Shower, or tub bath? Paper or plastic?

Julie Greene


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.


“Go on.”


I didn’t budge.


“Go on.  We’ll be waiting right outside.”


            I refused.


            “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.

Rant

2/17/2007


 


THE TRADE-OFF (A RANT)


 


Like hell I’m supposed to just accept it.  Take your meds and you will feel better.  Take your meds and you will be so doped up that you won’t be able to think straight and you won’t be able to write at all, you’ll nod off in workshops, you’ll yawn your way through advising group meetings no matter how much sleep you got the night before, and for godsakes how am I supposed to stay awake at my advisor’s reading tonight?  I mean, folks, this is really important–my advisor is my advisor and it seems imperative that I familiarize myself with her work–shit, man, she’d better be the first reader or I’m gonna flip–readers, you’re not going to believe this:


 


I will have three weeks to read three books and write papers on them, start a draft of a 17 to 20 page critical paper, and come up with 15-20 pages of prose.


 


And I’m supposed to do all that on HOW MANY MILLIGRAMS OF THORAZINE???


 


It’s a trade-off, not a very nice one, I must say.  The alternative isn’t pretty.  Having Evil Beings shouting at me all the time while I’m trying to write is far worse, but try to convince me of this while I’m typing up a “process letter” to Paisley (my advisor) full of excuses as to why I didn’t get my work done, that I was too sleepy, the meds dope me up too much, stifle my creativity, make me stupid, take all the passion out of life…


 


WELL, GODDAMMIT, THEY DO!!!!


 


Segue to Dr. P’s office.  I see Goldie on the 22nd, Dr. P on the 23rd.  Goldie may actually be a pleasure because I might be able to bring Puzzle.  I see Goldie at 4:30.  Then Dr. P the next day. 


 


“Well.”  I can see her now.  She plucks her pen out of her appointment book and nibbles on the end of it.  “I guess we found out it wasn’t such a good idea to cut down on those PRN’s, huh.”


 


(PRN stands for something in Latin which means “as needed.”  I take extra Thorazine if I need it, whether spell-check accepts the word or not.)


 


I can see Dr. P tapping her pen on the notes she’s writing.  She takes lots of notes.  “Well.  I don’t know what we can do.  It’s a trade-off.”


 


At this point, I hurl her computer monitor out the window.


 


 

Here’s part of an assignment I’ve been working on

This may become part of my thesis.  On the other hand, maybe I’ll scrap it.


2/17/2007


 


We had an assignment.  Each of us was given a photograph to write about.  Mine was of a child blowing out a birthday cake with one candle on it.  I thought of my 25th birthday, which I spent in the hospital.  Here’s another scene, possibly for my thesis:


 


TUB SCENE


 


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, both hopelessly stupid.   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.”



 



That’s as far as I got this writing session, dear readers, but I’ll clue you in to what happened next.


 


I refused to take a bath, so they stripped me, threw me into the tub, and washed me.


 


The last line will say something about it being my 25th birthday.


 


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I’ve begun my thesis!

This is just a scrap.  I wish I could have brought it to some kind of stopping point last night, but I was tired.


Julie Greene


2/15/2007


 


PART OF MY THESIS


 


The inability to speak does scary things to a person.  I couldn’t ask for help, and couldn’t refuse help.  I just took what hit me, and in this emergency room cubical, everything that hit me was hitting hard. The curly-haired nurse spoke at me gleefully.  I couldn’t understand the words; they bubbled and broke before I could grasp them.  I was trapped.  Double-crossed.  All I could feel were two beams from the two watchful eyes of my roommate.  She sat in a chair in the corner.  Footsteps moved outside the thin curtain that separated my cubical from the rest of the emergency department, and from the world.


 


An alcohol tainted breeze brushed across my face as the nurse exited the room, ruffling the curtain.  My roommate, Carole, said, “Julie, you have to talk.  Tell them about the bingeing.  Tell them about the anxiety and the insomnia and everything.  And the Martians.  Everything.  Tell them.”  She started to walk around the room, peeking in cabinets.  “Any good drugs, do you think?  Syringes?  Shit, there’s gotta be something.  Do they let people smoke here?”


 


When I first came to the hospital, simple questions–what is your name? where do you live? what insurance do you have?–not necessarily in that order, I was unable to answer, and when it was apparent to the nurses that something mental was wrong with me, they had hush-hushed me into the cubical, there with Carole pretending to be perplexed, and the stethescoped nurse.


 


It suddenly occurred to me that I would be 25 years old in three days.  I giggled quietly to myself, and felt my mouth turn up into a grin.


 


“What’s so funny, Julie–what’s the matter, anyway?” the nurse asked.  She blurred in and out of focus.  “Why won’t you talk?”


 


“Yeah, Julie.  Talk.”


 


I think most people, at some point in their lives, have been scared speechless.  The cat gets one’s tongue plenty of times in grammar school, especially when one hasn’t done one’s lessons.  But to be so frightened as to be unable to speak for a long period causes problems in and of itself.

*****************

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The Beings are still bothering me.  I woke up feeling fine but they tried to interfere while I was organizing my room (they are the antithesis of organization) and while I was working on my study plans just now.

I talked to my friend Joshua in Philly last night.  He said, basically, “Told ya so,” in regard to having lowered my meds right before this trip.  I could have told him the same thing about his buying a 20-year-old truck a while back.  It died a few days ago.  Kaput.  Told ya so.

More later.

It’s a beautiful, dark day in the neighborhood

These residencies are supposed to be fun.  They’re supposed to be enriching, educational, inspiring, and exciting.  But folks, I’m having a miserable time here.

The Beings started bothering me three days ago and haven’t stopped.  They are wrecking my concentration and my ability to read and write.  My self-esteem has fallen to a deep cavernous low.  I keep myself isolated and speak to people only at mealtimes.  I have, however, told a few people about my condition, and I find everyone I have spoken with to be tolerant and understanding.  This is 2007, after all.  When I had my breakdown in 1981 I found people at the liberal arts college I attended (Bennington College) scornful and snobbish toward me.

I have been taking the extra Thorazine but because I am under so much stress, the medicine has been making me sleepy and it has been doing little else.  The Beings are interfering with everyday conversations to the point where I feel and probably appear stupid or spacy.  I’ve been in contact with my therapist and my psychiatrist but they’re so far away, there’s little that they can do.

I am supposed to participate in a student reading tomorrow night.  I am unable to read or make sense of the piece I was going to read.  I can’t read it aloud and I can’t make sense of it!  I stumble over every word, yet I’m told that the piece makes sense and flows nicely–why can’t I read it or understand it?  Am I stupid?  Should I back out of the reading, or should I choose another piece?  Maybe a set of short pieces?

Tuesday night when the Beings were out of control I called the campus’s emergency person, who came and sat with me while I explained my predicament.  I was in tears.   Folks, these Beings are Evil.  They’re nothing to mess around with.

I’m looking forward to getting the hell out of here and coming home.  I miss my apartment, I miss Puzzle, I miss QB, I miss the crappy weather.

Welcome to Fort Worden, Port Townsend, WA

This morning I awoke at 3:45, showered, and came up to the computer lab, intending to write to all of you about the wonderful time I’m having here in Port Townsend, only to find the buildings–all of them–locked.  I tried my dorm keys in the locks to no avail.

You know, I must have looked pretty damned stupid, walking around an old military fort, trying to get into locked buildings at 5:30am, carrying everything but the kitchen sink around on my back and sporting a headlamp flashlight.

I’m glad I’m here.

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A Beautiful Dayat Port Townsend

Welcome to Port Townsend, Washington.  It was beautiful here yesterday.  Here’s proof:

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Today promises to be just as nice.  Temps are in the low 50’s, a welcome change from what I was dealing with in Massachusetts.  I’m happy to get away from it all.

Something that impresses me about Washington State is that the bicycle, here, is considered transportation.  In Massachusetts, bicycles are novelties ridden by reckless eccentrics.

Have a nice day.  It’s still breakfast time here.

My hair

2/12/2007


 


MY HAIR, PART 2


 


Joe told me never to cut my hair, and I never have.  But I had a dream the other night that I did.  Or that someone cut it.  I felt naked, and I understood, at that sleepy moment, exactly how Samson felt, when Delilah, armed with what was probably some sort of knife, ripped off his tangled hair, hissing like a cat, clawing at him with a desire that would stop at nothing.  I know this: Samson felt like he’d been raped.

Sleepful in Seattle

2/11/2007


 


SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, SKYWAY INN


 


The first thing I noticed about the airplane was the seat.  It was roomy.  Was I in a different class?  No.  Was the aircraft a different sort than the ones I’d been in when I went to England?  Probably not.  Then it dawned on me: I’ve lost weight.  How nice it was to fit comfortably in an airplane seat.


 


The guy sitting in the seat next to me was drunk to begin with.  During the two-hour flight to Chicago, he ordered three bottles of wine and drank them all.