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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Hospital Story

I'm pleased to present an eloquent account of life on a psych. hospital unit, written by a friend of mine who also lives in Massachusetts...

My Bad Hospitalization Story
by D. Millman

I’ve been in the psych ward of a hospital a few times to date, and hopefully won’t be going again. I’ve had good and bad experiences. Right now, I’d like to discuss the bad experiences.

I never knew that there were any real rights for patients in the psych ward of a hospital – other than privacy laws and such. I’d never heard of the Five Fundamental Rights, as well as the sixth one that’s currently being worked on. I believe in all of them, and of my experiences in the psych ward of my local hospital.

For a little background, I’ve only been in the psych ward of one hospital, but I’ve heard it’s common at other hospitals. All that I can tell you is about my different experiences within the same hospital.

One thing that I noticed right off the bat, during my first hospitalization there was that patients in the psych ward are treated completely different than the other wards that I’ve been in within that same hospital. I found it dehumanizing. The first thing I notice is that only some of the rooms have hospital beds. The majority of them have what I call slabs. They’re wooden and have a slab of something that’s supposed to be a mattress. It reminds me of the gym mats that we used back in elementary school, but thicker. These slabs are not very conducive to people with back problems. In order to get a real hospital bed, you need doctor’s approval, which is almost impossible to get. I’m sure there are beds in prison that are more comfortable.

Also, regarding the beds, no one changes the sheets for you like they do in the rest of the hospital. If you want them changed, you have to change them yourself, which is not exactly high on the priority list of people in the psych ward. Talk about feeling like the “low man on the totem pole” so to speak. Why do we get treated with such low standards? Why are we seen as “less than” all of the other patients? If it weren’t for us, the people working on that unit wouldn’t have a job. Hello people!

Something else that I noticed right away is food ordering. On the rest of the units, you order your lunch for today any time before, say, 10:00 AM. On the psych ward, however, you have to order tomorrow’s food today. If you want food today, you must have ordered it yesterday. If you forget to order, one of the staff has to call down to the kitchen, which they despise doing, and get you the “house” meal – which is whatever they decide to throw on a plate and call a meal. I’m sorry, but if you’re in the psych ward, you’re probably already confused enough, and to have this thrown on there too, well, it’s just very absurd.

The phone is another issue. We don’t get phones in our rooms, so there is no privacy. There are two pay phones on the unit where you can get or make calls. There is only one non-pay phone on the unit, and it’s near the nurse’s station, where there is no privacy. You have to limit your calls to 3-5 minutes, and then it’s someone else’s turn. We’re supposed to keep track of who’s next in line. Yep, that’s another one of our duties. Also, if you answer the pay phone and you need to locate the individual, you do so by running around the whole ward yelling for them. Also, if you can’t locate them, you’re required to take a message, or ask the person to call back at another time. Great, now they made me a receptionist. Hello people!

Showers are not much fun. There are two on the unit, which sometimes has 20-30 people on it. Don’t know whose brilliant idea that was. Oh, there is another one, but there’s a bath there too, and they only use it when they have to bathe people who can’t bathe themselves – since it can be deemed a suicide risk. I’ve never seen it get used. Oops, there is another one, but it’s down in the locked, isolation section, and no one is allowed down there, unless they’re staying in that section of the unit. One stay I did get “privileges” for that shower, because I was having falling down/black-out episodes, and I didn’t want to feel rushed in the shower. Of course, I had to request it numerous times before someone finally agreed that it might be a good idea.

One thing that I’ve found very helpful in my hospitalizations is getting “grounds” privileges. This is where you’re allowed to leave the unit, escorted by staff of course. Sometimes it’s just to go to the gift shop or a walk around the building. Most of the time, if the weather permits, we get to go outside and walk. It’s one of the best parts of being in the psych ward. You get to be outside, smelling the fresh air, which is very good for health – I’ve heard that there are numerous studies that have proven that fresh air is good for your health. It’s the one time you actually get to feel “free”. Most prisoners are allowed to get one hour of fresh air, so should people on the psyche ward. These are the things that many people take for granted, but have it taken away from you, is just horrible.

The psych ward is so dreary, with bland paint jobs that definitely don’t help those of us who are there for depression-related issues. Being outside, sun or not, is just what the doctor ordered. If my hospital, that does all of the horrible things I’ve previously mentioned, can offer this to us, why can’t all of them? I totally agree with the fresh air rights that we should all be allowed.


  1. Thank you for posting this story. It represents everything, everything that is so horribly wrong with the Psychiatric system. i am so sorry your friend had to go through this awful experience. i know it well.

    Best Always,

  2. An extremely interesting post. No doubt conditions vary between institutions (as well as wards), but I think it's very important to draw attention to the differences in staff attitudes towards those with physical conditions and those with psychiatric conditions.

    A book that is well worth reading (though it's from a slightly different cultural context) is The Light in My Mind by Joyce Passmore. She writes of being incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital (in England) at the age of 13 - because she suffered with epilepsy (not actually a mental health condition at all). She understood she would only be in hospital for three weeks, but she ended up staying there for 15 years (from 1957 to 1972). Her story is truly horrific (drug induced coma, electroconvulsive therapy, violent attacts from other patients, etc.).

    I don't know Joyce personally (not yet, anyway), but she and I are cooperating on drawing attention to these kinds of issues. We both have books out on similar subjects, and we're both trying to expose aspects of the "hidden world" of mental health care in Britain - but we're both finding it hard to get heard, so we reason that two books stand a better chance than one, hence our cooperation.

    What D. Millman does so effectively in this particular post is draw attention to the lack of empathy and compassion that still seems to afflict mental healthcare services (regardless of location). Does this reflect a lack of progress in social attitudes, I wonder? Why is society in general still willing to turn a blind eye to these things?

    Anyway, I truly hope that your blog is getting noticed in the US and that you can make a difference.

    Best wishes

    David Austin
    Author, Delivered Unto Lions

  3. Thank you David for your insightful comments. That's the question: why do we posess such blind spots? I'm glad to be working on a groundswell, which I believe can be done. DM's story is a very effective snapshot indeed!


    Jonathan Dosick

  4. I'm glad that my post is being well-recieved. I wrote it specially for Jon's site here and hope that it helps us all.

    - D. Millman

  5. Interesting.
    One perspective could be that society creates the mentally ill through social abuse and fascism of the masses by the rich and powerful and then finmishes them off in concentration camps AKA Mental hospitals.
    Just like Russian and Cuban Gulags of history the best deal that civic and industrial authorities would want for their financial accounts and account balances would be the elimination of the prisoner class or their targeted Untermensch and hoping to promote in this case shorter life spans and the higher the suicide rate the better.

    Even if the individual is cured, unfortunately the civilization they live in remains uncured and continues as crazy-making.

  6. This is an American Hospitalization experience, with it's horrible exploitation of the sick for profits and denial of services for those without money. So I can't understand how that factors in this story.
    Is this a problem between Public and Private funding. In Canada it is all one level and no one even cares about payment not even for drugs at the hospital and not afterwards if one is on social assistance.
    So how did money factor into this experience and the quality of care given?

  7. Skyblue, you raise interesting questions. Unfortunately, I just don't know the answers. Thanks for reading th story.

    - D. Millman