Ghaly/Kou/Cohen, Fire & Freedom: Answers to Questions


Jane Ghaly/Dr. Kou, Syracuse

Dr. Nasri Ghaly practices psychiatry at 614 S. Salina St., Syracuse; Dr. Jane Kou is a psychiatrist practicing at 610 S. Salina St.  They do not practice together.  He’s the best; she’s the worst.

Paul Cohen psychiatric doctor

Paul M. Cohen, Ph.D., is a psychologist practicing in Fayetteville, N.Y., not to be confused with Paul S. Cohen, M.D., an internist practicing in Syracuse, N.Y.  Psychiatrists and psychologists are both doctors.

A psychologist has a master’s degree and a doctorate from a university.  Psychologists study how and why people act the way they do, and how to help them stop doing what they don’t want to do.  They take courses in how to do psychotherapy, and they have an internship, that is, supervised practice in doing psychotherapy.  They do not have the authority to prescribe drugs, however they are prepared to recognize when drugs might be a good idea and refer the patient to an appropriate psychiatrist.

A psychiatrist has a doctorate in medicine from a medical school.  Psychiatrists are not trained in psychotherapy.  They are trained to prescribe drugs.  They do not talk to you.  Forty years ago, psychiatrists did 50-minute hours of psychotherapy; now they talk to you for ten minutes while they write you a prescription.

Psychiatrists will always put you on drugs.  Most emotional complaints do not benefit from drugs and the side effects can be devastating.  Always go with the psychologist first.

Fire drills in psychiatric units

        There are none. 

        Around 1970, I was employed as a mental health therapy aide on SUNY Upstate’s inpatient psychiatric unit, which had just opened.  A patient pulled the fire alarm several times in one day.  Each time the fire department had to respond because when the alarm comes from a hospital then they are not allowed to accept a phone call saying it’s a false alarm; they’ve got to show up.  By the third time, the firefighters were pretty mad so the head of the unit posted me to sit in front of the fire alarm and protect it until the maintenance men could come up and cover it with a locked Plexiglas box.

        On inpatient psychiatry the fire alarm boxes are covered and all exit doors are locked.  All staff members are supposed to carry their keys at all times but they don’t.  At any given moment, a third of the staff members don’t have their keys within arms’ reach.

        In addition to working on inpatient psychiatry, over a thirty-five-year period I was hospitalized about fifty times at CPEP, SUNY Upstate, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Community General, Hutchings, Benjamin Rush, Four Winds, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

        There never was a single fire drill.  There were fires at Hutchings and St. Joseph’s.  See also https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/st-josephs-hospital-report-of-a-minor-fire-part-i/

How to get out of locked psych

        Pulling the fire alarm used to be a good way, but they’ve locked up the alarms now. 

        Escaping from inpatient psychiatry—it’s technically called “eloping”—is now as difficult as getting out of prison. 

  • There are security guards roaming the hospital with radios.  Within seconds of a breakout the unit clerk will have called Security and they will be very aggressively running around hunting for you and watching the hospital exits. 
  • There are ceiling cameras focused on the door of the inpatient unit.  The staff is watching the door and anybody who is lingering near it on a regular or frequent basis.
  • The door is locked, and only buzzed open or keyed open by the staff.

You cannot get out by force.  You need to do a lot of surveillance and develop a plan.  Your best bet is to find a place near the door where the cameras cannot see you.  Then watch the pattern of people coming and going.  There’s bound to be someone who is careless about security and comes in every day to draw blood, deliver drugs or bring in carts of laundry or food.  Visitors are also very careless because they don’t realize it is a high-security prison.  They actually think it is a hospital where people are treated with care.  Position yourself to make a run for the door when it is opened for one of these “outsiders”.

        Dress appropriately for anyone who might have business in the hospital so that once you get out the door you will blend in.  Don’t run!  It’s a dead giveaway.  Walk purposefully.  Before you bust out make sure you know where the stairs and elevators are, and have a plan for getting out of the hospital as well as the inpatient unit.  You will only have one chance.  If you escape once and get brought back, they generally take away your clothes and shoes and make you wear a hospital gown.  This not only makes you less likely to run but also more easily identified if you do escape a second time.

        Oh, you meant with permission?

        Get a lawyer.  Call the Mental Hygiene Legal Service and see if they’ll do any good.

        Alternatively, cooperate with the staff.  Be compliant.  Do as you’re told.  Kiss butt.  Accept pills but try not to swallow them.  Agree with everybody.  You and I both know you shouldn’t be there but this is not the time to stand on principle.  They have the power; you don’t.  Deal with reality.  Treat aides as if they are psychiatrists and treat psychiatrists as if they are God.  Be subservient and submissive.  Keep your mouth shut and your head down.  You may be able to get discharged by your psychiatrist and wheeled through the door by a nurse in as little as three days.

        Once you get out, dump the drugs, cancel the therapy/psychiatrist’s appointment, and go back to living your own life.  Figure out what you did that got you locked up and then don’t ever do it again.

        Generally, asking for help is what got you locked up.  The message from the American medical industry—not to mention 9-1-1—is that if you ask for help then you will get locked up.

        Getting drunk and/or stoned is a better plan.  At least you get to keep your pants.

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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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