The emergency room of a psychiatric hospital. Woof.
As sane and rational as I’d been for much of my life, it seemed inevitable that I’d find someday find myself in a place like this. I was given two blankets and a chair since the beds were apparently booked with the legitimate crazies. An old man with wild, white hair shuffled around the room while the rest of the patients were curled up in blankets and shitty game shows played on an old television. I sat close to the nurse’s desk and attempted some level of conversation if only to establish that I wasn’t on the same level as the rest of the patients. It worked. She asked me what had happened and I delivered the alternate version for the first time, coming up with it on the spot:
“I was on the roof of my apartment complex. Which wasn’t really weird, since I live on the top floor. It’s not like I went out of my way to get that high up, you know? Anyway, I was sunbathing and drinking some whiskey. I had looked over the edge at one point because I heard sirens and saw a helicopter… figured something was going down nearby. Apparently it looked like I was going to jump I guess and somebody, I don’t know who, called 911. I was depressed, and I do struggle with that, but I wasn’t suicidal. Never have been and hopefully, God willing, I never will be.”
I find it helps to mention God when you want Americans to take you seriously. Religious people are frequently more gullible and supportive if they believe you to be a part of their flock. The nurse was wearing rosary beads so I had her under my thumb within minutes. I’d convinced one staff member of my story, but I needed more support to really speed the process up. I wanted to be out of there as quickly as possible.
Another new patient was admitted, a woman of a slightly above-average height with many missing teeth. She was very unkept in general, so I presumed she was likely homeless. The lack of teeth suggested she was a crack addict or once was. Add to that the way she was shamelessly checking me out and licking her lips and I think it’s fair to say she sold herself to support a drug habit. Or maybe she just grew up in the deep south and had a shitty dental plan.
She sat beside me and introduced herself as Maggie. I couldn’t quite tell at first why she was in the psychiatric wing, aside from the shine of an unhinged glaze in her eyes. Then she said everyone had to stop talking to her because the more she heard the taller she would grow and it made much more sense. Yes, you read the correctly. She then turned to me and looked at me, dead serious, and said that she was “starting to like it on Earth”. She thought she was an alien, apparently. She also believed it was 6am instead of 6pm and absolutely no one could convince her otherwise. Meanwhile the old dude was crying and muttering how he “tried to do what momma told him to do” between sniffles. Needless to say, I wasn’t really digging the place.
Thankfully they transferred me up to the quieter floor where all the allegedly-crazy but more/less stable patients could go. There were six beds and only five of us were chosen to occupy this “normal” room. I was by the window, beside me was a younger guy that had done too much LSD. Across the way was an elderly PTSD patient that had attempted suicide while blackout drunk and just wanted everyone to shut up so he could sleep 24/7, a bipolar blind woman that seemed to suffer from paranoia, and a massively obese but harmless deaf mute lay between them. If he were able to speak he’d be a no-brainer for the role of Lennie in an Of Mice and Men production.
I was told by several different nurses that the doctor would be by to evaluate everyone by 9am the next day, so I anticipated being released shortly after. What’s one night? I thought. I spoke to the dude next to me briefly to again demonstrate I was sociable and sane before closing my eyes for the night, inventing cartoons in my head that evolved into dreams, my trick for passing out within minutes.
The next morning I woke up feeling great but one glance at the bolted windows reminded me that I was technically still a prisoner. California’s 5150 law mandated that I could be held involuntarily for up to 72 hours, but the doctor had the authority to release me sooner and I was hopeful. Different doctors came in to meet the other patients but nobody came to see me. I waited until 10am before asking the nurse where my doctor was. She said he’d see me “soon”. I felt my blood pressure spiking so I did some ab exercises and elevated push-ups to calm myself down.
When 10:30 hit I grew too impatient. I’d been forced to stay in this mental hospital against my will for over 15hrs yet hadn’t even seen a doctor yet. It didn’t make sense. The nurse tried again to tell me “soon” but I was feeling trapped and frustrated at the hours I was missing the start of the work week for nothing. I told the nurse to call who she needed to because at 11am I was going to leave the facility, or at least attempt to, unless I spoke to a doctor. She suggested I transfer back to the room I’d previously been in because the doc mostly worked down there and it would up my chances of seeing him/her. I wasn’t keen on going back to the nutty room but if it meant a faster release I decided it was worth it. While awaiting transfer, she had my blood pressure checked and it had skyrocketed to 195 which, and I could be wrong about this, put me at high risk of stroking out. I was offered an injection to calm down but I refused any treatment.
Once back down I was told that my location didn’t actually have an impact on how quickly I saw a doctor. Surprise surprise, the nurse had lied. A patient suddenly had a freakout and was forcibly showered, during which she took a dump on the floor. I didn’t see this happen, but I heard one of the nurses comment, “Watch out for the poop!” Sigh. She was put on a bed with numerous restraints and began to complain about being cold. One patient asked if she could give up her own blanket, but the nurse said no. She then asked if she could get a fresh one for her from the pile of blankets on a cart by the door, but the nurse said, “We are out of towels.” Another lie and this one didn’t even have a motive. It was just cruel.
Annnnnd finally the doctor shows up to see me. I tell him my situation, stress my need to get back to my job, and all the while he’s making a face of feigned interest. He’d already made his decision and it was quickly evident that my words were lost on him. “I cannot release you at this time based on my investigation,” he told me flatly. I asked him what his investigation entailed because the police report alone was not enough cause for such a decision. He admitted he had only spoken to one person. My father.
This was immediately significant for two reasons, the most relevant being that he had petitioned for medical proxy over his younger sister after she had attempted to jump from a bridge several years ago. Once he obtained that authority he’d approved eight rounds of shock therapy. Her brain was zapped and she was rendered a mere shell of who she was. He’d ruled out any other alternatives before giving them a chance, which didn’t bode well for me. The second point was that he and I hadn’t spoken for nearly two years. Whatever he had to say was irrelevant because he had no idea where my mind was currently at.
Regardless, he had encouraged the doctor to maintain the full 72-hour hold. Even 3,000 miles away back in shitty Upstate New York, my asshole father was still trying to destroy me in whatever way he could. He had a history of siding with anyone and everyone in opposition to myself, so it wasn’t a major surprise. It dawned on me that he could be biding time so he could catch a flight to Los Angeles and petition the courts here for medical proxy, then fry my brain just like he had my Aunt’s. It was, sadly, not as paranoid a thought as it sounds based on his track record of betrayal, abuse, and outright stupidity.
At this point I was furious. I had spoken plainly, clearly, and used a large enough vocabulary that the doctor had to have known I was highly intelligent. I’d established myself as rational and given a perfectly feasible explanation for the rooftop ordeal yet it had no impact on his decision. At one point it became a heated discussion.
DOCTOR: I cannot let you out at this time.
ME: You can’t or won’t?
DOCTOR: I can’t.
ME: It was my understanding that my release was entirely contingent on the doctor’s assessment. Are you not a doctor?
DOCTOR: Yes, I am.
ME: Then isn’t this your call?
ME: So why did you lie to me?
DOCTOR: I have not lied to you.
ME: You said you couldn’t release me but then said you could. One has to be a false statement.
DOCTOR: Do you have any questions at this time?
ME: Please don’t change the subject. I understand that any argument I make is just going to be ignored because you aren’t interested in what I have to say. Because this is really just a liability issue isn’t it? What did my father say that makes you think I’m going to finish the job if you let me out of here?
DOCTOR: Do you have any questions at this time?
ME: Yes, I have many. But it appears you aren’t capable of providing any answers so I won’t both to ask them. I would like to ask one anyway, if you don’t mind.
DOCTOR: Go ahead.
ME: How do you sleep at night? Ambien?
The meeting was over.
I requested to be transferred back to the quieter room again and a few hours later it was granted. During the interim I mostly slept as best I could to shut out the crazies, sans for one Arab man I spoke to at length though whose name I cannot recall. We were interrupted a few times by a black teenager that apparently thought it was super important to inform us that the stock price for Sprint was $32.31 every few minutes. Anyway, the Arab had voluntary admitted himself by pretending to be crazy but in truth just needed to detox from heroin. The emergency room was free while rehab would have cost him. It was a smart move. We discussed the state of our country, the politicians, big pharma, harsh drug laws, and how the system as a whole was increasingly designed to beat down the poor, minorities, and outspoken eccentrics while rewarding the true sociopaths with positions of financial and political power that only validated and encouraged their craziness. After the conversation he thanked me. “That was the first real dialogue I’ve been able to have in here about something that mattered.” I nodded my mutual appreciation and nodded off.
Once back upstairs, the same patients were there except the younger guy I had talked to that was set to be released shortly. This amazed me being that he had a large gash on his hand that he passed off unconvincingly as an accident and originally entered the facility due to hearing voices. His mother showed up and it was clear why he was being released and I was not. He had family that advocated for his release while mine pushed to have me stay. The contrast depressed me, but I managed to sleep yet again.
A nurse abruptly woke me up around roughly 9pm. I was told there were three EMT’s in the hallway to transfer me to another facility. I turned to the nurse, the one I had first spoken to and the only staff member that acknowledged I didn’t belong there and asked if a transfer was a good thing or a bad thing. She smiled and said it was good and that the 72-hour hold would still continue to count down, including the transportation time.
The EMT’s, two men and one younger woman, strapped me down to a gurney despite my insistence that I was perfectly capable of walking downstairs to the ambulance. They checked my temperature, blood pressure (which had eased) and my heart rate, the last of which was amusing because the woman, who revealed it was her first day, couldn’t find a pulse. Another EMT impatiently checked it instead but also struggled. I joked, “So am I being transferred to the morgue or…?” Thankfully they all had a terrific sense of humor. They found my pulse by pinching a vein on my wrist. Turned out my heart was so above-average that it was difficult to detect. Olympians have pulse rates in the upper 40’s and I was in the upper 50’s. According to the EMT, the average American heart beats 74 times per minute. A small silver-lining, I suppose.
Once loaded into the ambulance like a piece of luggage, I ended up cracking jokes for the majority of the hour long ride to Pasadena (the specific destination had not been revealed to me). The senior EMT worker mentioned how his 96-year old grandma also had a wicked sense of humor. “Well, she better,” I commented. “She had enough time to develop one, right?” We mostly talked about alcohol and how fucked up the 5150 law was in California, which was kind of funny since without that law the pleasant conversation we were having wouldn’t be taking place. It was an entertaining ride, during which they checked my blood pressure every 15-20 minutes.
We finally arrived at what I could now read to be the Pen Mar Therapeutic Center and it quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t a short-term care facility. But at least the law only allowed an involuntary hold for 72-hours. Right?
TO BE CONTINUED…