St. Joseph’s: Discharge


About the Party.  The staff has a party on 3-6, a shower for two pregnant staff members.  The party is held on the unit in view of the patients, but patients are not allowed to attend.  We watch through the window.

            The staff “lounge”—the room used for writing charts and giving change-of-shift reports—is at right angles to the nursing station and the hallway wall is glass from the waist up.  Venetian blinds have been installed to shut out the patients, but the window in the door is still exposed.  Dozens of times each day, patients are told to look in the lounge for their staff members.

            On this day, we go to the lounge and see a cloth-covered table, flowers, candles and a dozen trays of professionally sculpted desserts—double chocolate layer cake, cheesecake with cherries, other pastries.  In the day area, we get Lorna Doones and Oreos in cellophane wrappers.  In the lounge doorway, we must look at what we cannot touch.  Being labeled as a psychiatric patient means you are never invited to the party.

            There is an empty conference room six feet outside the locked door of the unit where these parties could be held discreetly, nevertheless, the staff have their party on the unit during work hours.  It is always about their convenience, never about our courtesy.

About the “She Started It” FactorSomeone—perhaps the ex-unit manager, Kelly DeVaul—remarked that part of the problem is that staff do not examine what they are doing that precipitates a problem.

            A nurse pushes open the door to my room and comes in to do a finger stick.  She puts the computer equipment down on the bed and we exchange unpleasantries.  She says things about my attitude that are mean and I know will show up either in report or on my chart.  She says I don’t need to have the attitude.  I point out to her that she entered my room without knocking and has left the door open.

            I am standing in the middle of the room wearing a nightshirt and no pants.  She has exposed me to public view, and criticized my attitude when I was offended.

Show TimeBecause I need to use a CPAP, they force me to sleep in the front lounge at night and during daytime naps.  It has glass walls from waist to ceiling on two sides.

A CPAP machine consists of one box containing water and another containing a motor, plus a long hose, a facemask, and a contraption of straps to hold it on my head.   When my friend wears her CPAP in the privacy of her bedroom, her husband calls her Darth Vader.

            In the hallway around the front lounge there is a steady stream of passersby—patients, unit staff, visitors, drug company representatives, men pushing linen carts, clerks from admitting.  They tap on the windows and laugh at me.

            I am denied the right to privacy; I am an animal in a zoo.

Aide Makes Patient Beg for TreatmentCheryl, a counselor without respiratory or medical training, has incorrectly set up my CPAP machine.  She is sitting in the staff lounge.  I fly at her in anger, demanding that she come do it right.  She refuses.

            I go back to the front lounge, calm myself, and then for some vague experimental reason I return to the staff lounge and say, in a humble, meek tone with the sarcasm inaudible, “Cheryl, I beg you, please come fix my CPAP.”

            She stands, moves toward the door, and says, “There—that’s more like it.  That’s what I want to hear.  That’s good.”

About Short Michael.  Short Michael is a middle-aged artist—he shows photographs of his work—who became employed as a counselor on 3-6 a year ago.  I tell him I remember how hesitant he was when he first started to work, always very conservative in both his speech and actions, and that now he clearly has gained confidence.

            He is offended by my remarks, and denies their reality.

            The first time I need to use a wheelchair, it is Michael whom I ask to bring me one.  He refuses, saying, “See—you’re walking!”  I am standing between my bed and the bathroom, and I need help to get down the long hallway to the day area and breakfast.

Michael, an artist with no medical training, makes no inquiry into why I have requested assistance.  The staff on 3-6 has no desire to help the patients.

            A week later, Michael sums it up:  “I’m not interested in your rights . . . I’m interested in keeping order.”

            Those are the last words I hear before I am wheeled out of 3-6, the prison unit, where sick people have fewer rights than convicted felons.

“A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to come back, but they are gone.  We are it.  It is up to us.  It is up to you.”  –Marian Wright Edelman

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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
This entry was posted in Inpatient psychiatry, mental illness, NYS Office of Mental Health, psychiatric patient, psychiatrist, St. Joseph's Hospital and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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