I settled into a daily routine. Every morning, I awoke, and lined up in front of the dining room in anticipation of breakfast. We’d all get to choose between raisin brain, frosted flakes, and cheerios with the option of a muffin and a banana. I usually chose frosted flakes with whole milk, complemented with hospital issue coffee. I’d tried a number of methods to hide the hospital-issue taste, and a mixture of regular sugar, splenda, and cream worked best. Then, I’d choose one of the round tables; I generally tried to sit with Sara, Jon, and Maddie. And, there was usually free entertainment.
There was the morning that Vera, an Armenian patient who had been admitted for unclear reasons, as she seemed to have a low level of craziness that didn’t seem to fit any diagnosis, and didn’t seem to be the sort of thing one could fix with medication. She was the weird aunt that people tolerate at family reunions, the one who makes dinner a little more interesting. She was a stout woman of generous proportion and one morning, tired of her diabetic diet, she did what no patient dared; she ran AROUND the food cart and tried to help herself to the muffins, sugar laden cereals, and other forbidden goodies, only to be lead away forcibly, shouting something about PATIENTS RIGHTS. I’d been in the hospital as a student long enough to know that this sort of behavior happened on the non-psychiatric wards on a regular basis.
After breakfast, the two teams of doctors, medical students, and residents would start their walking rounds. I’d participated in such rounds, although they made more sense when one is on a surgery service and the rounds consist of brief bedside visits where we’d make sure the patient was farting, pooping, and eating. In the psychiatric hospital, the team would ask how the patient felt, and whether she was in danger of hurting herself or others. In the interest of privacy, when one roommate was being interviewed, the other had to leave. I once had the unfortunate experience of being in the shower when the team came to round on my roommate. I had no clothes with me, and while I’d planned to come out of the shower in a towel, to dress in my own room, I found myself stuck in the bathroom until the team was finished with my roommate. Then, it would be my turn to answer personal questions in front of a large group.
After this, we’d have our morning activity. My favorite was dance therapy, which was taught by a painfully enthusiastic woman named Elizabeth who had red curly hair and sparkly purple eye shadow. It wasn’t that I liked dance therapy, it was that I liked making fun of dance therapy. And there was really nothing anyone could do about it- I was already crazy so if I wanted to leap into the air and flap my arms, there really wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. Morning activities usually only lasted an hour and a half at most, so the rest of the morning was usually spent sitting in the activities room watching television. There had been a ping pong table, but a schizophrenic patient had been instructed by voices to smash the thing. There was a piano, but patients were only allowed to play during a designated two hour period each week. And, there were computers and books, but these were all locked in the library. We were allowed into the library on Saturday afternoons and we each got ten minutes on the computer. And, while I sometimes wanted to sit in my room and read, I learned early on that this was “bad.” Good patients participated in all activities and sat in the activities room, only retreating to the privacy of their bedrooms at bedtime, or during walking rounds.
So, I sat in the activities room, watching a television station chosen by one of the more assertive patients. Sometimes we watched the news or Law and Order, but mostly we watched BET and soap operas. Lunch time was at noon, and usually patients had started to line up at 11:45. Then, we’d get some version of what we’d picked out from the menus distributed the day before. I usually tried to choose sandwiches or other bland food as I was mistrustful of any attempts at fine cooking by the hospital kitchen. I did enjoy the powdered mashed potatoes, and usually pocketed several dinner roles and cookie packets, even though this was considered “bad.”
The afternoon consisted of another hour and a half of activities. My roommate had a group session for substance abuse, but the rest of us were relegated to dance therapy, writing therapy, art therapy, or any number of other activities designed to keep mental patients well. This was followed by more television. Some patients commandeered the pay phones and talked to friends and relatives. The rest of us sat until 5:45 when we’d start lining up for dinner. And, I’d usually sit with my Sara, Jon, and Maddie. And then, I’d leave with my Snackwell cookies, dinner roles, and butter. Visitors could come between 7 and 9 pm. The “good” patients remained in the common area whether or not they had visitors. The evening was punctuated by medication time.
5 weeks ago