My first hospitalization (1983)

Hi Everyone!  I’d like to share with you a piece I’m writing on my first hospitalization.  It’s rather long and I’m not quite finished, so I’ll post in installments.  Progress is very slow, unfortunately.  I get a page done every other day or so.  I’ve revised this piece–and you’ve seen portions of it in various forms–so many times I’ve lost track.  What I’ve done in this version is to take out the “commentary” and left the experience, the “present” intact.  So what you’re getting is what happened.  I’ve sort of changed names and timing.  For instance, my birthday is the eighth of January, and I was admitted the fifth, so in fact it wasn’t my birthday the day I said it was, but you get the point.  There’s a little story about that birthday that I probably won’t include in this piece, though it would be interesting to do so.  I’ll tell you that in a future entry.  For now, here’s your first installment.  The piece has no title yet.

Trapped. Double-crossed. I sat scrunched up on a hard bed, feeling the watchful eyes of my roommate upon me. She sat in a chair in the corner of the room. Footsteps moved outside the thin curtain that separated my cubicle from the rest of the emergency department, and from the world. Simple questions–impossible: what is your name? where do you live? what insurance do you have? Mental trouble, they said, something amiss; they had hush-hushed me into the corner cubicle, here with Irene pretending to be perplexed, and the stethescoped nurse. I just took what hit me, and everything that hit me was hitting hard. The curly-haired nurse talked at me gleefully and suddenly I was in another cubicle. Irene talked at me as well, they both chattered but I couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand the words; they bubbled and broke before I could grasp them.

An alcohol tainted breeze brushed across my face as the nurse exited the cubical, ruffling the curtain. Irene, whispered, “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 tiptoed 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? They have a nice unit upstairs, Julie. You’ll like it. Don’t worry–me and my boyfriend will take excellent care of your car while you’re in.” Irene stole a glance at the clock. “What the–they sure take their sweet time.”

The curtain ruffled. “Don’t worry, just me, girls,” said the nurse, as she suddenly appeared back in the room. What’s so funny, Julie–what’s the matter, anyway?” she asked. She blurred in and out of focus. “Why won’t you talk?”

“Yeah, Julie. Talk.”

“Maybe Julie will talk to me alone,” said the nurse.

“Julie needs me to interpret,” said Irene. She pronounced “interpret” as though she had just learned the word from watching Oprah. But when the doctor arrived, the nurse hurried Irene away.

I didn’t even want to look at him. He had snake’s eyes.

“Julie, we’ve called your mommy and daddy and they’re coming to get you. Do you understand? You have no insurance. You have no job. You can’t stay here.”


You bastard you called my parents you violated my confidentiality I have no insurance I have no money but I know my rights you fucking liar. My breath came in short bursts. If I could talk I knew I’d be screaming obscenities. I pulled away from the doctor.

“Not so fast. Do you know where you are? Do you know you’re in a hospital?”


I nodded.

“Do you know who I am?”

Hate. Cocksucker.

“I’m Dr Beck. I’m the attending physician at the Emergency Room tonight. Turn around. Let me listen to your back.” I still hadn’t removed my clothes. I hadn’t been asked to. The doctor–I immediately forgot his name–lifted my sweater gently. I gasped at the cold feel of the stethoscope. I wasn’t wearing a bra, but that didn’t matter.

“I’m going to listen to your heart now.” The doctor placed his stethoscope between my breasts briefly, more a token gesture than diagnostic. I was there for psych, not my heart. Mutual understanding.

“Let me feel your neck.” I was afraid of his touch, but his hands were gentle, though moist and cold. “Now your reflexes.”

The nurse peeked in, interrupting us. “Doctor, the Greenes want to talk to Scully again. Should I call him? It’s late–“

“They’ll have to wait.”

“Yes, doctor.” She disappeared.

He took my wrist. “Wait just a minute. What’s here?” I let my arms go limp. It was useless to put up a fight, and so far, I hadn’t done so at all. I was a puppet without strings. He tugged at my sleeve. “Hey, what’s this?” He pulled the sleeve down further. My cuts. Shit. As he brought the sleeve down, more were revealed. Now my other arm. I had cut myself perhaps thirty times on both arms from elbow to wrist with a razor blade. Several razor blades–when one had become dull, I’d switched to another. Some of the cuts were fairly deep. Many were shaped like arrows that pointed toward my hands. Blood oozed from the newer cuts while the older cuts, partially healed, were purplish-blue and ugly.

“So how long have you been doing this? How old are these cuts? A week ago? A month ago?”

Decisions were made for me, very quickly.

Dressed in merely a johnny, I felt a chill in the air as I was wheeled toward the desk in what appeared to be the main area of the “unit.” The lights were darkened and only a small light shone at the desk. I gripped the arms of the wheelchair tightly. A phone rang and the nurse at the desk popped awake–apparently she’d been dozing with a newspaper crossword puzzle, pen in hand–she murmured, “Thank you, thank you,” and then turned to me and said, “You’re in room 401, bed A.” She walked past me into a small office. Lights turned on. I shielded my eyes. She came back out with a cup of coffee. She huffed and puffed as she stepped back toward me, as if it took some effort to walk around. The person who had wheeled me up, meanwhile, had disappeared. When the nurse came close, I noticed her dark hairy moustache and slight sour smell.

Another young nurse came through the same swinging doors that I had come through, saying, “Rita, do you want to go down now?”

“No,” Rita said, “I’ve got an admit.”

“Where? I didn’t see a patient come in. This late?”

“This young lady over here, cat’s got ’er tongue and she looks filthy. I told you,” she turned to me, “room 401, bed A. I’ll be in in a minute.”

I stood.

“Here’s your clothes and your bag. Wait a minute.” Rita began to giggle. “Sandy, have you ever seen anything like it?”

“Huh?” Sandy asked.

“They only gave her one johnny. Julie, get someone to bring in some nightclothes for you. You’re exposed in the back. And tomorrow, wear a bra. She came in wearing no bra, nothing, Sandy. Her.”

“Oh Jesus.”

“Not that room; that’s Jonathan’s room. Room 401. Don’t you listen?”

“Denise can cover at 2:15, if you want to go down then.”

“Could light up one right now–well, no, 2:15 is fine, I’ll get this girl settled–Bed A!–Do you have that Word Find book?”

“Lost it. Sorry.”

Rita decided to fill out the intake form herself, because I was silent and terrified. She held the form on a clipboard as she checked off each item: “‘Patient did not bring any valuables…’ Julie, you didn’t bring any valuables, right? Just nod your head. There you go. Okay, not allergic to any drugs, right? Not allergic to latex. What about food, allergic to food? Naw. What time do you wake up? I’ll put seven in the morning. You’re all set. Go to sleep.”

If the bed had come with a headboard, I would have banged my head against it; in its absence, there was the wall, but instead, I buried my head under the pillow and tried to pray. I tried to say the Lord’s Prayer but I couldn’t remember the words. God would know I was a sinner because I was a Jew and Jews were not supposed to utter the Lord’s Prayer; we were not even supposed to know the Lord’s Prayer existed. I got stuck on “forgive us our trespasses.” The pillowcase wasn’t soft, like a pillowcase you’d find at home; it was scratchy and well bleached. Christ, I couldn’t even pray right. I wiped my snots on the pillowcase and brought my head up; the cold air overwhelmed me to tears even though I was too terrified to cry; it seemed that my tears were too large for my eyes; they dropped onto my johnny and I felt that I was spitting out my teeth, spitting out all the ugliness and horror I’d seen that day, the evil eyes of Irene, my roommate, watching over me as I sat in the Emergency room; the doctor’s hateful booming voice: We’ve called your mommy and daddy…I spat it all out, and heard my hospital roommate roll in her sleep; a breeze gently blew in the room, shifting the curtain between us a bit and she rolled again; I lay down and tried to be silent; the curtain moved again and a beam of light seized the darkness–ahh! I clenched my teeth and felt my eyes widen, my whole body on the defensive. It was Rita with a flashlight.

“Just checking on you,” said Rita. “You should be asleep by now.”

Important Link

Speaking only for myself:

Things are bad with our country right now.  I don’t know how bad but I see Bush as the next Hitler if we don’t stop him soon.  I’ve discussed this many times with my friends and my brothers, and enjoy my speculation that Bush and Cheney will both leave office in shame.  I take comfort that he’s leaving office in ’09, but according to Naomi Wolf, ’09 isn’t soon enough.  She explains that there are ten “steps” toward a “martial state” in America or any country.  It happened in Hitler’s Germany and it is already starting to happen here.

View Naomi Wolf’s talk here: and click on “videos.”  Let’s get the McAssholes–all of them–out of office and into federal prison where they belong–in shame–BEFORE democracy fails!




you’re going to allow yourself kohlrabi for dinner, one pale green kohlrabi, peeled, diced, plain, raw, forty-eight calories per cup; it might taste good, and you like kohlrabi even though this one’s large and bound to be a tough one, so you peel it, or try to–a neighbor walks by on the porch and you wince in your mind at the thought of anyone, anyone seeing you eating nothing but kohlrabi for dinner, your place always smells of vegetable soup, and you want to pull the curtain, but doing so would seem unfriendly, so you close the curtain halfway (on pretense of keeping the sun out, or so you’ll say if anyone should ask) and you return to the kohlrabi, which is tipsying around on the counter–you steady it and try to peel it again; skin so tough it reminds you of a certain type of tree bark, the way it stuck to a stick if the stick was too green, the kind of green stick that won’t burn in a campfire; you peel the kohlrabi and there’s no end to the peeling, you gnash at it with knuckles and thumbnails until at last, at last, you reach the quick of the kohlrabi, there it is, the juicy center, peeling, peeling the skin–delicate, soft, tart, stringless, firm, perfect–it must be isolated–the peels must come down–but whether the forty-eight calories include the peel is another question entirely that you want to put out of your mind but you cannot, you think of your fat, not the fat that everyone sees but your private fat, the fat that only you can see, the fat that must go now; this fat is the reason why eighty-nine pounds is an unacceptable weight for you; it is okay for other people to weigh one-twenty, but you must be in the seventies or so because you are special, not at all like others, and need to be rid of that private fat that is the secret badness in your core that keeps you “EVIL!”
     and as you utter this word a new word forms–“Evil!” only it is spoken by another, by It

“Evil!” you say back to It
     “We are going to get you good, fucker!” It says

backed up to the wall now, kohlrabi spilled on the floor, knife in hand
     “you! you! your secret fat will be exposed to all We will see to that We will see to that We      will see to that”

everything gray and you tell yourself you are stupid with the knife, you throw it into the sink and crouch down by the door everything is gray everything is gray and fat
     “you! you! We will get you”
fear fear fear the grayness is almost complete then the buzz in your head and you know that’s where It is, in the back, the back of your head, you can’t remove It, It lives there, in your head–“GET OUT!”

“GET–OUT!” your fingers running through your hair trying to find It “GET OUT!” but It is already gone for now but the grayness is still there

and you taste kohlrabi the next day and the next, and everything is gray, you can’t rid the grayness in classes, while talking to other students, in the bath, and everywhere you taste kohlrabi, even in your coffee, kohlrabi, even in the blade of grass you put into your gray mouth, your mind so absent now–

“get out…get…out–“

the tiniest

     “everything MUST GO NOW!  We will see to that We will see to that”

…kohlrabi, kohlrabi, kohlrabi….

Recent Photos

I’d like to share some recent photographs.  The men in the photos are my neighbors with their pets.  I took the photos for a project our tenants’ association is doing, and chose the best to show you all.  In the other photos, Puzzle models the sweaters designed and knitted by Yours Truly.  There is one more sweater I have to photograph but I haven’t gotten to it yet.  Yours Truly also enjoys wearing a hat that matches Puzzle’s blue sweater.


Here is this essay in the form that I read at the recent reading for the CNW last Friday:


Political correctness has swept the field of medicine from dermatology to pediatrics, and certainly psychiatry has had its share of terminology-laundering.  “Loony-bin,” “funny farm,” and “nut case” are out, for obvious reasons, but some very, very sensitive people with an eye for anything offensive have declared that “mental patient” and “mentally ill” are out as well; the words are ugly and shameful.  These folks think they’re doing us a favor by inventing another, more pleasant word for what we really are: “Consumers.”

“Consumer” is a euphemism, and because of this, the user of the term is implying that our illness is of minimal importance; instead, our role in the economics of medicine is of more concern.  But let’s face it: “Consumer” has nothing to do with mental health.  It means Consumer Price Index or Consumer Reports.  A consumer is protected by Ralph Nader, not the Hippocratic Oath.  A consumer buys a car, a computer, carpeting, or coffee.  Do we call cancer patients “consumers”?  Certainly not.  Consumers of what?  CAT scans?  Chemo?  Who really does the buying here?  The drug companies market to doctors, not to patients.  For the most part, we have little choice regarding services; we use what’s covered on our insurance.

Okay, “consumer” implies one who discerns, makes decisions regarding acquiring something.  A consumer needs or wants something and chooses what to buy, where to buy it, and by what means.  A new TV.  Gloves.  Chocolate.
We don’t even get to choose insurance.  We take whatever insurance we can get, from the workplace or from the state or federal governments.  Most of us aren’t even insured.  Very few patients choose their health care plan; it is decided for them, which means we are not consumers but recipients of health care plans and health care in general–and let’s face it: how many people afflicted with mental illness receive adequate care or any care at all?  The inventor of the term “consumer” wanted to emphasize the pick-and-choose aspect of mental health care, implying that patients are discerning and proactive.  But do we really need to be called “consumers” to prove this?

Truthfully, mental patients, as a subset of patients in general, are the least able to make choices about their care.  The looming terms of “involuntary treatment,” “locked ward,” and “privileges” drive my point home here.  Why should we cover up the fact that it is the lack of choices that defines us?   Pink paper.  Section 12.  Restraints.

I don’t know if Patty Duke uses the term “consumer” to describe herself, but I do know she makes it no secret that she has bipolar disorder.  Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill–“consumers”? You’ve got to be kidding.   They also had bipolar disorder, both of them.  And I wouldn’t be caught dead calling Michelangelo, Ernest Hemingway, or Anne Sexton “consumers.”

“Consumer” tells the world nothing about the pain I have endured and continue to feel.  “Consumer” won’t tell you that when I first became mentally ill, I lost all of my friends because no one wanted to associate with a “mental patient.”   A “consumer” might take medication, but a “mental patient” suffers the side effects of sunburn, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation.  “Consumers” drive prices up and down; “mental patients” live and die.

There was only one time that I was allowed to make a choice about my care.  Due to the unreliability of Medicaid cabs, I had to stop seeing my therapist Dr. Barbara R, a fine psychologist who helped me immensely.  I was given a choice: Dr. Elsa R, or another therapist whose name I forget.  On Barbara’s recommendation, I chose Dr. Elsa R, one of the biggest treatment mistakes I’ve ever made.  So much for choices and the good they do.

I choose to be called a mental patient, a person with a mental illness, a person with schizoaffective disorder, a person with an eating disorder.  I have been hospitalized for a mental illness, I have been affected by mental illness, I have mental problems, I have a psychiatric disorder, I am mentally ill, I’m in therapy, I see a shrink.  I choose to be called by all these terms because they are accurate and unsentimental.

The most important choice a person with a mental illness ever has to make is the choice to seek treatment, the choice to cooperate with treatment, and the choice to be willing to heal.  The meaning of the term “consumer” doesn’t include this willingness.  “Patient,” on the other hand, specifies a person who is a recipient of medical care.  “Mental patient” is a person receiving mental health care.  Not all mentally ill people are patients; many do not enter treatment, sadly.  But people who recognize their illnesses generally are those in treatment or seeking treatment, those that should be proud to be mental patients, those proud enough to shove away the hands of those that pat our heads, beam with token pride, and call us their little “consumers.”  God help us.