Speaking of Healing


I was inpatient at Benjamin Rush Center, the kinder, gentler private psychiatric hospital where nothing bad every happened to me, however something bad did happen to my friend.  We were hospital friends; I hadn’t known her prior to hospitalization.  She was suffering all kinds of distress and anxiety and one day she confided to me that she was being abused by one of the nurses.

She was a pretty lady and he was a big fat oaf.  He had backed her into a corner and forcibly groped her while she tried to resist.  Furthermore, he was messing with her meds.  My memory is no longer clear on the issue, but he made her take a drug that was dangerous to her, and threatened her with physical harm if she told.  Maybe he had made a mistake in the drug and wouldn’t listen to her when she tried to tell him it was wrong.  Anyway, she was terrified.  I told her that she had to go to administration and tell them; she refused, saying they wouldn’t believe her.

Bernie had been a night nurse on my previous four-month hospitalization.  He had dropped out of the priesthood (he told me had only gone into the priesthood because he looked good in black; fact was, he looked incredibly handsome in black, but he was both (a) a very moral man and (b) a jokester).  Anyway, Bernie would make night rounds and when he found me wakeful with insomnia then he would come back and sit with me for a while.  I had gotten to know him pretty well and he had my respect, trust and affection.

Between my hospitalizations, Bernie had been promoted to some nursing administration post, so after my friend told me what was happening to her I went to Bernie.  This was easy to do because Benjamin Rush (BRC), unlike every public hospital I’d ever been in, wasn’t filled with locks.  It did have some locked doors, but not many and I could easily move through the building—it was a fairly large two-story building—without being challenged or having to explain myself to anyone.

I told Bernie what my friend had told me, and told him that she was sure no one would believe her, and that if anyone knew she had told then it would get back to the nurse and he would hurt her.  I knew Bernie would believe her because she was telling the truth.  In most places, the attitude is patient versus staff; no patient is believed simply because she is a patient.  At BRC, that attitude did not exist.  People were people, not labels.  So Bernie listened quietly, then said he would take care of it.  He was cutting a line between being grimly angry about what he was hearing, and being gently reassuring to me.  He would handle it.  I didn’t know how, but I trusted him.

Shortly after I went back to the adult unit, I saw Bernie come and get my friend and leave with her.  They were gone for a fairly long while.  When she came back, I just said, “Okay?”  She replied with a nod that spoke volumes.

The next day, when shifts were changing, Bernie came for her again.  When she came back this time, she told me what had happened.  Bernie had checked the med charts and found evidence that the nurse had, indeed, made an error and tried to cover it, and Bernie had believed her about the sexual assault.  Then he had called the police.  When Bernie took my friend away the second time it was to stand with him in the lobby.  The police were there and when the nurse arrived for work, my friend got to watch as he was arrested.

Shit happens and people do bad things.  On inpatient psychiatry, when staff members do bad things, it is covered up.  Only administration knows about it.  The staff is protected; the patients aren’t.  When Mary Corbliss was mistreating me, the charge nurse wouldn’t even let me talk to her.  The nursing administrator was behind two locked doors and therefore completely inaccessible.  After I was discharged and filed a complaint, the only response was a brief pro forma letter saying that if anything had been done wrong then they would deal with it.  No healing for me.

At BRC, when a staff member went wrong, (a) the nursing administrator was accessible; (b) the patient was believed, and (c) the patient was protected.  She was invited to witness the arrest of her assailant.  No crap about privacy or confidentiality or protecting the rights of the staff; no “counseling” for the nurse.  Instead, a woman who had been criminally victimized got to see her assailant locked up.  It must have been an incredibly satisfying experience for her.

At other hospitals, I always forcibly was told that staff were right and I was wrong, not based on any just reality but based on the fact that I was a “psychiatric patient.”  Police do not ever believe psychiatric patients.  No matter what is done on inpatient psychiatry, the police will not come and interview the patient.  They call the staff, the staff says there’s nothing wrong, and the police let it drop.  In other words, an entire inpatient staff could go totally off the rails and no one would ever know.  The patients would not be heard or believed.  That’s what goes on behind the locked doors.

Benjamin Rush Center was a private psychiatric hospital.  They held to a higher moral standard.  Staff members did not cover for each other; they put the patients first.  The solution to this problem began with a night nurse who sat with a troubled patient instead of sitting in the office, which is what they do everywhere else.  It is possible to do things right.

I experienced or witnessed criminal abuse at CPEP, St. Joe’s, Community General, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Upstate Medical and NIMH.  It continues even as I write this.  If you are not a patient, then go behind the locked doors and be a witness.

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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 Benjamin Rush Center, Community General Hospital, CPEP, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Inpatient psychiatry, mental health, mental illness, patient, psychiatric patient, St. Joseph's Hospital, Unit 3-6, Upstate Medical Center and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Speaking of Healing

  1. Debra JH says:

    Anne,

    I discovered you and your blog just yesterday–June 22, 2011. I spent a good hour reading your posts. MY heart goes out to you for all that you have suffered and endured. Somehow I know that your story should be inspiring to me too, that I should be able to forge ahead. My world has been turned upside down by a recent(March-April) involuntary three week internment on the Psych ward at the University of Michigan Medical Center where the only way I could gain release was to become “compliant” and agree to take the anti-psychotic drug Abilify. I was on it for a week in hospital and for two weeks after my release. The immediate effects(sleeping all day long, dramatic loss of interest in all my normal interests, reeling around like a drunk, being weak all over-just to name the worst effects) of the drug were so damaging that I proceeded to wean myself off of the drug over a three week period. I had predicted that taking the anti-psychotic would be a type of chemical lobotomy and I was right.
    The Psych ward was the most terrifying experience of my lifetime and my experiences pale to yours in comparison. The social worker I made the mistake of requesting during the hospitalization was a young, inexperienced passive-aggressive piece of work who ended up treating me in such a demeaning manner that I did end up feeling sorry for her young children. I live in fear of being put back there and now that I have been given a diagnosis of ‘psychosis with delusions’, I predict that I will never be seen as the “real me” again. The first counselor that I connected with after the involuntary hospitalization started falling asleep during our sessions. When I asked her if she was having a hard time staying awake, she “blamed” me for not being “appropriate” during the counseling sessions.So scratch her…I did fire her. But you are correct in your statements that you can’t fire your inpatient psychiatry staff.
    I have four sons and I even feel disconnected from them since taking the Abilify, which is the most damning side-effect of the drug. I am emotionally flat or so sad that it is painful. BUT the only thing holding me back from suicide is the age of my youngest son who is just 22. I do worry that he would be damaged psychologically if I committed suicide. But I also know that he is really upset and confused by seeing me cry all the time and not being myself.
    I did come across Dr. Peter Breggin’s website while doing research after my involuntary hospitalization and Ginger just sent me an e-mail about contacting Dr. Richard Gottlieb whom you met at the Empathic Therapy Conference. When I was researching him, I came across your blog. Though it is good and awesome to know that there are people like you and Dr. Breggin, Ginger and Dr. Gottlieb, it is also horrifying to realize what a battle must be fought for some small level of sanity to prevail in the treatment of our emotionally wounded fellow human beings. I read your blog about dealing with depression–just act. I have been trying to do that, but it is getting harder and harder to do. For every step forward, there seem to be twenty backwards. I have tried a few support groups, but everyone around here seems to have bought into the medication route and one gal I seemed to be connecting with did not even remember me the next time I saw her…which I fully understand after reading Dr. Breggin’s books.
    Anyway, Anne, I wish that I could ease your physical conditions. I did want to tell you–for what it is worth— that your blog saved me yesterday and today… you have a tremendous talent in your writing and it seems that you could easily write a book as your writing is mesmerizing. Perhaps that could be helpful in alleviating your financial woes. I wish I was a book editor or knew who to connect you with in that world as your experiences are worth sharing and you write so well.

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