Sunday, March 11, 2007

As Promised - Le Wacko Carnivale Finale...

The second half of the two-part saga will now begin.

(sickie bags are provided by ushers if you wave them down...thank you, the management) promised, today's entry is all about the last time I went into the hospital. It was in December of 2002.

I'd like to blame it all on the office holiday party (from when I worked for the Lizard), but really, there were many stressors. It was my first Christmas on my own in well over five years, Ed H. and I were going through divorce stuff, I was missing my family, I had (self-induced) money problems, and Doug couldn't get away to come visit for Christmas b/c he just came for Thanksgiving. The office holiday party was just the cherry on my sundae of psychiatric hell.

To make a long story short, I was feeling really down, my co-workers didn't know how to deal with me, nobody at my table talked to me, the gift I brought for the stupid gift exchange didn't even get put with the rest of the gifts, and I was fed up. I left the party early, and stalked off from Wisconsin Avenue to the office on Western Avenue PRAYING that a bus would hit me. Tears streamed down my face as I stomped along in the chilly air.

I got back to work well before everyone else did, and I called my mom in tears. I was swinging back and forth between wanting to move home and not wanting to move home, tears flowing like Niagara. I don't think I made much sense. I finally hung up because somehow I figured out that I wasn't making any sense.

Then my manager and another employee walked in saying the unforgettable words, "Gee...there's nobody else here."

Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where a character is frozen or statue-like in some way, and another person takes a teeny, tiny little hammer and PING! smacks them on the head, and then the frozen person falls apart?

Yep...over 200 lbs. of neurotic, BP Sudie in little pieces on the carpet (figuratively speaking). Nice. I remember throwing my Christmas present away in the trash, then saying, "Great...that's just great...thank you so much."

I stalked out of the office (a bit dramatic, yes, but BPs can be known for drama). Another co-worker saw me and asked what was wrong. My answer? "Oh, just remind me to NEVER GO TO ANOTHER OFFICE PARTY AGAIN!!!!!!"

This woman (I'll call her Jane) ushered me into the restroom to ask what was wrong, and I vented and vented. Another person (let's call her Mary) from the same department came in, and they both tried to calm me down but I kept saying, "No, no, I want to die, I don't matter."

They kept trying to tell me, "No, don't say that."

I finally looked at Mary and said, "You know, you're not going to change my mind. I want to die."

Apparently, something in my voice scared them, and one of them went to get my manager, who promptly called the occupational health nurse. She came into the restroom and asked me what was going on.

I said, "I want to die." Tears were still running down my face. I also had the nastiest perm alive (God knows why) and I looked like the poster child for all those who aspire to be fashion don'ts in Glamour magazine. Not a good "fabulous" day for your favorite wacky redhead.

The nurse asked, "Do you have a plan?"

I replied, "Yes...I'm going to slash my wrists with the scissors on my desk."

She took over from there. I was ushered into her office while she attempted to call my psych doctor and my counselor, both of whom were unreachable at the time. Then, she drove me to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD.

It was during that drive that I realized, "Jesus...I wouldn't have been able to kill myself with my scissors...the Lizard is too cheap to have scissors that sharp in OUR office." (I believe that was an epiphany of sorts, but maybe I'm wrong. )

I was checked in. I was told I had to change into a hospital gown and all that. I had to wait to be picked up in an honest-to-God padded room, with only me and a gurney or something (don't remember all of that).

Once someone came to get me, I rode in a wheelchair to Suburban's mental ward. This was also a lockdown ward, with a mixed-bag clientele. Some frazzled, some de-tox, some more severe cases than I had ever encountered before. I was checked into the ward, and led to the main lounge area.

The lounge area was your typical lounge area...couches, chairs, round and square tables. But the floor as a whole was more restricted. We didn't get phones in our rooms like in Mercy 4 North. There was a pay phone in the hall or a phone in the corner, and all long distance calls had to be collect. TV watching was restricted. Everyone shared meals in this room, and had morning/evening affirmations in this room.

It was the typical late 80's dusty pastel color scheme. White board on the wall with everyone's names and goals on them..."I will go to all my sessions today", "I will tell the nurse if I feel anxious", "I will think positively about myself"...stuff like that.

I was led to a table, and they had an extra meal covered up with the hard molded plastic cover thing. I opened it up to discover meat loaf, pasta and green beans. I hate green beans more than I hate Rosie O'Donnell, so I moved on to the pasta. Cold, gummy, but considering I hadn't eaten for several hours, I was cool with cold, gummy pasta. I ate that.

Then...the meat loaf.

Now, hospital food is the subject of many jokes, but many of my food experiences at hospitals were OK. It wasn't Mom's cooking, but it certainly wasn't so nasty that a dog would lick its butt in protest.

I had to amend my opinion of hospital food after this meat loaf.

One thing about being in a mental ward...they don't give sharp metal objects to the residents. Instead, we get plastic utensils. They're the molded plastic, kind of hard, but usually durable to cut through your average piece of meat (e.g. if you use the side of your fork as a makeshift "knife"). Now - when the piece of unassuming meatloaf on your plate is so solid that it breaks the tines on your PLASTIC FORK, you've got problems.

I was so wiped out by that point that all I could do was look at the meat loaf...look at the fork...look at the meat loaf...back and forth like they were playing tennis. An attendant with only good intentions saw me doing this, came over and said, "You know, we can warm that up for you if you want."

I looked at him wearily and said, "I don't think that's going to help." I pushed my plate away and asked where the phone was. Once I found the phone, I made two calls.

The first was to my guitarist, Paul P. He's one of the closest friends I had in this city up to that point. His wife answered the phone panicked because their caller ID immediately registered Suburban Hospital. I told her what was up and she got Paul on the phone. He asked if there was anything he could do. I started to cry and answered, "The food here SUCKS! Can you bring me a chocolate milkshake?" I must have sounded pathetic because he said, "Sure! I'll bring it tomorrow."

The second call was to my parents, letting them know that I checked myself in, and asking them to please call D and let him know that I was here. I gave them the number, and apparently my mind was sparking a bit because I had enough sense to feel BAD for D...the poor guy is going to meet my parents for the first time by phone with them telling him I was locked up in a mental ward for a few days. Lordy lord.

Then we had nightly affirmations. They meant nothing to me at the time because I had only been there an hour and had made no goals besides NOT ASKING FOR THE MEATLOAF. They gave me my meds and took me to my room. I promptly crashed.

Next morning...bright and squirrely...breakfast and meds. The bad thing was, the instructions for what meds I took when were a bit confused so I got my night meds in the day time. The meds I took at that time included Zyprexa, which is basically for schizophrenics but at very low doses is also prescribed for BP patients as a mood stabilizer. It also knocks you for a loop. That's the drug I got first thing in the morning, so I went back to my room and slept.

By 11 AM or so, the orderly came down and said, "You really need to be out of bed."

I answered (through the drool and matted eyes) "I think they gave me the wrong meds."

Unfortunately, I still had to get up and go to a therapy session...and it therapy. I'm walking in, wearing the same outfit I had on when I came to the emergency room (dressy skirt and sweater), and this beautiful retriever was there. What did I do?

Cried. Hugged the dog. Cried some more.

I went to more sessions after that. Group therapy...morning affirmations...evening affirmations...occupational therapy...etc. I actually made some friends on the ward, but in today's settings, people are in and out so quickly that someone you hit it off with at breakfast would be gone by lunch.

Among more memorable characters:

  • A gorgeous woman who (like me) was bipolar type II (meaning hypomanic...her spells didn't go into psychosis). She had some interesting stories about shock treatment and how it can make you forget how you did your job.
  • A black man who was going through depression and the beginning stages of Alzheimers. He must have been a teacher or something...he'd take a patient under his wing and help them do everything. Apparently he didn't think I required this kind of treatment, and thought my name was "Consuela".
  • An older black woman who was apparently admitted in SO much of a hurry that she didn't bring her false teeth. She was good at telling rambling stories where you weren't sure what the point was.
  • A young woman, kind of goth, heavy set, with piercings. She was supposedly depressed and suicidal but must have been feeling better by the time I got there because she and I would giggle and make fun of animated Christmas specials.
  • A man in his 40s, wire-rimmed glasses, free-lance writer that was as fond of puns and wordplay as I am. Also depressed.

One of the saddest sights...a woman who was schizophrenic, and crying all the time. However, she couldn't find comfort because she was also petrified of being touched. The staff was free with hugs, and you could see in her eyes how badly she was torn.

There was also some woman who was kind of pretentious. She didn't do anything TO me, but she just got on my last nerve in general. She had this superiority thing going on, and it was just aggravating. Everyone had her number, though, so she didn't really get very far with it. It was a pretentious Ph.D candidate who just can't get the dissertation done because it's out of their league and they don't know it.

I didn't have very many visitors...nobody from work came (big surprise). Paul P., as promised, brought my milkshake the next night, and he took one look at me and said, "My god, you look like shit." I called him some kind of filthy name, and he said, "You must be feeling better!"

Fred T., my bass player, came most every night and was so sweet. One of his family members went through something similar and he knew how lonely it could be. A piano player I worked with (Larry) called and asked if I was getting any good drugs. I told him yes, and I wasn't sharing.

One thing I felt guilty about was that I didn't call my room-mate to tell him where I was. He called every hospital in the area looking for me, and called the cops as well. He finally found me, chewed me out, and gave me a white reindeer with purple antlers. I named him "Mr. Purple Antlers". (Apparently, the meds kind of impacted the whole creativity thing.)

One thing that frustrated me was the whole food thing. Again, at Mercy North, food was not an issue. In addition to the meals being fairly edible, we had access to snacks like graham crackers, peanut butter, yogurt, etc. It was nice, especially if you had to stay up and have "affirmations". However, apparently there must be a law against snacks at the hospital in Maryland. Once you had your evening meal, you didn't get anything else unless someone brought something for you.

This did not sit well with your favorite wacky (and now starving) bipolar redhead, and others felt the same way I did. At our nightly meetings, the staff always asked what concerns we had. Mine was always the same..."Where are our snacks? How do you expect us to have the energy to stay up and affirm if we don't even get graham crackers and peanut butter?"

One night, an activity person (who apparently was kicked out of her sorority and was quite bitter about it) informed us rather snarkily that it cost money to get extra snacks and that they just couldn't afford it. The group I associated with just looked at her like she had two heads, then asked how we could afford the fabulous cafeteria food that we got every day. She didn't have an answer. I think she was cranky about missing her tanning appointment too, because she didn't talk to us much after that.

I was there for a total of five days, and when I came out, I came home to my cat Chelmsford with a nasty case of ringworm. The next day I took him to the vet and had his head and neck shaved. He spent the rest of the day curled up in a ball, hating my very existence.

When I came back to work? Nobody said it was good to see me back...nobody said much of anything.

However, I did walk into my cubicle to find my boss' Christmas gift to me. He always bought food gifts, which I usually find a good choice. Everyone likes to eat something, right?

Right in plain view, in the middle of my desk...a box of mixed nuts. How apropos.

I quit the Lizard after being placed on unpaid, involuntary medical leave for two months. When I had to go to the HR director for an exit interview, I told her about that extra-special, oh-so considerate Christmas gift left on my desk.

In a series of events unrelated to my oh-so-thoughtful gift, that manager was relieved of his position about six months later.

Too bad I couldn't have stopped by to give him an extra-special a recording of Beck's song with these words...

"I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?"

Oh well...that's life.

And thus endeth my saga.