On August 26, 2014 I voluntarily went to Doctor’s Behavioral Health Center in Modesto, CA to seek treatment for my illness of Bipolar Disorder, which at the time was not being treated clinically. It soon became clear to me that the treatment I was receiving and would receive would not be appropriate, or perhaps not be all together legal. I asked for writing paper, and was given blank printer paper and a soft “bendy” pencil that would write faintly. Over my 2 and a half day stay at DBHC, I wrote about 42 pages of handwritten prose. This is the first excerpt from this journal.
This is what it is like for a mentally ill person seeking to return to treatment. The beginning of the intake process was me surrendering my personal property, leaving me with a percentage of the clothes on my back. I had to remove my wristwatch, my shoes, my belt, and two pins. I was then subjected to a pat-down that I never gave verbal consent for, where my wallet and cell-phone were confiscated, then I was left for what seemed a long period in a bare room with no stimulus.
Between the brief visits from nurses, I am left to my own devices — which amounts to the clothing I was allowed to keep and the pieces of furniture, three of which make up a small couch. I have rearranged the room twice so far.
I am told I will be taken to the ER for a health evaluation before a decision as to whether or not to admit me to is to be made. I suspect a the decision has been made, and it will be after I am returned here from the ER that I will be told of it.
A nurse came back in with the questions to determine if I am alert and orientated. Before this I was informed that they are placing me in a 5150 hold. So I will get help. The bad news is that it is after 6:00 PM at this point; the 72 hour observation period will end after court has gone home for the weekend. So discharge will be Monday earliest.
There is no way to communicate this to my loved ones at home, or my best friend who brought me here. I imagine they are more concerned than I am at this point.
The questions I have so far been asked have been for the purpose of filling out fixed forms, which contribute to a decision-making matrix taking into account essentially minimums of legal liability. I have been here at least two hours (though I cannot be sure, as I have no access to anything to measure the passage of time) and have had no opportunity to disclose my long-established diagnosis of Bipolar I and the period I have been without treatment.
I have just been informed that I am not allowed to walk to the ambulance that will transport me to the ER, but that I have to “sit on the gurney.” I bet dollars to donuts I am about to be restrained.
Currently waiting in a room manned by more uniformed law-enforcement types than medical personnel. I was restrained — but more seatbelts than straps to keep me from being dangerous. You win HALF a donut. I got here at a shift-change — that and Tenet’s [The corporation that owns the facility and contacts with the county to provide care] practice of understaffing, to the point of illegality means I will be here a while.
More clothes have been taken from me, and a tie-in-the-back gown given in trade. Of what I dressed in today, all that remains are my socks, boxer-briefs, eyeglasses, and a hair tie. Who wants to wager that my hair tie will be the next thing surrendered on my return to the psychiatric hospital?
I had to give a urine sample. When directed to leave it on a counter by the sink, I say that there is a second sample there, and both are unlabeled. I am assured that they can tell them apart. When someone else asked, “who’s urine?” a voice called out that the light one is his, and the dark one is hers (the donor of the dark urine arrived in handcuffs escorted by a sheriff’s deputy).
A quick examination by a doctor, I tell him matter of factly of my long-standing diagnosis, my period without treatment, and that I am in crisis.
I have obtained a new piece of clothing — and ID band. On it are four copies of the same QR code. When I get my phone back, I will see what Google Goggles has to make of them.
I am medically cleared to return to the mental hospital, but am not allowed to do so in my own clothes. So, an ambulance has been called.
The donor of the dark urine has begun to yell; it is addressed by one person in scrubs and three in blue security uniforms, with a fourth standing back holding leather restraints. I mean, I can’t blame them, but the entire experience has been demonstrating that the mentally ill are treated more like criminals than patients. They drew a curtain, but it sounds like bodies piling on her and replacing her steel handcuffs with the burgundy leather straps. I can see to my left a bin overflowing with the things and covering the surface of the cart on which the bin rests.
Before they exited from behind the curtain, I heard not-quite suppressed chuckling, then first security guard walking by me with a smile. The two uniformed security guards are still laughing about something, but their conversation is too hushed to know what.
My personal effects are here in a locked cabinet that I saw one of the pseudo-cops open. I think it would probably be futile to ask for access to them. It is locked by a push button combination lock; the combination starts at the top and works its way down the single row of five buttons. I think I could probably open it in 3 tries or less.
I asked about access to my personal effects and, as expected, was denied. I asked if it was because I am under a 5150 or if it is policy for all patients. I was told that it was I am ‘a 5150.’ I asked then if I could make a phone call, and was told by the security guard that it was up to the nurse, who as if on cue, stood up and walked out of the room.
Currently I am one of three patients in this room, and the only hospital staff is the smiling security guy, hand on mouse, staring intently into a monitor. He took a small break to take out his Maglite, examine it, and re-holster it. I spent a year in my youth as a Police Cadet, and know the many off-manual uses of a Maglite. In a well-lit hospital with back-up generators, any uses Smiley has for that piece of gear does not require charged batteries (dead ones would be of use as added mass).
I can hear my phone, in my satchel, in the locked cupboard, occasionally alert me to a Facebook IM. It was also logged into Second Life when it was confiscated, as I was letting people who I mainly have contact with through that virtual world know what was happening. I can only wonder what they must be thinking as my avatar is standing alone and idle, doing and saying nothing.
It occurs to me that the release they had me sign that would allow my fiancee to know I was admitted, my general state, and to visit me was presented to me with only her name filled out. When I said that it was incomplete, the nurse insisted that it did not have to be filled out. I filled out what I had memorized, and crossed out what I did not. I signed the bottom and only then notice text that read something like “I have been offered a copy of this release” – it was taken from my hands before I could strike that out. Of course no offer was made.
It is getting later, I am getting hungrier, and still I wait in my argyle socks and tie-in-the-back hospital gown. My plan upon my return to the mental hospital, after I am given what effects I am allowed to have, is to get dressed in my own clothes, call my loved ones, and directly after that, my patient’s rights advocate.
A fourth patient has arrived, and the staff here acted amazed that he was not here under a hold.
I arrived at the mental hospital at 4:40 PM – I remember this because I had to put that on the first form I filled out. That was three minutes shy of four hours ago according to the the clock on the wall. A few hours before that, I had contemplated suicide by Googling the the overdose of Ambien (15 mg) and counting out eight 10 mg pills on the bathroom counter. Before I went through with my plan, I Googled a suicide hotline (with the first resulting link being broken) and tearfully explained my state of mind, which lead to the series of events that lead me here – writing longhand twelve pages of my experiences so far with a bendy pencil (bendy, I assume to prevent stabbing). I have still not been offered any clinical help.
Due to the nature of my illness, I have been treated to a series of indignities as a prerequisite to receiving treatment. I will be confined in a place that, if past experiences play out, will be like a combination of jail and kindergarten.
Upon return, I am deposited in the same featureless room with no stimulation. The furniture is not as I left it. I suspect it was searched while I was at the ER. I was told by a security-type that some of my clothes will be brought to me. I was not asked if I had any preference as to what the selection will be.
I packed my brown Jedi robe, both because I wear it when I feel too cold, like a hoodie, and it also comforts me emotionally, like a security blanket. If they do not allow me to have or wear it, I will insist that it is a religious garment.
Over four and a half hours since I have arrived and have not been offered any psychiatric help of any kind.
I had a crying jag in the ambulance on the way here. In a moment of brilliant insight, the woman in the back with me asked if I were an animal person. I am crying again about my dog, Sadie. I rescued her recently, and tonight will be our first night apart in 26 days since I brought her home.
Those fucking pseudocops in the hall can see me weeping and I am left in this featureless room, alone, in crisis, with no means of contact with loved ones, not even the company of a stranger or the dignity of my own clothes, other than my nicest pair of socks and some clean boxer briefs.
Not only am I not being helped, much less cared for, I am being denied things that would be beneficial, like my robe, my family, or my dog.
I was wrong about being alone. There is a mosquito here and I sometimes have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites.
I have just come from the toilet. I asked the the hallway guard if the lack of paper towels was an oversight, or intentional. It is intentional. I dried my hands with toilet paper.
I have taken off, and folded as neatly as I can manage, the issued hospital gown. I will suffer the chill and immodesty of sitting here in drawers and socks for the sole reason that it is practically the only choice available to exercise what autonomy that currently remains with me. I am entertaining the the thought of nudity as protest once I get on the ward.
When I was on this campus in 1987 [in 1987 it was the newly opened Modesto Psychiatric Center; by my stay in 2014 it had changed names and owners twice], it was some of the finest care I ever received. I would say that so far, this is the worst care I have ever received, except that I have received no care whatsoever.
It occurs to me that the first thing I wrote that was published in print was a letter written while I was here in 1987 to the letter column of the comic book Ultra Klutz, which in turn lead to my first short story being published in the letter column of a different issue. I wonder what readership this journal will eventually find?
My clothes, the ones I walked in wearing about five hours ago, have been returned. Well, shirt and slacks. My tie, belt, shoes, watch, and pins, along with the rest of my property, are still confiscated and unavailable to me.
I decided to wander the halls to ask the first employees I could find to ask if mental health was exempt from the oath of Hippocrates. The pseudocops who found me me had never heard of the Hippocratic Oath, one claiming, “I just got here.” I informed them that the first tenet is, “do no harm” and asked why for the first five hours I have been subjected to things detrimental to my mental health. I asked to see a clinician, and was sent back to my featureless room with no stimulation.
Just-got-here popped his balding head in the doorway a few moments later to inform me that a nurse will be transferring me to a unit “soon” and I will be helped there. Among my skills and past professions is computer programmer. I know that the value of “soon” is never a small amount of time, but a value between three times longer than you expect and “never”.
I just finished editing the previous 20 hand-written pages (good writers are inspired, great writers edit) and I am still here, hungry, alone in this bare room. “Soon” is not here yet, as its actually only been slightly over twice as long as expected.
I have started a new form of protest. While trying to request food, phone, and new paper, I was ordered back in the room by another pseudocop. I decided to stand in the room, but keep the door open. Pseudocop ordered me to shut the door. When I asked why, he insisted it was policy. When I pressed for reasoning behind the policy, he refused (I suspect ignorance). I then said I was choosing to break the rule. He then huffed off saying then he could not listen to my requests. So I have again rearranged my furniture using a a section of that three-chair couch thing to prop open the door.
Coming next: On the unit.
Good writers are inspired, great writers edit, and excellent writers have their talented writer friend Amy Mayo help with the editing.