The chill of the hospital air and my electric state of paranoia disposed me to shiver uncontrollably. Ashamed of the behaviors I exhibited after the scolding of the receptionist, I worried. I was in the lion’s den, again. I wanted to claim victory in Jesus — in fact — my harrowed heart demanded it. The contrary frowns and manipulation of hospital staff created an atmosphere of cold souls that took joy in my pain and suffering.
I followed the tall, young med tech through the egress doors. Having done this only months before at another hospital, I anticipated the bloodwork, vitals and typical stripping of any “hazardous” items – pens, shoelaces, belts, razors, scissors. This time it was a rushed set of gloved hands that snapped that stretchy gauze against my pale skinny arm. Then the needle stick, with an equally sharp remark. “Oh, get over it.”
Once the prison warden let me out of the closet-sized room after changing, my disillusioned self met the contempt of the next staff person. He was chuckling, standing there waiting for me at the table with a coffee mug in one hand, a pen in the other. As instructed, I sat down at the table in front of a piece of paper and listened to this man’s discourse.
“You know something? Katie… Let me show you something.”
He drew a round bun with a mess of scribbles in between the roll. Even added sesame seeds to the top. Tracing an arrow to the drawing he spoke in between laughs.
“You know what this is?”
I shook my head.
“This, is a shit sandwich.” He wrote it down on the paper. “In life, you’re gonna have shit sandwiches. And you know what? You’re gonna have to eat them.”
I gave him a bewildered look.
Today I shake my head. I let myself believe him for a split second. And then I realize – there are some shit sandwiches out there, I just don’t have to eat them.
But I digress. My hospital stays were no walk in the park, as you can see. So had I known then what I know now in my sane, healthy mind, I would have had no shred of tolerance for the things the hospitals did. Here are things I would change about the way the behavioral hospitals are run.
- Treat every patient with dignity and respect. Give them their rights. Give them the access to use them and the right to defend themselves.
- Don’t hang abstract paintings in a psych unit. Ever. This should be obvious but when I hallucinated, man I saw the darndest things in those brushstrokes, no joke.
- Explain what the side effects and purposes of medications are. We want to know! We want to be informed!
- Listen to the patient. This is not your circus. It’s people’s legitimate reason to care, believe and see the hope you can offer them. That’s right, it’s the patient’s road to recovery through the respect you offer, they in turn will respect you.
- Don’t show horror movies, Fear Factor, crazy Jerry Springer talk shows or any kind of trigger-inducing TV or entertainment.
- Don’t treat us like guinea pigs. We are not lab rats you can test at the expense of our health insurance and our sanity.
- Set a regular, structured schedule. Not one that changes week to week. That’s not going to help our sense of stability.
- Give us purposeful things to do.
- Don’t play mind games with us. Or take advantage of us in our weakness, like saying random things back to us in conversations. Messing with us is unprofessional and degrading.
- Be true to your word. When you say you’ll do something, do it.
- Don’t keep us there longer than we need to be, nor let us out when we don’t need to be.
- Don’t set the clocks on different times.
- Don’t bunk men with women.
- Be supportive. If a patient requests to see a doctor, honor their request. Don’t wait a week to get them in to see a doctor.
Do you have any other suggestions to add? I’ll add them to the list.