The Big Question (Part II)


            The New York State Office of Mental Health requires that you have telephone access to the rest of the world.  That doesn’t mean your hospital will let you.

            At Hutchings Psychiatric Center, there was one phone for about twenty people and it was kept locked in a closet.  Since there was also only one aide and no nurses to serve those people, your chances of getting the phone unlocked were zilch.

            At Community General Hospital the phone was also kept locked, however, there it was brought out at two or three scheduled times each day.  If you wanted to make a phone call then you had to (a) sign up in advance; (b) wait your turn; (c) carry on your conversation with a staff person listening, and (d) limit it to about five minutes.  In other words, you could call your wife and ask her to bring you more underwear.  You could not (a) gain support from your friends; (b) apologize and try to work things out with your family, or (c) maintain your role as parent to your young children.

            At St. Joseph’s Hospital there were two pay phones in the main hallway.  They were dubbed the “patient phones” and staff would not answer them.  Your deranged, despairing, bewildered co-patients—who had no idea who you were—would answer and maybe or maybe not try to find you.  Your conversations would be carried on standing up, and with every passing admission’s clerk, drug salesman and linen-cart-pusher listening in.  Not to mention psychiatric staff members who would listen in and then go back to the nursing station and report your conversations.  Seriously, don’t confess to smoking pot while you’re on the phone at St. Joe’s.

            If you go into inpatient psychiatry then you will go without God.  Hutchings, under state regulations, has a chaplain who will see you as part of the comprehensive admitting package.  He will never see you again.

            The behavior of ordained people at other hospitals is best summed up by my two sisters who are Methodist ministers:  “A clerical collar is a magnet for nut-jobs.”  Nobody likes nut jobs, so no hospital chaplains will visit you on inpatient psychiatry.  St. Joseph’s is a Catholic hospital, nevertheless, the priests will never cross the threshold of inpatient psychiatry; they send a nun to do whatever it is that nuns do in the absence of priests.  There are no bibles on St. Joe’s inpatient, nor can you request and receive one from Spiritual Care Services.

            Inpatient psychiatry is spiritual outer darkness, never mind that psyche means “soul.”  Your only hope is to have a connection with a pastor before you are admitted, and hope like hell that he’ll come—and bring a bible.  St. Joe’s once had a nurse who worked evenings and really believed that spirituality mattered.  She started a group that generally had double the attendance of any day groups:  the patients agreed with her that it mattered.  The administration switched the nurse to a day schedule, then told her that there was no room on the day schedule for another group.  No staff person on evenings followed up with the spirituality group.

            All hospitals have chapels.  Since they are off the inpatient unit, you have to have an order from your psychiatrist to be “allowed” to participate in the corporate worship of God.  Very few physicians see any good reason to worship God, so they are not particularly moved by your request to go to chapel.  Assuming you have a psychiatrist who will write an order, he may write that you have to be accompanied.  Come Sunday morning, you will find that the nurse says there is no one available to accompany you, so you don’t get to meet your maker.

            At Hutchings, even if you’ve asked to be awakened for chapel, the staff won’t do it.  According to one worker (who quit) on Sunday mornings the staff members would bring in coffee, donuts and the Sunday newspaper, then settle down for a good morning in the staff office.  Any patient who got up and started wandering around would be told to go back to bed.

            At St. Joe’s the priests hated to have unaccompanied patients from inpatient psychiatry come to mass.  You’re the only person there wearing street clothes and an identification bracelet so they instantly know where you came from and they apply the stigma.  One priest fairly screeched at me, “Where is your accompaniment?”  Upstate has negated the whole issue of corporate worship by televising it:  the chaplain sits alone in the chapel and talks to the camera on the fiction that good Christians throughout the hospital are tuned into their televisions.  Yeah, right.

            So the question becomes “If inpatient psychiatry is so awful, why did I voluntarily keep going back?”

            For the same reason that a murderer takes a plea deal:  none of us want to die.  Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all people will take life in prison over the death penalty.  I was hospitalized with one guy who had terminal cancer; he was admitted to psychiatry because he was suicidal.  They were going to keep him from killing himself so the cancer could kill him.  The only reason I ever went into the hospital was because I was so suicidal that it was a matter of hours before I would try to kill myself.  I held out as long as I could, but when I couldn’t any longer, then I’d go in the hospital.  (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
This entry was posted in Community General Hospital, doctor, drugs, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Inpatient psychiatry, mental illness, NYS Office of Mental Health, psychiatric patient, psychiatrist, psychiatry, St. Joseph's Hospital, Suicide, Unit 3-6, Upstate Medical Center and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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