(This is a longish one. Get comfy. But I tried for some humor in it.)
You’ve probably heard that term as well as “5150” and “danger to self or others.”
Here are the actual definitions of the terms:
If any of the above have applied to you, congratulations! You won an awesome trip to a psychiatric facility! Maybe your experience was different than mine
Modesto has only one that I’m aware of: Doctors Behavioral Health Center. So that’s where I went after the staff at the Doctors Medical Center Emergency Department stabilized me.
If I’d ever “ridden” on a gurney before, I have no recollection of it so this was my first time. Technically my second, since I had to be transported from my house to the ED in the first place, but I don’t remember that one. I sort of vaguely remember passing through some gates and stone walls at DBHC but the first actual clear memory was signing a bunch of papers, being strip searched, made to wear flimsy scrubs and scratchy yellow slipper socks, and then walked to the unit I was being placed in: Unit D. Since it was pretty late at the time, things seemed to be pretty quiet. I was taken to my room, which I was sharing with another patient, and tried to get to sleep after all the horrible shit that I’d inflicted on myself since I’d woken up at 3:30am that day.
My “roommate” wanted to chat, though. Maybe she thought she was speaking loudly and clearly but I couldn’t hear a damn thing she was saying so I was just kind of nodding while tears were just gushing from my eyes. One of my really super awesome mental illness diagnoses is agoraphobia with panic disorder, which is shortly summarized on the page linked there as:
Some people stop going into situations or places in which they’ve previously had a panic attack in anticipation of it happening again.
These people have agoraphobia, and they typically avoid public places where they feel immediate escape might be difficult, such as shopping malls, public transportation, or large sports arenas. About one in three people with panic disorder develops agoraphobia. Their world may become smaller as they are constantly on guard, waiting for the next panic attack. Some people develop a fixed route or territory, and it may become impossible for them to travel beyond their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.
Since this was literally a place where I was not ALLOWED to leave, I think my abject terror was fairly justified. Now I had to contend with a total stranger trying to converse with me and I couldn’t understand her so that kicked things up a notch.
Evidently, Unit D at DBHC is where they place patients that are likely to be there for a while because of the severity of their condition(s). It has both male and female patients as well as both male and female staff. I wouldn’t find out any of this until “breakfast” (it’s in quotes because I don’t think it was actually food) and before everyone was rounded up and corralled in the “Dayroom” the staff made their rounds to take patients’ vital signs. I wasn’t yet fully, 100% aware of my surroundings and was still leaking at the eyes as I walked into the “Dayroom” for “breakfast” and I had walked in just in time to see this mini-Hagrid-looking guy screaming at one of the staff that was handing out breakfast trays. He struck me as more “Hulk freaking the fuck out over Scarlet Witch induced visions” as far as behavior went, which is not at all Hagrid-like. He just looked like a smaller version of Hagrid.
So, yeah. This was starting out well.
I’ve always been the type of person that will find the least-crowded table, preferably far away from all of the other tables, in a crowded cafeteria-like setting so when I couldn’t find ANYWHERE to sit that didn’t have people that would share my “safety bubble” this ratcheted up all the feelings I was slowly regaining. And there was a scary-looking dude yelling. I sat down eventually and examined what was on the tray and, to be honest, I’m still not sure what it was supposed to be. An omelet of some kind? If omelets were made out of yellow Spam? There were these tiny orange-tinged things that probably could have passed as Donald Trump’s testicles but were supposedly potatoes, as well as some slightly stiff bread and a bowl full of what could have been anything from grits to guano. I also had a carton of juice that was half the size of the cartons that kids can get at schools for lunch. So about 4 ounces.
I ate the slightly stiff bread and drank the juice after poking at the “omelet” and not even denting it and actually trying one of the Trump testicles. Ew. All of it. Ew. And since Unit D was the last unit on the food cart route, by the time it got to the patients it was already cold. I was still in pretty bad shape so even if it had been excellent cuisine, I wouldn’t have eaten it. I only had one thought: I had to get out of there. I had to get home. According to the staff, the doctor would be coming around “soon” so just “relax.”
Right. That should do it. Telling me to relax.
I just went back to bed. The bed itself looked like one of those frames that has drawers beneath it but it was really just a big wooden box thing that was bolted to the floor. The mattress was about half of the thickness of a crib mattress while the blanket was like a really, really old tablecloth: scratchy, thin, incapable of providing warmth. I couldn’t get to sleep immediately so I tried something that’s helped me in the past with insomnia: I’ll “play a movie”*, usually a Disney animated film, in my head by sort of reciting it. That helped me get to sleep.
I’m not sure when a staff member woke me up and told me that the psychiatrist would be along for rounds soon, but it was probably around nine in the morning. I wanted to brush my hair, brush my teeth, do SOMETHING to feel and look more human but literally all I had were the scrubs I was wearing and the stack of papers I’d had to sign the night before. I sort of just accepted that I looked about as bad as I felt and waited for the doctor.
He was surprisingly young and kind. He suggested we go into a different room for the sake of privacy and I followed him blindly into some sort of interview room. He asked me to tell him what happened to land me in my current situation and I gave the best summation I could. When I finished talking, he asked a lot of questions, particularly about the medications I was already prescribed. He explained that he wanted to change those medications and gave his reasons for doing so. He said that I clearly did not need to be in the Unit I was in, so I would be transferred to a “quieter” Unit as soon as possible. But he also explained that I would not be going home that day, which was Wednesday, August 17th. Of course I cried. A lot. I was not in “my safe place,” which was home, so it would be fair to say that I was upset. However, he DID explain that I would not be staying over the weekend and that I could probably go home on Friday.
I really wanted to hate this guy. But he was pretty much everything I would hope for in a medical professional and then his cell phone rang. His ring tone was the “Star Wars” theme. As silly as it seems, that went further than anything else in helping me to trust this guy. I told him his ringtone was awesome, he told me that all of the other alerts on his phone were also “Star Wars” related, and I might have actually smiled for the first time in days.
I hadn’t been in contact with my family though. There were phones for the patients to use but I couldn’t remember any phone numbers other than my own cell phone number and my primary care physician’s office number. Everything else was in my cell phone, which, of course, wasn’t on me when I was taken from home by the ambulance. I was absolutely distraught. I couldn’t contact my family. I couldn’t contact ANYONE. I tried calling my phone a bunch of times, hoping that my parents would have it close by and would answer, but no such luck. Now, on top of my normal anxiety issues, I was trapped in the loony bin, I was cut off from my family and friends, I had a roommate that liked to gather up all of the newspaper (and every other paper-like substance she could find) so she could flush it down the toilet, I was still dealing with the after effects of what I’d used to try to kill myself, I was withdrawing from the psych meds I had taken for literally years, and I had NOTHING with which to shower, brush my teeth, or distract myself. Normally, I would just read to distract myself but I. HAD. NOTHING.
Oh, you bet I was panicking.
It was “lunch” by now. This was supposed to be chicken fried steak and boiled baby potatoes. It tasted similar to the “potatoes” from breakfast and there was the added complication that it was all served uncut and there was not a knife to be found anywhere. The fork broke as I was trying to at least pierce the breading of the “steak” and the “potatoes” weren’t much easier. I managed to at last finish it all but the weird thing about this place was that everything, EVERYTHING, had the same “undertaste.” I don’t even know how to explain that. The pervasive odor of Witch Hazel wasn’t helping. I’m guessing they used that as a disinfectant or cleaning agent or something but they had to have used it when washing linens, too, because all of those smelled like Witch Hazel.
I went back to bed. I couldn’t remember where I’d left off in my “movie,”* so I started over. And because I hadn’t taken my normal psych meds, I was withdrawing from those and that meant horrid, VIVID, nightmares. At home, a few times a year, I would actually wake people up because I would scream in my sleep.
I was also feeling kind of stupid for having actually been admitted there. Most of the other people were coping with mental illnesses far worse than mine and a small percentage of those had physical illnesses, too. Sure, I was scared and sad and I’d tried to kill myself but I was not in any, way, shape, or form as sick as the others. I was even feeling sorry for Hulk-Hagrid.
At some point, a staff member came to “collect” me and move me to the other Unit. He explained that this particular Unit was all female patients, all female staff, and most of the patients were “more like” me. I think he meant that to be reassuring but since I can barely handle MYSELF most of the time, an entire Unit of “Mes” didn’t sound all that great.
We went through a bunch of doors that all had signs saying, “HIGH ELOPEMENT RISK” and I was soon in Unit C. This time, I had a room to myself. It looked exactly like the other room I had, and I still didn’t have anything other than my papers, but at least I didn’t have a roommate. I went right back to bed. I was honestly exhausted.
I didn’t get much sleep though, because the clinician arrived to talk to me. She asked me pretty much all the same questions the psychiatrist did but she didn’t have any cool ringtones. I was getting more upset by the minute because I still had no way to get in touch with my family, but she said she’d do whatever she could to help. She managed to get my regular psychiatrist’s phone number, and while his office wouldn’t give any information on me or my family, she told me to call and ask them to read off the emergency contact info. I cried with relief when the receptionist gave me my home phone number and I immediately called, ready to talk to my parents or my son.
Guess what? Go on. Yup. NO ANSWER. I left a message. It was probably unintelligible but I figured they would probably know it was me anyway. They knew where I was, they just didn’t know anything else. I tried calling again. Nope. Again. Nope. Tried my cell phone. Nope. Started sobbing again. Went back to bed.
Around four-ish a staff member came to tell me that my father was on the phone! I was going to run, but I WAS wearing blue paper scrubs and slipper socks so it was more of a fast walk/limp. The bed was so bad I was starting to hurt everywhere so I probably looked like a blue Igor with yellow feet awkwardly loping along the hallway. I finally talked to my dad. And my mom. And my son. I couldn’t stop crying and apologizing. I did manage to ask them to bring stuff from home so I could take a shower and to also bring clothes. Actual clothes not made of paper. After we hung up, I started feeling just a bit better and before long, it was time for “dinner.”
I don’t even know what the hell it was, and it tasted the same as everything else so it doesn’t really matter. And, also like all of the previous meals, it was cold and served with 4 ounces of juice.
Visiting hours were between six and eight so by five ’til I was pacing the halls. It didn’t occur to me that it would take about thirty minutes for security to search my family and anything they brought with them and then they had to walk from the front office building back to the building I was in. Didn’t care. There was also a limit of two visitors at a time so I couldn’t see all of them at once. As soon as I saw my mother and son, I actually did manage a bit of a run and grabbed my son to hug him and started bawling.
That poor kid is more socially awkward than me and, being male, freezes when presented with a sobbing female. He tried, though. My mother was out of breath after walking so we slowly made our way to the “Dayroom” (which looked exactly like the “Dayroom” in the other Unit) and we all sat down. One of the other patients, thinking she was being kind, brought them Styrofoam cups with something in them. I have no idea where she got it and thankfully we weren’t tempted to taste test it. We talked a bit about what had been going on at home, I told them I wanted to escape, and my mother went back to the front so my dad could come back. By the time they left, they’d filled me in on what they’d had to do in response to my stupidity, such as talking to people at work, and I was a bit more relaxed. They weren’t able to bring everything they’d wanted to, but I had stuff to get clean with and I could wear something other than those bloody awful scrubs.
Soon it was meds time and I started taking the new meds the doctor had prescribed, one of which he said would help me sleep better, and I went to bed to replay my “movie”* and soon fell asleep.
The next day saw (a slight) improvement in the food and I was seeing a lot more of my fellow patients. Contrary to what the staff member from Unit D said, this was no Unit of “Mes.” There were a couple that were probably there for reasons similar to mine but the others…I was getting another lesson in perspective. The doctor stopped by to crush my hopes that I’d be going home that day but we established that the new meds didn’t seem to be causing any problems and that no matter what, I would be going home the next day around eleven in the morning.
Then things got interesting.
One of the other patients didn’t want to stay in her assigned room and decided that I needed a roommate after all. She dragged the mattress (more like yoga mat) off of the other bed and parked it in front of the bathroom door. Several staff members told her numerous times to return to her own room or she would be forcibly removed from mine. Nope. She wasn’t having it. Eventually one of them talked her into leaving and I tried to make myself pass out by going back to my “movie”* but that bed was just killing me. My family hadn’t been able to get me my Kindle and they hadn’t brought any actual books and I was desperate for distraction so I went in search of some books. ANY books! PLEASE, I NEED BOOKS!
Thankfully, they did have some and I chose something that seemed in line with my interests and returned to my room.
My unofficial roommate had returned.
I went to speak to the staff and they said that if she wasn’t causing any problems then just leave her there and she’d get bored with it. Oooo-kay, I thought.
For a minute or so she wasn’t causing any problems but for some reason she thought that throwing crackers across the room would be fun. We weren’t supposed to take food out of the “Dayroom” but we also weren’t supposed to be in rooms that weren’t assigned to us so…
She then started talking loudly. Then yelling. Some staff members finally showed up and tried their talking thing again. It quickly became clear that wasn’t going to work this time around and I figured I’d be better off elsewhere and left. I went back to the “Dayroom” and sat down in a chair by the window to read my borrowed book and count the hours until I could go home. The loud talking turned into angry yelling and security showed up. When the commotion subsided, I went back to my room.
The thing about psychiatric hospitals though, they don’t have locks on doors that patients can use. I was just going to have to listen for any possible prospective squatters and hold the door if need be. Surely she wouldn’t be back.
Heh-EY! Guess who returned?! I had one hand braced against the door as well as one foot and even though she was trying to force her way in, I was able to keep her out until the staff noticed that she’d gone wandering again. She started yelling at me through the door that we weren’t supposed to lock the doors and that I was going to be in BIG TROUBLE if I didn’t unlock it. Sorry, lady. No comprende. The staff shooed her away again and this time placed another staff member at the end of the hallway to discourage her. Yeah, that made me feel SOOO much better. I tried reading with my back braced up against the door but the light in there was total shit so I went back to the “Dayroom” after closing the door behind me and the staff member reassuring me that it would be fine.
I had no sooner settled back into my chair by the window when my stalker started circling the “Dayroom” in a wheelchair ranting about how I should be punished for locking the door. GOD. DAMMIT. Thankfully she got bored with it. Or just found a different way to amuse herself.
Lunch was delivered. It was “meh.” Everything STILL had that same undertaste but I was at least one meal closer to leaving. After lunch I went back to reading and in no time it was dinner, then visiting hours.
My son had brought along a couple of paperback books this times from our stock at home, which was good because I was nearly finished with the one I’d borrowed. It was just him and my father this time because the long walk from the front office to the Unit had been too much for my COPD mom and we just sat around talking for a bit and going over everything that needed to be done so I could come home the next day. My father was baffled that the staff kept asking him if he was okay with me staying with him after I left because, DUH!, I lived there! Then I had to share some depressing stuff that dawned on me when I had taken the things I needed to shower from the locked cabinet to my room: based on the reactions of the other women when they saw everything that my family had brought me, I don’t think most of these ladies had homes to go to after they were discharged. They were all standing around the cabinet while the staff member made note of what I was taking back to my room and they were awed by what I had. Another lesson in perspective. Of course the staff was asking if it was “okay” for me to stay with my family. Most of the others didn’t have family at all or, if they did, the family didn’t want them.
I hugged my son extra tight just before they left.
When I got back to my room, the other bed had been neatly remade and readied to receive another patient. Like, officially. So I felt a lot better about leaving the door open while I got in bed to sleep away the hours until I could leave. But my body was NOT having that shit again. I was sore all over from that bed so I resigned myself to just becoming totally absorbed in a book my son had left with me and hope I could fool my body into sleep. I was almost there when my new roommate arrived and based on her behavior, her circumstances seemed to be similar to mine. She just kept begging to be allowed to go home. The staff didn’t seem to care. I was noticing the behavior of the staff more and more and it was like most of them were immune to empathy or compassion. They just kept telling her to stop the crying.
Another round of staff recording vitals. Another round of meds. My poor roommate had finally cried herself out so I turned off the big light and went back to playing my “movie.”* Unfortunately, I woke up kind of early and I really did try to go back to sleep but my body had had e-fucking-nough of that bed so I just sat on the bed to read. I was surprised that the psychiatrist came in to see me long before the morning staff rounds for meds and vitals and he again reassured me that I was getting out around eleven. Now I was down to counting hours.
Vitals. Meds. Breakfast. Now nothing to do but wait.
Since my new roommate had just arrived and I was on my way out, a staff member had to talk to us for a bit, albeit separately. This one was damn near mean to this poor crying woman and while I didn’t vocally interrupt her, some of the looks on my face she caught kind of toned her down for a bit. She was an RN in a psychiatric hospital and all she did was tell this woman to stop crying or the doctor would think she needed to stay for a long time. What the actual FUCK, lady?! When this woman finished with my roommate, she started questioning me and funnily enough, towards the end of all the questions, she gave me a “Patient Satisfaction Survey” to fill out and send back in. I wonder if she’d ever gotten a more eager, “I’m definitely filling this thing out,” in however long she’d been there.
I returned my borrowed book. Took up the chair in the “Dayroom” again to read and then we were all promptly kicked out so the floor could be mopped. I had to go back to my room to read. Fine. I’m almost out anyway. I can handle this.
I made sure all of my stuff was collected in one place, behind the nurses station desk, and tried not to watch the clock. I guess I was leaving just in time because one of the new patients would unfortunately vomit if she became upset and her current roommate was less than happy about that so she was watching the clock along with me.
FINALLY, all paperwork in order, bags ready to go, and at eleven I was informed that my father was there to pick me up. They told me that my driver’s license would be locked in the safe in the front office, assigned me an escort, and I was out the doors of Unit C.
I got up to the front office and along with my dad, there were a couple of guys that were being discharged waiting for rides, one of whom was Hulk-Hagrid. Unfortunately, the safe did NOT contain my driver’s license, which meant the cops, the fire department, the ambulance crew, or the ED staff had it. I didn’t care. I just wanted out.
When I got home, I greeted my son (my mom was asleep) and took the longest damn shower of my life BECAUSE I COULD STILL SMELL THE FUCKING WITCH HAZEL.
My dad called all of the aforementioned agencies and none of them seemed to have my license. So what? I was home. I was alive. And I could then start dealing with the fallout.
So the short answer to the question in the title is this: It will be one of the worst experiences of your life and sucks huge and sweaty baboon balls.
I was at the DMV to apply for a replacement license and it was, in comparison to DBHC, nothing but smooth sailing.
*The “movie” I was “playing” is going to be relevant in a future post.