A Life Changing Moment. An Hour in the Psychic Ward.

Death, illness and tragedy have long been part of the history of insane asylums, and for as long as they have existed, so too have the scary stories associated with them. From haunted hospitals to sadistic doctors and nurses, psychiatric wards have been the inspiration for many of our favourite horror movies and books. Yet, the true stories told by the psych ward visitors are never shared. Imagine you get up on Monday and reluctantly go to work. As the day goes on you go from bad to worse and by night fall. You are being sedated in a hospital emergency room awaiting admission to a locked psychiatry ward where you’ll stay for the next week. You’ll lose most of your freedom along with your dental floss, which they lock up so you can’t cut yourself with it.

Twenty years ago I heard about depression. What it does to the brain leading to lifelong imprisonment, but this time in a mental hospital. A place you only find the brave those who thought that they can solve all their issues without help or without letting go. After a few weeks on it, the hopelessness and despair overtakes their mind, literally overnight. They start murmuring words that no one else can understand. You see your own world form others. The things you do are not comprehensible and that’s the point others start looking at you.

I dragged myself through the long corridor to the far west end of the facility walking aimlessly with big thoughts running between my ears. Not knowing if I will be attacked or welcomed by the patients. I have walked through the hospital walls and morgues but never have I been as nerves as I was that day. At the ward main door, the security guard is not there they been called as backup to help in sedating violent patient, it’s the only work place I know that works with team work leaving all happy,  After five minutes he comes back but I can see he is just recovering from strenuous exercise. Needless to say more I removed my badge and the papers of my patient and was allowed in to the first door. It has to be secured first before the second one is opened. It takes a few minutes and I am finally with the nurse in charge. First thing first the rules the things I brought with me. I am, made to understand that I can only take my phone and a piece of paper beyond this point, while everything else should be deposited in locker and use a code to lock it.

I assumed everything would be like it had been before, but was wrong. The next hour, in the space of only a few minutes, I became close to catatonic. I could barely speak or walk, but I could understand and interestingly, I was terribly nerves. I didn’t even have the energy for that. The social worker could lead my face from far and finally offered me a place to sit in the hall way. I couldn’t understand that so many people could be behind this wall cells just roaming shouting in languages that only they could understand while others would just sit in a corner horribly consumed by depression and fixated on objects/ideologies.

I know now that I had no choice and that my patient was patiently waiting. I’m grateful for that. He called the nurse who came with cloths, toiletries and a look that combined fear, worry and caring. As we started to talk my patients psychiatrist walked into our sitting place requesting the social worker to make some tea for us. It would be rude to accept such an offer but he insisted that sometimes it’s the way to make the patients feel free around visitors as they would have interest on what he is drinking or eating and all I could think was that am in a psychiatric ward where anything or everything could go wrong. He assured me that he most violent have been sedated and locked up separately and am safe.

We don’t keep you or let you go depending on how “normal” you are; it’s based on if they consider you to be a danger to yourself or others. It is a critical distinction to keep in mind if you want to go out as soon as possible. After 72 hours, if they don’t think you’re going to injure yourself or somebody else, then they’re required to let you go if you want to go. If they find out you have a personality disorder or some other mental health issue, and even if they don’t usually, they set up a follow up visit with whichever doctor you’d like although you are free to blow the appointment off should you choose

I talked to my patient during this time, and he gently and carefully explained how he feels about this own life. His feelings reached and I started to believe that I had to stay, for him, and for the other people I loved. I sent him to his bed after a few minutes, after they told us it wouldn’t be too much longer. Another patient in  the hospital scrubs took his place and sat with me for the next few minutes while I continued to wait. He never said a word except to scold me when I talked over my phone. The quiet after the hallway was a relief. The nurses asked me some questions, they weighed and measured my concerns, and they calmed and reassured me. When we were done, your patient will be fine.

One very unusual thing about the psych ward is that they lock up your dental floss and hair dryer but allow you to keep slipper in your room. Certainly slippers could inflict just as much harm as dental floss or a hair dryer cord? Not only do they lock up your possessions, but they go through the drawers in your room each day. They examine the contents of your visitors’ bags, the utensils are plastic and the pictures are caulked onto the wall to prevent, I guess, suicide by art. My visit to the confinement had caused a whole new agony. Almost every day I imagine that I could convince them to let them go home, to their families, but knowing that it wouldn’t happen.

Almost all the patients that I had seen revolved around the stress in our lives and how we could reduce it. I don’t remember much of what we discussed, but it wasn’t very helpful for me. I wanted and needed to talk about how horrible it would be to plan your own death. How do our moods vary from day to day, sometimes from meal to meal, but there is always a couple of them doing well and they’d support the others. I also got to know a funny and thoughtful man who had also contemplated suicide but was now more concerned about how he would tell his 13-year old son why Dad had been in the hospital.

By far the strangest and most ironic thing about the psychic ward is the fact that no one asks for help or reports anything wrong to the staff. The only goal is to get out, and to mention side effects or unhappiness is to risk being given extra days by the psychiatrists and nurses who control your fate. I can imagine a point system where you needed a certain number of points to get out. Points gained for going to group therapy, chatting with the nurses, laughing. Or lost points for crying, being angry, sleeping too much, or being negative. I had absolutely no intention of telling anyone about it, but it a life changing moments, truly an hour in a psychic ward.

Did my hour in the psych ward help me? It did. I met some wonderful people and learned that I was not alone in my healthiness. The comfort we gave each other by our mere presence was more effective than all the pills they swallowed. The isolation and removal from the “real world” certainly contributes to the recovery, but that and the loss of control are terribly difficult to bear. It was an experience I hope never to relive. Given the nature of this world, however, I can’t be sure of it.