I now have the dubious distinction of having been a patient at a psychiatric hospital on 2 different continents. Try to top that one, peeps! Actually, don’t try to top that, because, let’s be honest, that is not something to aspire to in life.
My stay in the German loony bin happened when I had a melt down last summer. This melt down was not of unprecedented proportion, if you’ve been witness to my crazy spells, but let’s just say it had been over a decade since the last one, which was truly a total come apart (see Tuesday’s post). I had been depressed for months. I was angry. I was drinking. And I had a bottle of Xanax. The combination resulted in a 36-hour (semi-comatose) stay in the ICU of the University Hospital followed by transport to the psych ward. I arrived on the ward around 1am on a Monday morning and was literally dumped by the emergency technicians (for some reason I was transferred by an ambulance from the ICU to the psych ward, although they were the same hospital) in a bed in a patient room with 3 other beds. Roommate 1 was sleeping in one of these beds. The other 2 beds were empty, but it was obvious that I had 2 other roommates; who knows where they were. After this unceremonious, middle of the night arrival, I was on my own. No one came to check me in (‘Welcome. I’m Nurse Birgitte’). No one came to provide me information. (‘Breakfast is served in the kitchen at 8. Group therapy is at 10. Medication is dispensed before bed.’) No problem. I was still in a Xanax stupor so fell asleep immediately.
The next day I woke up when someone in a German National team soccer uniform – it was the summer of the World Cup – bounded into the room screaming, “Mittagessen!” Lunch. It wasn’t casual Friday. It was Monday. So I guess they had a lax dress code at this hospital. Honestly, you would be hard pressed to differentiate the nurses from the patients, especially when they’re all huddled together in the smoking room that was adjacent to the kitchen. Yes, there was a smoking room. Inside the hospital. Oy.
Despite the invitation to partake in Mittagessen! I went back to sleep. Apparently, it takes some serious work to sleep off a bottle of Xanax, even if the prescription is expired. When the doctor on duty showed up that afternoon, however, I had to get up and talk.
“I see you suffer from depression. Do you take medication for this?” he asked.
“Yes,” I told him, “but my meds are at home.”
“Well, have someone bring them in so you can take them while you’re here.”
Wait, what did he just tell me? I didn’t mean to question his professional judgment but I was in a psych ward. For an intentional overdose. But, in an attempt to be a good patient, I called my husband and told him to bring in my anti-depressants.
“Bring some clothes, too,” I said since all I had was the Victoria’s Secret slip in which I’d been admitted and the hospital scrubs ICU dressed me in for the transfer.
My husband showed up that afternoon with some clothes, my meds, my iPhone, and a Sudoku book. Without work or a child, I was practically on vacation. The rest of that day, I laid on my bed playing Words with Friends and Sudoku.
The next day, I finally went to the bathroom. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say that they must have given me a lot of activated charcoal in the ICU.
Roommate 1 left the hospital that morning to spend the day with her boyfriend, but, in her absence, Roommate 2 showed up. She introduced herself and announced that she was going to therapy.
“What kind of therapy?” I asked since no one had bothered to inform me of my options.
“It’s one where you make things with paper and cardboard,” she said in her broken English.
“And how exactly does that help?” I asked.
“It’s better to have something to do than to sit around here,” she said, casting me a certain look.
Did she mean something by this, like I was just sitting around doing nothing? I mean, I was sitting around doing nothing, but only because (1) I didn’t even know about arts and crafts therapy until right now, and (2) I couldn’t see how cutting and pasting would help me.
Roommate 2 sighed heavily and left. I laid face down on the bed and proceeded to sob. Maybe I should have gone with her. Maybe making a half ass piñata would have provided me with an emotional outlet when I ultimately destroyed it.
My wallowing was interrupted when the entire staff of resident psychiatrists came in to evaluate me. The Head Professor of Psychiatry introduced himself to me and began to ask me questions while his posse stood around and stared.
“Miss M, was this was a suicide attempt?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “It was more of a screaming message that I hate my life right now.”
“Why would you hate it?” the Professor asked.
“Because I hate living here.”
“And why is that,” he asked.
“No offense, but look at yourselves.”
Yes, I actually said this to 6 psychiatrists who were all standing there staring at me while I sat on my waterproof-sheeted bed, crying like a baby.
I continued, “No one smiles here. It’s unfriendly here in general. I’m from the South. It may be fake to wish someone you don’t know ‘Good Morning’ or say ‘Hello’ to a stranger, but there’s a reason that whole happiness movement is going on in the States. Because it works.”
One doctor in the entourage smiled, stifling a laugh.
“See. That’s all I need,” I said. “I am a human being, and I need a human connection. Really, you guys should work on your bedside manner.”
The Professor wrote down some stuff. The one doctor continued to smile, and the other doctors continued to stare at me. Then they all left, and I returned to my wallowing.
That afternoon the lunatic left the asylum. My husband came to get me, and we took the subway home. I carted my ICU scrubs and Sudoku book in a garbage bag, like a homeless person. Crazy and back on the streets.
A few days later, I went to see my psychiatrist. She wrote the paperwork for me to take medical leave for the rest of the month, which meant I could stay in bed and cry all day if I wanted. Except that I couldn’t because I have a daughter, and it turns out my daughter had just gotten her first case of head lice. Friends, remember that overnight farm trip she went on with her kindergarten the previous week? Well, her roommates were the 3 kids who had lice at school (that same week) plus the one kid who’d had strep throat the week before. I should have asked the damn kindergarten teachers to see if they could find a kid with chicken pox to throw in the mix. You know, just get it all done at once. Luckily, we live above an Apotheke, and all I had to do was buy some shampoo that treats lice in one wash. So the second I finished my mama chimp head grooming routine, I got the shampoo and nit comb and went to town.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get more challenging, that same day, as I’m nit picking, my husband came home diagnosed with pneumonia. Yes, pneumonia. Now he had a stay-at-home-for-2-weeks medical leave pass, too.
Friends, I wish I could say that the worse was over. But, of course, it wasn’t. (Damn you, life!) That very night, I shit you not, my daughter complained of an itchy bottom, which, when I played doctor on Web MD, meant she had pinworms. What?! I’d never even heard of them before. I could confirm this internet diagnosis by waiting until my daughter fell asleep, spreading her little ass cheeks, and shining a flashlight to look for “moving threads”, because the female pin worm only comes out at night to lay eggs in the anus of the child. Sigh.
I considered checking myself back in to the loony bin at this point. Seriously. This shit is my life. Oh. My. God.