NOTE: This is a pre-written piece in which I was able to include today’s prompt.
NOTE: My experiences of hospitalization in a behavioral unit (psych ward) does not reflect other people’s.
If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, then you know why I was first hospitalized in the ’90s. My stay was similar to my most recent hospitalization, which was in 2014.
During my first stay, there were 2 units: the one where I was placed, and the one where patients were behind a heavy, steel door with a small square window in the upper half. Staff used a key to enter. I learned that the other ward was for “sicker” patients. I would later discover what that meant.
Before being admitted, they took away my shoelaces, and had I worn a belt, they would have taken that, too — same with clothes with drawstrings. Although I could wear my own clothes, the staff didn’t want me to have anything I could use to hurt myself.
I was frightened at first, but the other patients were welcoming, and mostly older; I was 25 at the time. For their privacy and probably legal reasons, I’m going to write about other patients in generalizations.
The rooms contained two twin-size beds that weren’t hospital beds. I didn’t have a roommate. I was provided with a plastic comb, shampoo, conditioner, a small bar of soap, a travel-size tube of toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Turned out, the conditioner was actually body lotion.
In the mornings and evenings a nurse distributed my medication in a tiny, disposable cup. The psychiatrist met with me for a few minutes each day. We discussed my symptoms, and any side effects of my new medications. (He became my psychiatrist for almost 20 years.)
We had 3 meals a day in the day room, not in our rooms. Every morning we were given a paper menu listing the options for the next day’s meals. We used short, eraser-less pencils to circle our choices.
I learned that if I wanted more than one of a particular item to write “x2” next to my circle. This brilliant tip worked at other hospitals where I’ve stayed, even the ones I’ve been to for surgeries. I always wanted 2 packets of honey for my breakfast of Malt-O-Meal (kind of like mushy grits).
I can’t remember much: we had group therapy daily in the day room, which had board games, decks of cards, a TV, and a pay phone. We didn’t have phones in our rooms.
Unlike other psych wards I’ve stayed at, there wasn’t a separate area for visitors; I met with mine in the day room. My sister says that her purse was checked because the staff wanted to make sure she didn’t bring contraband like drugs or alcohol or, I presume, something with which I could hurt myself. She remembers it as depressing, and because the board games were missing pieces, that made it more depressing.
I don’t disagree, but I don’t completely agree, either. At least the place wasn’t institutional. There was carpeting, which I don’t know why, but to me seems less institutional. There were no conflicts between patients.
What I remember most was the smoking room. Imagine that! A smoking room inside a hospital! We weren’t allowed free access to it; throughout the day there were intervals where a staff member unlocked it for us.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience. It was pretty quiet.
I was hospitalized in different psych wards several times since then, but can’t remember the stays. I know that in 2004, I was admitted to that same behavioral unit twice in a month. The stays weren’t long, maybe a couple of days each time, but I was hypomanic and the psychiatrist added a new medication to my cocktail (my regular psychiatrist was abroad). He wanted to see how I would react to it, which was why he wanted me to stay. I can’t remember the exact circumstances of how/why I was hospitalized, and I only know what I’ve just described based on an entry in the LiveJournal I kept at the time.
What I can remember is that the unit changed. They closed the ward where I first stayed, which meant that I was behind the locked, heavy, steel door. There wasn’t a smoking room, though I had quit by then.
It had a different vibe — totally institutional (no carpeting). It was loud, unlike the other ward, and sometimes there were conflicts between “sicker” patients.
I can’t remember if we had group therapy. I can’t remember eating, though I’m sure I must have. I do remember feeling scared and staying in my room as much as possible.
It was not a pleasant experience.
My most recent stay, in 2014, was at “ECT Hospital.” I was there because of a severe depression, and had to resume my ECT treatments.
ECT Hospital’s unit is swanky compared to other places I’ve stayed, probably because it’s newer or remodeled. You don’t have to share a room! And yes, there’s carpeting.
I was also more savvy: I knew they’d take my shoelaces, so I wore wool clogs, and packed clothes without drawstrings. (I wasn’t admitted through the ER.) We had group therapy, art therapy, anger management classes. There’s a day room with a TV and games, and that’s where I learned to play dominoes.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but not one I care to repeat.
Were my hospitalizations therapeutic? Not really, because who wants to stay in a psych ward? I never knew how long I had to be there, and all I had was the hope that I’d be discharged soon.
I realize this is personal, but if you’ve ever been hospitalized in a behavioral unit, what was your experience like? If you prefer, feel free to respond by using the Contact form above. Our discussions will remain private.
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