My First Impression of the Alcott Unit at Walden Behavioral Care, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, “eating disorders treatment”

I wrote this a while back.  I found it in my files. I found it just now and am posting it. I did very little editing just now, only to eliminate or substitute a word or two for the sake of others.

My First Impression of Walden’s Alcott Unit
by Julie Greene
written July, 2014

I am a 56-year-old woman and I was 52 at the time of my first admission to Walden’s Alcott Unit. I believe the date that I phoned the Admissions office number was my fifty-second birthday in January 2010. I recall that the psychotherapist I had been seeing at the Edinburg Center, [name omitted], LMHC, had instructed me to telephone the main admissions number of Walden to see about getting in. I wasn’t happy about this at all, but at the same time, was rather curious as to what this “eating disorders care” was all about.

It had been nearly 30 years of suffering with an eating disorder, yet I had never been treated for it, certainly not at the inpatient level. I’d first gone to “therapy” and found that no one knew anything about eating disorders, and some “therapists” hadn’t even heard of ED. I’d been to OA and it never “worked.” I’d been to “groups” where I couldn’t relate to other members. I was even told you couldn’t die from an eating disorder. I was told I was exaggerating or “faking it.” Then, in February, 1983, I was in a hospital hoping someone would listen and at least care, when I saw on the news that Karen Carpenter had died of anorexia nervosa.

I tried to tell the nurse. “Look, that’s what I have. Anorexia. Something like that.” But again, I was ignored. Given pills and sent along my way.

A year later I realized the doctor I was seeing had lied. He’d only taken money from my parents. He knew nothing about eating disorders. That’s when I took an overdose. This was a few days before my 26th birthday. The doctor’s name was Thomas Alkoff, PhD, and his associates were the psychiatrist Carl Burak, MD and the psychologist Ronnie Burak, Carl’s wife. All three left town a few years later following multiple scandals, including the suicide of my friend Diane Daw (Manchester, VT) and the tragic death of Bennington College freshman Libby Zion. There were many others. The next “doctor” I saw, Charles Capers, MD at Gould Farm, didn’t even have a license to practice medicine. To get me onto SSDI, he pronounced me “schizophrenic” rather arbitrarily. I’ve had to live with the fake diagnosis “schizoaffective” ever since.

In 2010, I had a therapist who really was trying to help and really did care. She said I needed to eat. This was her main concern. She said Walden was a good place. So did my psychiatrist, Dr.Kimberly Pearson. Yet I was aware that there was always considerable strain between these two practitioners, though they tried to hide this from me for the sake of keeping professional distance from me.

I recall making the first phone call to Walden. I had already e-mailed with my circle of friends who were my age. These were women friends I knew online. Sadly, none of them are friends anymore. This is what happens when you are afflicted with anorexia nervosa. However, these friends were all in agreement: Julie needs this “Walden.” I phoned and reached a man named Brian. His voice sounded soothing and kind. Every time I called, Brian answered in his melodious voice. I told myself that he must calm the very young and frightened girls who call for the first time with questions, and calm the crying ones.

Brian asked me many questions, which I answered to the best of my ability. I thought: wow, this place must be state of the art. I’ve never been asked these questions before! No one has even cared! He asked me if I starved, and how much I ate. Usually when I have entered a mental hospital all they wanted to know about were suicidal intent.

That’s how it works., though, with hospitals. The admissions people such as Brian are the first ones you meet and you assume they represent the hospital. You are totally convinced that these organizations care about you, based on their “front” people, their PR dudes. Brian has tact and he’s smooth-talking. Their website looks nice, too. As does the website of any mental prison. I have my own website and I have designed many pretty ones and ugly websites, too.

Brian asked about height and weight. I am five foot one and was rather thin at the time. My highest weight was achieved because I was coerced into taking the drug Seroquel. I weighed nearly 200 pounds. My lowest weight was 78 last summer, as I weighed myself the day my kidneys failed. I have photos of myself at my highest and lowest weights for history’s sake. I think if I had allowed my weight to drop further, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I am alive, however, because I walked away from psychiatric abuse. I am alive because a I refused imprisonment. I am alive because I refuse to go to one more so-called “hospital,” and I have been to many. I am alive because in the end I refused mental health care. I know the difference between “care” and “abuse.” I am alive because I recognized that beyond a doubt, my eating disorder is not a disorder at all, but a set of inherited nutritional traits that was passed on in the bloodline. My mother went through the same ordeal without any such imprisonment from the ages of 14 until 16 and never saw a therapist nor specialist.

My mother is right now in a nursing home in Johnston, RI. If you go see her you will notice a few things. Go eat with her. I have never been there myself but I’d love it if anyone would do this. With a variety of food in front of her, she will act differently around the dairy food. I guarantee this, and yet she and I have never discussed this openly. [note: my mother passed away August 12, 2015.]

Dr. Greenblatt, who runs Walden, was spot-on in his book, that eating disorders should be solved with nutrition, not by locking kids up and abusing them. However, Greenblatt sold out, clearly. I find this heartbreaking.

I arrived with a large suitcase at the appointed time. I had read that it was okay to bring a cell phone and I had traded mine for a used one that didn’t have a camera. I had my knitting with me. I was working on a sweater for my little dog, Puzzle. Now, neither knitting nor cell phones are currently allowed, as the rules have changed. I came by MBTA bus. I asked myself if this be the End, this anorexia? I told myself to quit thinking like that.

Well, this was what I needed, wasn’t it? My friends would approve, wouldn’t they? I would get super advice and learn a whole lot of new things about eating disorders that I had never learned in three decades that I had been bumbling around with a bunch of psychotic people. And after all, I wasn’t even psychotic. I “needed” this care, supposedly.  You’d figure these Walden folks were the experts. How could I know anything? I was only a sufferer.

Hell, no. Those of us who have been through the disorder know far more, because we are the ones that actually go through it. Those with book knowledge only know only what is in books, and the books have it all wrong. I was going to find this out, rather shortly.

The admissions process was lengthy. I know the word, “cozy,” is overused, but that seems like a good one to describe the Walden office, their “front” for allowing inductees into their fold. I had to fill out questionnaires and was interviewed. I got weighed in a paper johnny. How many others never forget those paper johnnies. Funny, though, you can drink as much coffee and water as you want before you get weighed, but you can’t sew a ten-pound brick into that johnny. Don’t worry, as soon as we get admitted we are all on the identical meal plan anyway. It’s called Chicago. Once you have been there a couple of times you have Chicago memorized. It’s not too different from the standard diabetic meal plan, made of so-called “exchanges.”

Greenblatt’s book tells us we get extensive testing. I had nine tubes taken in their admissions office via the Newton-Wellesley ER, but this test cost Medicare$2,000 and nothing was done with the results any of the times I was there. Greenblatt states in his book that patients should be neuro tested for what psych meds will work. I don’t think such state-of-the-art testing is ever done at this facility on anyone, or if such testing even exists. Some patients get zinc and some don’t, but it seems arbitrary to me. In fact, most of the nurses tell the patients the vitamin supplements are “optional” and “not very important.” Most nurses also don’t understand why they are given, if you ask them. They seem to be rather heavy-handed, on the other hand, and insist on bossing patients around, ordering them to “group” or telling them when to go to bed or that they need to stop talking about certain subjects. Patients are often threatened and told their socializing amongst each other will be “staff monitored” if they cause any trouble.

I did get tested by a neurologist during one of my five stays at Walden, by a real neurologist. This was to see the extent of the damage caused by self-starvation I asked the nurse practitioner, Deb, to tell me the results. She said, “I cannot read his handwriting.” I questioned her further but she put me off over and over. I was unable to get a straight answer from her.

I was allowed to be admitted to Alcott following the nine-tube, expensive blood test. I felt weak. I was guided to the unit and helped with my luggage. I wanted to sit down and rest, and I was thirsty, too. We had to follow endless hallways and open many doors. So many confusing elevators and beeps and buzzes. I wondered what this place would look like. I hoped the people there would be kind at least.

We arrived at the final door. The hallway turned and then, I saw the doors to Alcott. “This is it,” the admissions person said.

“Is it really named after the author?” I asked.

“I believe so.”

I said, “I am a writer, too.”

We arrived at the locked doors. “Here we are at Alcott.” She let us in.

Here was a hallway not much unlike Three East at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Oh my goodness. My heart sank. Another psych unit. No, this couldn’t be.

I felt so tired. Someone guided me to a chair. I knew I was right by the nurses’ station. I saw the old familiar wite-out board. Patient names with only a letter for last name. Confidentiality, they say. And those doors had clicked locked behind me.

I gripped the chair. I said, “Wait. This is a locked unit?”

“Yes, Julie, this is a locked unit. We have some paperwork for you.” My heart sank another few notches as a staff person got out some old familiar-looking papers. That ole CV. Conditional Voluntary, it’s called. That means you have to sign a special paper to get out, and to get out of this prison, it meant waiting three days. If you don’t pass a judge’s decision, you can be locked up a good long time.

“Let me explain this to you,” the counselor began.

I said, “That’s a three-day. I know those. If I don’t sign in, I can be committed.”

“I would recommend you sign this, Julie. Don’t give us any trouble about this one.”

Soon, it was time for 3pm snack. I couldn’t believe that much time had passed since my arrival at the admissions office first thing that morning. I didn’t want to eat. I wanted to stay thin forever. If only I could leave that place!

I realized that everyone goes through this, this very moment of saying, “Why the heck did I agree to this. I’m stuck here now!” How long would it be? Weeks? What would happen here? The patients didn’t look happy. Instead, many were holding their bellies, as if they had stomach aches. About half the patients had tubes taped to their noses. The tubes appeared to go deep into their nostrils and were taped to the outside of their faces. Before long, the slurpy sound of liquid rushing through those tube feed pumps would be the sound of my life.

Many people shuffled into the dining room. Obligatory snacks had been distributed in a cramped dining room where we all had to eat together. We also had to drink either milk or juice. I was shocked at these snacks. I looked for the one with my name on it, “Julie G.”

There sat a package of Lorna Doone cookies and a big glass of milk. I sat there with those cookies in front of me for a long time. I looked at the other patients. How could they stand this? This was food slavery. I didn’t enjoy the sound of crunching. Someone began a game of 20 questions. I felt insulted to play a kiddie game.

My body wasn’t accustomed to eating this type of food. I knew one package of Lorna Doones wasn’t going to hurt me or poison me. Of course not. But still, my stomach hurt afterward. My friend wanted to speak with me to find out how things were going, so I phoned her following snack time. There was no private place to sit and talk, so I sat in the living room area where many others were seated.

My friend was home and picked up the phone.

“You ate what? They gave you Lorna Doone cookies? Not something healthy like nuts or something? Or fruit? Maybe an orange?”

“No,” I told my friend. “All packaged junk food. You have to eat it and you can’t complain. I feel really awful and my stomach hurts.”

“I really thought they would be more sophisticated than that.”

“Maybe they are just doing it cheaply. Anything to see to it that we gain weight as fast as possible.”

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a staff person. I knew this because he wore a badge with his photo on it. He said to me, “Julie, you cannot speak to your friend like that. We don’t allow this. You cannot say these things. You must hang up now.”

I turned to him and said, “Why?”

He said, “It’s triggering to other patients.”

I knew this was bogus, though. They only didn’t want patients speaking to anyone on the outside about “care” or lack thereof. It was the same in any mental prison. I felt trapped. I excused myself from my phone conversation. I realized, though, that Alcott wasn’t going to be any different from any other mental prison.

I am finding that after three and a half decades suffering horribly from severe eating problems, after my bio family has been torn apart, after I have lived for decades in poverty, after my chances of a career have been stripped, after I have no chances of ever having kids or raising a family of my own, after my own public reputation is ruined, after my brothers have denied me the privilege of knowing their children and raised their kids without Auntie Julie, and now, since I was threatened with forcibly being drugged forever and permanently locked up, saying goodbye to the USA for good….Well, heck, it all could easily have been solved within the first year nutritionally, perhaps eliminating certain foods from my diet, eating a good source of Omega-3, taking some vitamins., and never, ever setting foot into the halls of “Mental Health Care,” nor any hospital, ever.

I spend quite a bit of time laughing over it all lately. Yes, looking back and laughing. Psych abuse gave me a darned good sense of humor. If I had my way, I would tear down every mental prison ever built.

Perhaps one wall would remain standing. Let’s call this the Wailing Wall. I saw one such wall, when I was 19 years old, when I traveled to Jerusalem, the last wall standing of the Temple the Jews had built.

I suppose that one wall would remain for history’s sake. I can imagine right now standing before such a wall made of stones. Papers stuffed hastily between the stones by visitors. At 19, I was an ambitious and promising young college student.  I wondered what was written on these papers. Were these prayers to a deity? Or messages honoring those that have passed and are now gone? Or something else?

 

4 thoughts on “My First Impression of the Alcott Unit at Walden Behavioral Care, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, “eating disorders treatment””

  1. Even at my worst I won’t submit to hospital care because I know they are prisons. My ex-friend was in one and there was NO WHERE to be outside. Very restrictive. It was a prison. I want to commit a crime to go to prison. What happened to the unlocked wards of the 1970s and 1980s and before? I asked a doctor if there was a hospital around here that wasn’t a lockup and she said “no”.

    1. Yes, I recall when all that changed. I recall the unlocked units. I believe it all had to do with a change in the System that was insurance-related. They markedly shortened admissions, making the hospital stay more like a drive-thru. At that point the only hospitals keeping anyone any amount of time to do any good were the private ones and the state ones. This was good and bad for the private hospitals. Many, such as McLean, went downhill. They had to figure out some other way to make tons of money. Many private hospitals would take Medicare, milk the patient’s entire 190 days, then declare that patient either a hopeless case or cured. We were all familiar with the pattern after a while. I began to realize these institutions are less than honest, and didn’t have my best interest in mind, nor that of any of us peons.

  2. I was just released from Alcott. I’m 57. Not much has changed since you wrote this. I can’t believe the crap they feed you and try to convince you it’s necessary. Deb is still there too..

    1. Hi Anita, I really hope you are okay after all that! Maybe Deb has some kind of seniority which might be incentive for her to stay. I did not like her either as a professional or in any way. She didn’t seem to care about anything except the magic number, I suppose since that would determine whether Walden gets paid and how much.

      What shocks me is that I have since seen Greenblatt all over the internet trying to push himself as “alternative” doctor. People actually believe this not realizing he runs and profits from a kiddie prison. I suppose alternative medicine isn’t paying him enough so the prison is his unrelated side business.

      Thanks so much for reaching out. I have heard a few first-hand reports about the place since I moved away. Stay away from there, okay? Walk away and don’t look back.

Feedback and comments welcome!