Flight of the Dodo - 4. Chapter 4
The psych ward at County General Hospital was much like the unit at Western State Hospital, except on a smaller scale and there were patients who were adults. There were only ten other patients at the time I was checked in, four women and six men. Unlike at Western State, the men patients were not permitted to talk to the women patients, but one of the women patients, an older woman with very large breasts, a big stomach, and straggly gray hair, named Veronica always talked to me. The only problem with her talking to me was none of what she said made a bit of sense. It was as if she was talking to someone else. After a while, I figured out she was talking to her dog because she kept asking if I needed to go outside to go potty. If I did, she would get the leash and take me for a walk around the block.
I was told that primarily they were a diagnostic facility that would determine where I should be sent for treatment. The good thing was that Dr. Kaiser would be interviewing me during that process. That made me happy.
I was put in a room by myself although there were two beds and two wardrobes one of which I used for the clothes Syl packed for me. There was also a small room with a sink, a toilet, and a shower. We were allowed a supervised shower every other day. We were not allowed to be in our rooms during the day. If we had to go to the toilet, we had to use the toilet off the dayroom.
The dayroom had a television hanging from the wall and eight brown upholstered armchairs and two dark green upholstered sofas facing the television. Behind that furniture there was a small square metal table with a plain white Formica top where four psych aides, like Arthur, sat playing dominoes or just watching the patients in case one of them started to act out and had to be given an injection and put in a quiet room. The quiet rooms, there were three, were along the wall beside the toilet room. Four large round metal tables with plain white Formica tops were in the corner between the television and the quiet rooms. That was where the patients ate their meals. There were three meals every day, plus a snack at bedtime for patients that took night meds. The fourteen patient rooms were along the television wall and the wall opposite the quiet rooms and dayroom toilet. The cage, where the psychiatric nurses worked, was on the wall opposite the television. It extended from the door to the ward about twenty feet into the room. The cage was constructed with steel posts from the floor to the ceiling on which thick chain link fencing was attached. The door into the cage was over by the door into the ward. Next to the door there was an opening where patients received their meds. There was a large open area between the television area and the dining tables where the food was served and another large open area between the television furniture and the wall where the television hung and doors to the rooms. The rooms where the patients met with the psychiatrists and psychologists were out in the hall between the elevators and the door to the ward.
On my first full day in the psych ward, two hours, sixteen minutes, and forty-seven seconds after lunch, Psych Aide David came over where I was watching television and said, “Mr. Pedersen, your psychiatrist is ready to speak with you. Please come with me.”
I stood up and followed him to the door to the hall. After he opened it with his right hand, he said, “You may go first, but wait for me to shut the door.”
I did as I was told and then followed him down the hall to the second door on the left. Like the door to the ward, it was made of steel and wasn’t painted. He knocked twice on the door with the knuckles of his right hand, opened the door with his right hand, and said, “You may go in.”
I saw a woman sitting behind a gray metal desk. There was a metal chair on my side of the desk facing it. Also, there was a chair next to the door where Psych Aide David sat. I suppose he was in the room in case I acted out and needed to be restrained. I believe crazy people are not allowed to be alone with their psychiatrists in psych wards. They don’t trust us, which I guess is okay considering how crazy some of us get when locked up in psych wards with other crazy people.
“Edvard, please sit on the chair. I’m Dr. Roberta Kaiser, your psychiatrist.”
I sat down, but didn’t look at Dr. Kaiser. I stared at a point exactly halfway between the yellow tablet on the desk in front of Dr. Kaiser and the edge of the desk in front of me.
“How are you doing today?” Dr. Kaiser asked.
“Okay, but a little confused as to why I’m here.”
“Suicide ideation is a significant symptom of your type of mental illness. When you spoke to your mother about wanting to die, she called your father, who called me. I recommended that you be admitted here so that I may evaluate your symptoms and determine whether you need to be admitted to a mental hospital or you can be treated as an outpatient through my office. That is why you are here. Any questions before we begin?”
“No, not really as long as you said that is why I’m here.”
“Yesterday morning you were discharged from the pediatric medical ward on the fourth floor of this hospital and were taken home by your father’s legal assistant. Is that correct?”
“What was the first thing you did after you got home?”
“I went to my bedroom, sat on my bed, picked up my world atlas E2 bought me after I fractured my left kneecap and right wrist because Larry Mark tripped me at the top of the steps going down into the cafeteria at Captain David Nyberg Junior High School at the beginning of eighth grade. I opened the atlas to New Zealand. It is my favorite foreign country because it has volcanoes, glaciers, fiords, Maoris, they are actually Polynesians, and Kiwi birds, they are flightless like Ostriches, only smaller. I’m considering emigrating there after I become an adult.”
“And then what did you do?”
“Well, as I was thinking about how much I’d like to emigrate and I realized that my mental illness might prevent that from occurring. They might not allow me to come to their country because I’m crazy. They might not like people who are already sick coming into their country and then having to take care of them. Then I had this strange thought that I’m fairly certain I have never had before. I thought about going away from my body, but I realized that was a silly thought. I really couldn’t go away from my body unless I killed myself. That got me thinking about where I’d go if I did kill myself. I thought that because I think I heard somewhere that people who commit suicide, that is what they call killing yourself, well, people who commit suicide are not allowed to go to Heaven. And then I thought that surely people who commit suicide wouldn’t be put in Hell because only wicked people go to Hell. So I wanted to know where people who commit suicide go if they are not allowed in Heaven and are not wicked enough to go to Hell. So I decided I needed to ask somebody who might know that and I decided that Pastor Olsen of our Lutheran church would probably know where people who commit suicide go after they die. Do you know where people who commit suicide go after they die?”
“No, not exactly. That actually has to do with which religion you ascribe to. Then what did you do?”
“I put the atlas away and went to look to see if Syl had come home from her appointment that prevented her from coming down to the hospital to pick me up this morning. My father’s legal assistant Gloria picked me up and took me home. She drives a Mercury Cougar XR-7. It is green and has an automatic transmission.”
“Did you find your mother?”
“No, because she had not come home, yet. So I decided I should call the church and ask to speak to Pastor Olsen. I went to the telephone the family uses to call the church. We have another phone in the kitchen that Syl uses, but no one else can use it unless Syl says it is okay. Also, we have a phone in the den that father uses, but no one else can use it, ever. It is for his business. He is a lawyer. I went to the telephone the family uses, but the telephone book wasn’t there and I didn’t know where it could be in the house. So I decided I should walk down to the church. I went to my bedroom and put on my parka because it was starting to snow outside.”
“And then you left the house.”
“No, no, no, I didn’t leave the house because I had to figure out how to get to the church. It is at the corner of Twenty-fourth Avenue Northwest and Northwest Seventy-fifth Street. We live on Twenty-second Avenue Northwest between Northwest Ninetieth Street and Northwest Eighty-seventh Street. That was going to require me to do arithmetic, so I had to find a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser because I can’t do arithmetic in my head with numbers over two digits, like ten and more. I can’t do multiplication or division even if I have paper to do it. I’m mathematically stupid. I’m basically a dope about practically everything, except for maps. I read maps like most people read books. Maps have stories to tell if you know how to read them. Anyway, I knew I had to walk west toward Puget Sound because our avenue is east of the avenue our Lutheran church is on. Also, I knew that the streets we live between are north of the street our Lutheran church is on, so I’d have to walk south toward the Lake Washington Ship Canal.”
“So you figured out how far you had to walk.”
“Oh, no, you see I had to get the paper and a pencil with an eraser because I always make lots of mistakes every time I do mathematics. During my years at Captain David Nyberg Junior High School and North Park High School I brought books home for homework and notebooks that had paper in them, but now I go to Louis Bergman Alternative High School and I don’t have homework, so I don’t bring any paper home anymore. I went to my desk, but I had a problem because I didn’t know what drawer the paper might be in. The pencil with an eraser was easy because pencils, pencils with erasers, pens, erasers, and my scissors are kept in the middle drawer. My scissors are safety scissors because they don’t have points on the end of the blades. Just one more thing in the house to prevent me from accidently cutting myself and requiring Syl to take me to the doctor or to the hospital, if I seriously injure myself. Not only am I stupid, but I’m also incredibly uncoordinated. The paper could have been in any of seven drawers and I couldn’t decide which drawer to open first. I didn’t want to have to look through all of them. I couldn’t decide and then Syl came home.
“She opened my door without asking permission and asked what I was doing and I told her needed to figure out how far it was to our Lutheran church so I could talk to Pastor Olsen about where I’d go after I killed myself and then she got mad. I tried to explain that I was tired of being crazy because it is so hard being crazy while everybody else isn’t. You know? It is hard and I wanted to go away from being crazy and having crazy thoughts that are silly. And I’m tired of being such a dope about things. It is hard being mentally ill. It is and I’m tired of it. I want to be better. Can I have a glass of water? I think I’m going to have a panic attack.”
I went away. I couldn’t help myself. It came on so fast, I didn’t have time to take a pill. I woke up later that afternoon in a regular hospital room. Of course, since I’m a crazy person my wrists were strapped to the bed. Also, I had an IV in my arm. I felt tired so I tried to go to sleep.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep. I lay there in the bed wondering about what part of the hospital I was in. Surely, if I had a meltdown, Dr. Kaiser would have called someone to take me downstairs to one of the medical wards I had been in last night. I knew they didn’t have regular hospital beds in the psych ward, so I had to be in a medical ward downstairs. I heard a sound like a door latch click. The draperies around me moved. Maybe it was E3 coming to see how I was doing. The draperies parted and a man in whites came in.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” he said. “Hungry? We’re serving dinner right now. If you want a decent meal, I’ll take out the IV and you can join the others for dinner.”
“In what part of County General Hospital am I?” I asked. “Am I in a medical ward or did they put me in some other ward closer to the psych ward?”
“Oh, sorry, you’re confused. That happens sometimes if patients are transported out here unconscious. You are at Moorlands Psychiatric Hospital. We’re a private facility. Your psychiatrist had you transferred here from County.”
“Oh, okay, I guess. Yes, I think I’d like to have a regular meal. At least, I could use a toilet.”
“Good show! I had a feeling you’d want to join the regular patients.”
He took out the IV, put a bandage on the hole, and pulled the draperies back against the wall. There was a wardrobe in my room where someone had put all my clothes. There was also a room with a sink, toilet, and shower. It was embarrassing using the toilet because there was no door and that man watched me use the toilet. I asked why and he said I was on suicide watch and would be for the next 24 hours. That meant at bedtime they would strap my wrists to the bed. I put on some clothes and he escorted me to the dining room.
I was surprised to see only a few other kids my age. The rest of the patients were adults of various-s ages up to a man who looked about as old as E2. I found out that not everyone was there because they were mentally ill. Other patients were alcoholics or drug users. They had a cafeteria line where there were choices for meat, vegetables, potatoes, salad, dessert, and what you wanted to drink. There was a lady at the end of the serving line who checked to see what you had on your tray against your medical restrictions. Surprisingly, the food was okay considering it was a basic institutional offering.
After dinner, most everyone went into a large room that resembled a dayroom in a psych ward. There were four-person tables where everyone found a seat. The lights were turned down and they put on a movie. It was a western with John Wayne, but I can’t remember the name of it. Harry Carey, Jr., was in the movie, but he was in a lot of westerns that had John Wayne as the star. After the movie, we had our bedtime meds and a snack. They had a new pill for me to take. I asked what it was and the nurse said if I wanted to know, I should ask my psychiatrist at my appointment in the morning. Since she had prescribed the pill for me, it was obvious that it would do me some good. They had pajamas for me to wear and after strapping me to the bed I fell right to sleep.
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