Friday, August 12, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 49: Finding a doctor I could trust on the psych ward

I tried not to panic about being committed to a psych ward.  The armed officer told me that I had the right to make one phone call before we left the university.  The only one I considered calling was my Grandfather Wilson, but since he knew so little about me from not ever having having had a meaningful conversation with me, I knew he just would not understand why this was happening, and would likely be a bigger distraction than help.  So I turned down the opportunity, and we traveled to the Salt Lake County Hospital in silence.
It seemed that this was the teaching hospital for the University of Utah medical school.  I did not know it at the time but I was now under the jurisdiction of Dr. Branch, head of the psychiatry department in the medical school at the University.  I did not see Dr. Andersen, who had committed me, for ten days.  I figured he anticipated that I would not be happy with being committed in the shockingly short time he did it, so avoided me. 
And my dad thought I could teach school in Utah schools with no problem!  I had only begun to go another route to try to surface the molesting I had endured in childhood a relatively short time and here I was on my way to a psych ward because of my unusual and disturbed behavior, I took it.  Even I was in quite a state of shock over this totally unexpected development.  Dr. Lees had had the capacity to ignore for two years what I thought was a distinctive cry for help in a paper I had written. This had lulled me into thinking that it would not matter what I did no one would respond.  So I was going to have to get used to Dr. Andersen, the university psychiatrist,  overreacting.
I found out by asking around later that Dr. Andersen was a Mormon psychiatrist, so I figured he had a gut reaction to a female student challenging him right off with silence to one of his questions. Well, not just one question actually, but three!
My reason for doing this was because I felt I had not been able to engage his whole attention from the beginning.  Like many men, and Mormon men of authority in particular, he just was not used to focusing intense attention on a female, except for sexual reasons, I did not think, as though what she was in his office for and was going to tell him was not likely to be important. Since I now felt that I had committed myself to leaving the University and knew that all hell was going to break loose when my father heard about it, his relatively offhand manner annoyed me almost at once.
I was tired of being ordered around by men and having no choice in the matter.  Now that I no longer had to worry about staying in good standing at the university by not creating any problems for anybody, I figured I could risk more with this psychiatrist.
My reasoning was what could he do to me in such a short time.  I planned to resume talking after three questions, having perhaps shocked him into more intensity, and we could maybe have a chat that would mean something before I left the university forever.
In fact, if he had been one minute later in returning to the office, I would have been gone, unless he had stationed someone outside to make sure I didn't leave.  Of course, in his mindset, he might have sent out search parties to apprehend me had I somehow gotten away from him.
So now that he had deemed me disturbed enough to commit to a mental ward, what now?  The armed officer left me at the desk of the locked ward to be admitted and left.  My glasses were requested from me, which I did not like because I was extremely near sighted, but I was told that this was just a precaution and as soon as my doctor gave permission they would be returned to me.
Okay, I would have to comply with the rules.  I was shown a room where I would be sleeping and introduced to a woman who was already assigned to the only other bed in the room.  She was so emaciated,  I was alarmed but she explained to me after the nurse left that she really wasn't a 'nut case' but had transferred here from the cancer ward.  She said she was dying and she wanted someone to talk to her before her demise, but nobody on this ward had time to talk to anyone.  All they wanted to do was electric shock people she said and fortunately she couldn't have electric shock because she was dying.  They seemed to have no idea how talking could satisfy her.  She was surprised and very disappointed. This was not what she expected to find on a ward for the mentally ill.
I did not like the sounds of that at all, and decided I had better talk to someone in authority about shock treatment as soon as possible.  Thelma, a woman I judged to be in her fifties, got her emaciated self up off the bed with great effort and dragged herself slowly out of the room in search again for someone to talk to her.  She seemed very determined she was not going to give up, she was going to make someone say something significant to her before she died.
I would have made time for her, but she like me was hunting someone in authority, and she apparently judged me to be too young to know what to say to her about the big change she was facing.  I didn't know if she could find anyone here who was an authority on death, but I thought they should at least make the effort to grant her dying request.  Wasn't it their proclaimed job to help the mentally disturbed? I was sure she was after the same thing I was, some attention that was intense enough to make a difference.
After she left I went out in the day room where a very young woman was causing a ruckus.  She was lying in front of the locked door wailing that she did not belong here, she was not crazy.  She was praying for Clark Gable to come and rescue her. I assumed her God of choice, Clark Gable, was one of the eccentricities that had landed her here, but I noted that it might be wiser not to panic and show fear as she was doing.  We were probably close to the same age, but I couldn't imagine losing control of myself as she was doing. I was anything but not controlled.  In fact, I had been calculating the effects of everything I said to anybody for months, practically down to the last word. 
While I was sitting there an older doctor, I would say in his fifties, introduced himself as Dr. Bliss and said that he had been assigned to ask me questions about why I had been committed.  Oh, this was what I had been waiting for.  I started to describe to him my interview with Dr. Andersen and what I had done and how Dr. Andersen responded.  I could see almost at once that it was going to be very hard to impress Dr. Bliss, who I found out later was probably the most prominent and well known psychiatrist in the city with a big private practice, and Mormon, of course.
It soon occurred to me that I might have to act the same way with him as I had acted with Dr. Andersen if he continued to act too damned unimpressed in order for him to get the complete picture of why I was in here.  He had a built in attitude toward women that was beginning to offend me.  I was soon sure this man was not going to be able to help me, that in fact, that it was dangerous for me to continue to give into him a minute longer. I would lose more stature even to myself by the second if I did.  I forced myself to go silent, keeping my eyes fixed on him, to see how he took it.  He immediately conveyed to me by turning away that he was a very busy man who did not have time to waste trying to fathom what some patient was trying to get across to him with a sudden silence.  He just folded his notes and left with no further ado.
I thought well, good.  They would have to find somebody else to talk to me, as I could never have gotten this man to understand why I had done what I did in a million years.  His complete attention was not to be had.  At that moment I might have been just a random student charity case to him on my way to shock treatment. He surely did not need me as a patient if I was going to give him static. 
It finally really came home to me that shock treatment did not require talking to the patient.  The treatment was what restored the patient to sanity and therefore normalcy.  How did it do that?  Could it be because it was viewed by the mind under siege as torture, and naturally the message to the patient would be to get the hell out of this place as fast as you can.  Start doing what you used to do when you were considered sane.  Stop rebelling.  Stop making demands.  Be sensible.  Above all, cut the drama.
Shock treatment started to seem to me like a pet alligator that was kept on site despite being very dangerous.  The pet alligator was probably to blame for the disturbed male patient who kept me awake that night bellowing from across the receiving room from the male ward.  He bellowed for hours.  How anybody got any sleep around there I did not know.
People were also in and out administering shots for pain to Thelma, the cancer patient. During the night she moaned that she just as well go back to the cancer ward because nobody was talking to her in here.  I thought good luck, lady, all these people are not in practice, because they don't really have to talk to anyone.  Shock treatment does the job. You said it yourself.  This mental ward is not about talking to people.  It is about administering shock treatment and restoring patients to normalcy the fastest and cheapest way possible. 
From then on a whole phalanx of students and one resident came to talk to me.  I did not know why they thought it was important that anyone keep talking to me, but I suspected that they thought it would keep me preoccupied until I got used to the idea of shock treatment.
One student even came to try to engage me in an exchange of words I had dated the year before who pretended not to recognize me.  In fact, it is very possible he had not paid enough attention to me to recognize me under these circumstances even though he had spent the evening with me. I was not able to be polite to him very long.  I wasn't here to help self centered students like him feel good about becoming doctors.  God help the patients, if this one ever became a psychiatrist I thought. Oddly no women at all were ever sent to try to interview me.
I thought I was going to be able to get along with an Oriental intern or possibly resident, but after talking to him a couple of  times we suddenly reached an impasse, and I was forced to go silent.  He simply could not stay interested, although he might have thought it was the other way around after I went silent with him, too.

I thought the fuss they were making over Thelma in the middle of the second night was because she demanded to be taken back to the cancer ward.  Instead I found out she actually died, and that was why her bed was empty the next morning. I was a little bit shaken by how fast she went.  She really had meant that she was dying, and people had better talk to her before it was forever too late.  
That same day another woman who seemed to be in one of the worst rages I had ever seen was assigned to the empty bed in my room.  She was seething all the while the nurses were getting her settled. She told them that she would have killed the bitch if she had not decided to come and commit herself.
I took it that the bitch was a younger woman who had flirted with her husband, slept with him, something, but she kept saying she had committed herself to keep from committing murder.  While she was grinding her teeth, a tall man in a white coat came in and said to me that he had been assigned to my case.  He was an intern he informed me who was on a months' rotation to this ward.  He got so rattled while he was talking to me, he dropped the glass syringe he was carrying with him to take blood he said from another patient.  The syringe broke and he had to pick the pieces up.
My new roommate was eying him and me balefully.  I was a little bit horrified to realize after he left that she had started to confuse us with her husband and his younger girlfriend.  I hoped that this did not mean she would try to kill me later on.  I was supposed to go talk to the Intern that evening around seven o'clock when he said he had some time to try to get into my case.
My new roommate continued to make threats and send burning glances in my direction that I hoped did not mean my life was in danger.  I had not imagined I might be attacked by a very dangerous mental patient because she was confusing me with a woman she wanted to kill.
Around seven I went to talk to the new Intern who said I could call him Dr. Davis.  He warned me that he was not even going to become a psychiatrist, but a doctor of Internal Medicine.  He did not know very much about mental illness, but he had been told I was not responding well to anyone.  So he asked me tell him why that was.
Since he had been so forthcoming about himself, I asked him where he was from.  He said, California, that he was the son of an architect but had decided to change the family profession and become a doctor instead.  He was a war veteran, 30 years old.  All this was good news, I thought, he was not a Mormon, maybe he could take a more objective view about women than they could, not having been influenced from birth by Prophets of God and their inherent attitudes toward women.
He said he did not know much about Mormonism. He was so busy he did not have a lot of time to learn about it either.  So what were my issues with Mormonism?
I started telling him my story which he actually showed a great deal of interest in.  I mean, I told him parts of my story, as much as I could in the time he allotted.  He also mentioned he was married and his wife had been working to help put him through medical school, but I thought he was beginning to act more like a man on an interesting date with a new girl than a married Intern.  He immediately caught himself and said that I reminded him of a girl he had met in Italy during the war.  He said he had not met anybody like her ever again until now.
I thought that it figured, since I had been at war since I was five years old with the molesters, at war with my alcoholic, suicidal but very domineering father, at war with professors and students who reminded me of my father, and had gone to war enough with a Mormon University psychiatrist to get committed to a mental ward.

All this had taken place by the end of my third day in the psych ward. This business of getting a doctor to talk to me satisfactorily had been occupying my mind ever since I arrived, but now I seemed to be succeeding with Dr. Davis. I really did not think anybody else cared whether I formed what I considered a successful relationship with a doctor at all, because talking was not considered that important.  They all seemed to be waiting for something else to take place in regard to my case,  I was not quite sure what it was, but I suspected it was my own prescription for shock treatment.  Dr. Davis assured me that he did not have the authority to prescribe for me.  Dr. Branch was in charge of my case and he would do that.  I had not even seen him.  I wondered if Dr. Branch would actually prescribe shock treatment eventually without even seeing me!  The thought was chilling. 
I went back to my room after two hours of satisfactory conversation with Dr. Davis, but my roommate was still awake still spitting fire.  Now she seemed more jealous than ever.  She seemed to think that I had been out all night having sex with her husband, and it sounded like she was planning to leap across the room and kill me before anybody could stop her.  She was too enraged and too jealous even to stop herself she was saying.  She said she did not want to do it, she knew the punishment would be severe but she couldn't help herself.  The bitch was going to die!
I was prepared to scream if she took one step but I did not know if they could get to me in time before she did something that was bound to be life threatening as she probably had the strength of a man eating tigress!
Just as she appeared ready to spring at me with a final guttural snarl, she let out the most blood curdling scream I had ever heard in my life.  Nor have I heard anything since that could be compared to it. Everybody in authority that was in running distance dropped everything and sprinted like mad to my room.
My roommate lay back on the bed, gasping.  What is wrong with you, they yelled.  "I even scared myself!" was all she could utter in explanation.
But the ungodly scream must have vented enough of her mad rage that she turned over and went to sleep.  But I could not sleep.  I felt I was still in extreme danger from the pet alligator they kept on this ward, electric shock therapy.  I had to escape that somehow before I dared to sleep.  The pet alligator was a lot more dangerous to me, I knew instinctively, than the disturbed woman.  Set loose on the hapless mental patients by too many doctors, the alligator's lust for victims probably could not be contained without a battle to the death.  

1 comment:

  1. That sounds terrifying. So many battles, so much struggle, just to have a voice.