Here is an offering from what I hope will one day be a collection of stories inspired by my stay on the mental health ward.  The characters were inspired by people I met, but the names and situations are changed, and their histories, motivations, and thoughts are completely fictional.  I came to trust and appreciate the members of my “community” too much to expose them to ridicule, disrespect, or even public exposure.  There was no “Ted”; but there was a man who inspired me to create “Ted” for my own enjoyment (?) and possibly yours.  Methods and practices portrayed are accurate enough to give you an idea of what life was like as a patient on the ward.  Warning:  this is not a “feel-good” story, but few of the stories from the psych ward are.

Ted’s Story

            Ted lay flat on his back, his arms at his sides.  The room was dark, but by the light from the hallway he could see water stains on the ceiling.  The open door allowed the conversations and random sounds from the nurses’ station to enter the room uninvited. 

            As long as he was awake, Ted thought he might as well do his physical therapy exercises.  No one would put the bed rails down for him, so he couldn’t sit on the edge of the bed or reach his walker.  He determined to do his therapy regardless of their efforts to restrain him.

            He wiggled his toes.  He couldn’t see them or feel them, but he assumed that they were wiggling.  They had better be, he thought.  Then left foot toes curl, straighten, point, repeat.  Right foot toes curl, straighten, point, repeat.  The twinge in his ankle told him that pointing his toes toward the wall was working.  He wondered how many times he would have to do the exercise before he was steady on his feet again.  It didn’t matter.  He would get there.  Or die trying.  Or die giving up.  Or just die.

            He bent his arms at the elbows.  That was better; he could see his hands in his peripheral vision.  Back down, and up again.  Straighten the fingers. Straighten the fingers.  He tried to focus his gaze on first one hand, then the other.  Both were knotted into fists, and neither wanted to let go of the anger and frustration it held.  Ted gritted his teeth and lowered his hands to his sides.

            “Theodore….Are you awake, Theodore?  How are you doing, buddy?” 

            It was Wallace, the tech.  They didn’t call them nurses or even nurses’ aides; they called them techs, short for technicians, as if they thought the body was a machine and the mind was a component that could be adjusted or reprogrammed.  Ted ignored the young man and continued to stare at the ceiling.

            “Theodore….Wake up, Theodore. We need to get some information from you.”

            Idiot.  Do people sleep with their eyes open?  And what information could they possibly need in the middle of the night?  And how many times, the patient asked himself, did he have to tell them that he wanted to be called Ted?  Only his mother called him Theodore—or his wife when she was angry with him.  He stared at the ceiling.

            “Theodore, I can see that you’re awake.  I need to ask you some questions.”

            Ted slowly and deliberately closed his eyes.

            “I’m still here, Theodore, and I’m going to ask you some questions which will help us to take care of you.  Do you understand?”

            Ted made no response.

            “We’re here to help you, Theodore.  We need to make sure that you get the right medications, and the right diet, and everything you need to help you get better.  But we need you to talk to us.  Okay, buddy?”

            The patient opened his eyes, but pointedly did not look at the tech. 

            “Ted,” he said.

            “Okay, that’s a good start.  You like to be called Ted?  I’ll make sure that your nurse knows that.  Now, how are you doing?”

            Long pause.  “Fine,” Ted said, a little louder than necessary.  He wondered if the tech could detect the sarcasm in his answer.

            “Well, you wouldn’t be here if you were really fine, would you Ted?  Do you know where you are?”

            “Hospital.”

            “That’s right, and we’re going to take good care of you here at the hospital.  Do you know what day it is?”

            It was Saturday when I came in, thought Ted, but who knows how long I’ve been here, being poked and interrogated and locked into this bed?  Give me my watch and a calendar, and maybe I could tell you! 

            But he kept his thoughts to himself.

            “Do you know how you got here, Ted?”

            “Wife.”

            The tech checked the paperwork in his hands.  “That’s good!  Your wife Elaine brought you in yesterday, and you spent some time downstairs while we waited for a bed.  It’s Sunday morning now.”

            “Eileen.”

            “Do you know why you’re here, Ted?” the tech went on, ignoring Ted’s correcting him about his wife’s name.

            Not that it mattered to Ted.  He had no feelings for her one way or the other.  Except that he would never forgive her for what she did, as long as he lived. 

            “Do you know why you are here in the hospital, Ted?”

            At least the tech changed the tone of his voice when he repeated the question.  Give him that.

            “Ted, stay with me buddy. Do you—“

            “Tried to kill myself.”

            “When did you do that, Ted?”

            “Last night.”

            “Have you tried to kill yourself since you have been here?”  Wallace asked.

            Ted groaned inwardly.  How could anyone do anything in this place?  They had taken his belt and his shoelaces; the windows were sealed; there weren’t even any call bells, because the cords might prove to be a choking danger.  And someone looked in at you every fifteen minutes to make sure you were still breathing.  The only thing he could possibly do was to slam his head in the door—except for the bed rails that kept him from getting to his walker.  He ignored the question.

            “I need you to answer some questions about how you want us to help you.  Can you answer some questions for me?”  Wallace sounded insincere again, and maybe a little bored.  Ted just looked at him.

            “So, if you are having a bad time, how would you like us to help you:  talk to you, or put you in a quiet place?”

            “Quiet place.”  Ted wished this was a quiet place.

            “When you are having a bad time, do you like to be touched?  Do you prefer to be touched on the hand, the arm, the shoulder, somewhere else, or not at all?”

            Ted was quiet for a long time.  “No touch.”

            “That’s good.  We need to know how we can help you and make you comfortable while you are here….”

            Every curse word Ted knew was in full force as he formulated his responses; but he kept them to himself.  He refused to lower his dignity to the level of these….even his alternate vocabulary failed him for a moment.

            “If you are having a bad time would you rather be helped by a man, a woman, or either one?”

            Ted just shot Wallace a look of disgust and disdain.

            “During a bad time, do you prefer to be helped by a man or a woman?”

            “Man.”

            “And why is that?”

            Ted shut down.  Why did it matter?  Why ask him his preferences, if they weren’t going to accept his answers at face value?  Why nag at him for answers that they wouldn’t like?  It was as if they had been taking lesson from Eileen, may she…

            “Ted?  Stay with me buddy….”

            If only she had minded her own business.  He could have made it down into the garage—it was only one step, for Heavens sake!  He had it all planned out: get to the stair, turn the walker sideways…

            “Ted—I need you to answer my questions.  Why do you prefer men to help if you need to be restrained?”

            …lower the walker onto the step, and move down after it, then again to the garage floor…

            “Ted, you know that you need to talk to me.  Are you thinking about the answer?”

            …shuffle past the driver’s side door, then open it and get inside, at least enough to turn the ignition….

            “Ted. Ted.  If you don’t answer my questions, then I will have to put you down as ‘Uncooperative.’  You don’t want the doctor to think you were uncooperative, do you?”

            …then just relax, breathe deeply, and in a few minutes, go to sleep…

            “Ted—I’m going to ask you just once more.  Why would you rather not have a woman help you when you are having a bad time?”

            “Eileen.”

            “Good.  Thank you, Ted.  I’m sure they will let her come see you tomorrow.  But are you ready to answer my questions?  We don’t have many more, and then I can let you go to sleep.”

            “Go ahead.”

            “All right.  We’ll go on to the next one.  If you have a severe response to a situation, would you prefer to be restrained, or to be given a shot to help calm you down?  We know this isn’t going to happen, but we have to ask so that we have it on record just in case.  When we’re done, I’m going to tape this paper inside your closet door, so that any of the nurses or techs have access to it right away.  So what is your preference?”

            “Repeat the question.”

            “If we need to restrain you…”

            “Eileen.”  Let Wallace the tech think he was being uncooperative; Ted knew the truth.  He could imagine her in a strait-jacket, or getting a tranquilizer shot, or both.  Maybe one day he would forgive her for stopping him and calling the ambulance; but until then, he could enjoy his little fantasy.  It gave him something to live for.

            Ted smiled, closed his eyes, and pretended to go to sleep.

 

 

 

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