Music, Coffee, and Power


The Sound of Music

When I stopped taking drugs, I
started hearing the music.

My father was a college professor
and it seemed like every Sunday afternoon of my childhood I got dragged to some
symphony concert, which was b-o-r-i-n-g.
In high school my music became 60’s folk.  From there I merged into country and western
around the time I started taking drugs.

Kenny Rogers said that country and
western music was “the white man’s blues,” and there’s the truth of it.  I listened to the words and knew the truth of
suffering and heartbreak.  One day at Benjamin Rush Center
they were playing “The Gambler”—“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to
fold ’em/ Know when to walk away and know when to run”—and a psychiatrist raced
down the hall, grabbed his patient and said, “Listen!  That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”  Country and western was good.  It made sense.

After a quarter century, I stopped
taking drugs—and within a few months I was listening to classical music.  I didn’t need words anymore.  Without drugs messing up my brain, I could
hear the music.  After a couple years I
started to move into jazz.  I don’t “know”
a thing about jazz but it doesn’t matter.
I don’t listen to jazz with my ears; I feel it with my entire body.  Without drugs, my central nervous system is
free to feel the music.

Coffee, Black

Why do I drink my coffee black?  People always seem surprised that I do and when
they ask, I am reminded of inpatient psychiatry.

After I got out of the ICU, I was
on St. Joseph’s
inpatient psychiatric unit for six months.
It was considered that I needed intensive treatment—mainly in learning
to walk again—for the first two months.
For the remaining four months I lived on inpatient psychiatry because
they couldn’t find any place where they could discharge me with my combination
of medical and psychiatric problems.

Hospitals maintain a specific accounting
category for people who are only receiving maintenance, not treatment for an
acute illness.  The cost of a bed on
inpatient psychiatry was $600 a day.  At
the time, hotel rooms were going for about $115 a day.  Room service would have cost less than $100
and 24-hour aide service would have been less than $200 a day.  For two-thirds what it cost to keep me in the
hospital, I could have been maintained in a hotel—and it would have been therapeutically
effective, too.

Inpatient psychiatry is
bedlam.  Think about the peace and tranquility
of your home.  Now imagine a hospital
unit where there are screaming, running and name-calling, not to mention
sirens, buzzers and other alarms, all day and all night.  Do you think mayhem is conducive to
healing?  Do you think it is good for
anybody under any circumstances?  Then
why was I kept there when I didn’t need to be?

On inpatient psychiatry you did not get to choose a daily menu.  The dietician would come once, assess your
dietary needs, set up a plan and thereafter you would get whatever they sent
you.  For six months I could not get them
to send me one sugar and one cream for my coffee, so I learned to drink it
black.  After while you just give up.

About power

In my
twenty’s, when I was on inpatient psychiatry, sooner or later some staff person
would announce that I had a problem with power.

In my fifty’s,
I discovered what my problem was with power:
they had it and I didn’t.

I did not
have a problem with powerful people.
They had a problem with me.  Thus
it was and ever shall be.

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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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