2/17/2007 THIS TAKES PLACE ON MY BIRTHDAY 1983
Morning. Looking around, looking around at the white bed, white walls, the curtain between the beds, and bedside table. A rubbery smell. Tip-tap of people hurrying past in the hallway. Then: stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. Heide. Shit. I rolled over and hid my face in my pillow.
“I expect you to take a shower today,” she said. “You have your menses.” She tap-tapped over to the nurses’ station and barked, “Where are my charts? Vickie, where are the charts?”
I had, indeed, started my period the afternoon before, but I hadn’t told anyone. How could I? I still hadn’t recovered the ability to speak. I had a small supply of tampons in my pocketbook that wouldn’t have lasted long. Yet in the evening someone had strategically slipped a package of obstetrical pads in my bathroom.
Sitting up, I was overwhelmed by dizziness. I had heard through Carole months ago that some medications can cause dizziness upon sitting or standing, and that this was called postural hypotension. I lay back down, and tried again. No way. Too dizzy.
Heide appeared in the doorway again, followed by her henchwomen, Vickie and Pat, both LPN’s. The three of them drew closer. “Shower, or tub bath, which will it be, Julie?”
Shower. Tub bath. Tub bath. Shower. No. I shook my head. They towered over me. My breath quickened.
“Which will it be?”
I rocked forward and held my knees close for protection.
“Well, then, it has been decided. Run the tub, Vickie.” Both Pat and Vickie scampered off.
“Now, Julie, we’re going to have a little talk. And I get to do all the talking. Have you heard the expression, ‘The silent waters are the deepest’?” I shook my head. “Well, you’d better start thinking about it.” Heide stared at me. Creases under her green-hazel eyes had filled with turquoise eye shadow; in fact she was heavily made-up around the eyes. Perhaps she’d been freckled as a child and those freckles had faded. I guessed her age at 45; I was nearly correct, it turned out.
I’d been on the unit for several days, and had quickly learned to listen for Heide’s stomping footsteps entering the unit every morning promptly at 7:30 for Report, and then at 8:00 when she came out of Report. Heide wore square heels and walked in such a way as to have quite an effect on the listener; I knew this because other patients mentioned to me that they, too, listened for Heide’s footsteps heading for Report in the morning. (Report, I learned, was what the nurses called the exchange of information during the half-hour overlap of shifts, during which they would discuss the patients and the goings-on of the unit in general. If the microwave oven had caught fire, surely the incident would have been included in Report.)
“Have you had a shower or bath in the past week?” Heide asked. I hadn’t. “In the past two, three weeks?” Again, I shook my head. “Why?” I backed away from her. “Why? Neglecting personal hygiene–why?”
Frequently, hygiene is lacking among people with mental illnesses. One year, I didn’t bathe for five months. (I’ve since overcompensated for it.) In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to who has had a mental illness has gone through periods where some aspect or many aspects of grooming and cleanliness have been ignored. Sometimes, the neglect of a particular aspect of hygiene can become an obsession.
The bath was ready, but I did not intend to use it.
I didn’t budge.
“Go on. We’ll be waiting right outside.”
“Ms. Greene, proceed to the bath! Now!” After a minute, Heide said, “Okay, girls, I’m not wasting my time waiting for this patient. Let’s get her into the tub.”
Pat was a heavy woman, but Vickie was twice as big, and strong, too. With one of them on each side there was little I could do, though I struggled at first. Their arms locked into mine, they dragged me from the bed, white sheets trailing behind us, while I dug my bare heels into the floor, though doing so did little to stop the progression toward the bath. I screamed. Of course I screamed. I screamed for all the children in the world that had ever been forced into the bath; I screamed for all the patients that had ever been forced to do anything against their will; I screamed for my fellow Jew, whose kipah fell off his head as he was escaping the Nazis, yet he turned to pick it up–he was shot dead–I screamed for myself, for my future, which would unlock and reveal time after time the act of force, the act of entrapment, the act of belittlement, the act of shaming–in the name of saving my life–I screamed, as Pat and Vickie, under orders from Heide, ripped my bedclothes off of me, stripped me completely, pushed me into the tub, and with white hospital washcloths, washed me, while my menstrual blood flowed into the bath and mixed with the splashing bathwater and tears and mucus and spittle, bodily fluids all splashing together, swirling in this great sea of force, they washed me, and I wept.