hateful experience and is going to complain, you just tear the questionnaire off—make paper airplanes, throw them around, toss them in the trash, whatever.
When asked what happens to the completed questionnaires when they are returned, Michael says they go upstairs to Jim, the guy in charge, who compiles the statistics.
Michael is telling me that he and other staff members are knowingly biasing the statistics about how CPEP is doing its job. (To be continued)