I have post traumatic stress disorder as a result of having been hospitalized on inpatient psychiatry.  I wake up at 2:00 a.m. and it’s all there:

At St. Joe’s:  I walked down the hall to the nursing station.  In front of the nursing station a gurney was parked with an unconscious man laying on it.  The man had slit his throat.  It was one grievous red wound from ear to ear.  They’d taken him to surgery, sewn him up, not bandaged him, and left him parked unconscious in the hallway.  How could a human being do that to himself?

At Upstate:  I woke up in the morning, headed to the bathroom, reached for the knob and my hand slipped on shit.  My roommate had smeared her shit all over the bathroom walls, toilet and sink.  She did it several times.  I am sick at my stomach, but can’t escape it.

At the National Institute of Mental Health:  every morning a male patient would shit in the female patient’s shower room.  The staff knew it would happen but did nothing to monitor the man or redirect him, nor did they have housekeeping on stand-by.  Every morning:  human shit.  Nobody cared.

At St. Joe’s:  They move my bed into an observation room with glass walls on three sides.  During the day I have to sleep with my CPAP on while orderlies, visitors, drug salesmen and others walk by and point and laugh.  I have a right to privacy!

At Community General:  The unit director said he would see me, but he didn’t.  It was four o’clock Friday afternoon and I had to talk to him before he left for the weekend, so I sat in front of his door.  There were no chairs so I sat on the floor.  No violence, no noise, no fuss:  I just sat on the floor and waited.  When they told me to move, I continued to non-violently, passively, sit.  Two male staff members came and dragged me, lifted me, bruised me, while I offered no resistance.  Other staff members lined the halls and watched.  When my primary care physician saw the bruises, he shrugged and walked away.  If I took those bruises to the police, somebody would be arrested.

At Hutchings:  I was suicidal and wanted to be admitted.  They made me stand on the sidewalk and shout into an intercom.  They would not let me in until I shouted for the entire world to hear that I was suicidal.  I am made an object of pity.

At CPEP:  They locked me in a room by myself.  There were no other patients, no staff and no telephone.  I had hypoglycemia and they would not bring me food.  I was dehydrating and they would not bring me drink.  They would not let me have a bed to lie on or my CPAP machine to sleep with.  From Sunday morning until after midnight, I was locked up with no food, drink, bed or person to talk to.  That’s against the law, but so what?

At CPEP:  A nine-year-old boy asked me for a drink of water.  I had none to give him.  Then a man came in and tied him hand-and-foot to the bed while the boy screamed.  We are terrified!

At St. Joe’s:  After I got out of the ICU, I was too weak to get out of bed.  I was dehydrating from the kidney damage.  A therapy aide with no medical training refused to bring me anything to drink, and would not let me ask anybody else.  I was slowly dying.

At NIMH:  A psychiatrist kept me pinned to the bed while he dug in my veins with a needle.  He stuck needles in me all over for an hour.  Do that at Gitmo and it’s torture.

At St. Joe’s:  I’m sound asleep when I feel someone tying up my arm.  Without a word to me, a phlebotomist starts digging in my wrists for a vein.  I am nothing, not human.

At St. Joe’s:  Several staff members jump a male patient, drag him to the floor, and inject him.  The psychiatrist stands by calmly watching.  Who’s next?  Me?

At Hutchings:  A female patient starts yelling at a staff member.  The staff member puts her fists up and says, “Come on, bitch, bring it on.”  They will beat us if we get angry.

At Syracuse Psychiatric Hospital:  A male patient who is my friend hangs himself in the shower.  Nowhere is safe.

At St. Joe’s:  I collapse in the bathroom and lay semi-conscious on the floor.  Staff members come in, step over me, talk about me, and leave me there.  They don’t care if I live or die.

 At Syracuse Psychiatric Hospital:  I am packing to leave but can’t find my diary.  I run down the hall and find the charge nurse reading aloud from it to the staff members sitting around her.  My very soul is violated.

At St. Joe’s:  I am in a wheelchair.  Another patient comes up and threatens me with his fists.  The aide laughs.  No one will protect me from violence.

 At CPEP:  They take away my money and my phone book.  I can’t call my mother.  I am isolated in hell.

At Upstate:  I had pre-menstrual syndrome.  They locked me in solitary.  Normal human function results in degradation.

At Upstate:  My best friend on the unit was locked in a canvas straightjacket.  I can’t hug her!

At CPEP:  There are no locks on the bathroom doors.  While I was using the toilet a man who was 6’5” and weighed 420 pounds walked in and leered at me.  It is designed for terror.

At NIMH:  They sheet-wrap patients.  That is, they strip them naked, bind them tightly from neck to ankle in wet sheets that have been kept refrigerated and lay them on a gurney parked in the hallway.  Some patients scream nonstop for up to eight hours.  I cannot get the sound of screaming out of my head.

At Hutchings and St. Joe’s and Upstate and Community:  an alarm starts shrieking.  The locked doors burst open and armed guards come pounding into the unit after someone unknown.  Maybe me.


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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