That Can’t Be Right

It’s embarrassing to admit how much of my life is lived on an extremely superficial level. I’m not sure that’s always been the case, but in recent years deep analytical thought seems to have been replaced by enervation and placidity. “Things” are “okay”. “It is what it is” rules the day.

That’s about to change. Will this new perspective change the world? Unlikely. But I’ll never look again with an unjaundiced eye at, among other things, the field of “behavioral health” hospitals. Having been exposed to that can of worms, I now wonder what other little messes I’ve been ignoring.

Let me provide a tad of background: our family watched a dear family member (henceforth known as XX) slowly slip into what we variously learned was either bipolar syndrom or chronic fatigue syndrome. The competing diagnoses were provided by two different bonafide physicians, neither of whom was particularly helpful in the long-term.

Soon XX couldn’t hold a job, exasperated significant others to the point of divorce and/or estrangement, and finally became dependent upon the state for food, health benefits, and housing. It was through the state’s hospital system that XX was sent to the psychiatric hospital, euphemistically called a “behavioral health” hospital.

Based on a single page, pre-printed checklist, a woman called a “doctor” diagnosed XX as bipolar, and then proceeded to commit XX to a 30-day hospitalization, with no possibility of discharge without the doctor’s approval. The doctor, incidentally, is actually a nurse practitioner, although a psychiatrist is listed as “on staff”. After two weeks at the facility, XX has never been evaluated or even seen the psychiatrist.

Most important to the facility, a nurse told XX, all of the beds must be kept full in order to protect their jobs. (No kidding – this is definitely a for profit facility! But can you even believe an employee was that blunt in conversation with a patient?)

The hospital itself is a large single-story metal building, very secure. Locked up tighter than a drum. Staff use keys to lock and unlock the doors from outside to inside, from waiting area to hall, from hall to offices. Very much gives a confined, imprisoned feeling both to patients and to visitors.

XX says at least the surroundings are clean and the food is adequate. The nursing staff is pleasant, but the supervisory staff mock the patients and are quite rude. Medications are strongly enforced and injections are given forcibly if pills are rejected. XX says several patients vomit every day. Who knows – that could be due to addiction withdrawal symptoms, but in XX’s case it was a reaction to the medication. Whatever the case, XX now finds it difficult to focus, is dizzy, slightly disoriented, and always sleepy.

Group therapy is on the daily schedule. However, that has only occurred twice in the past two weeks. There seems to be no real cohesive attempt at therapy, but only a “marking time” (cynically I think that will continue probably until benefits run out), hopefully to be followed by a miraculous discharge.

Only one wall phone for 20 patients, and only severely restricted times to make or receive calls. Forget about cell phones, laptops, note pads, or TV – ain’t happening. Staff members accompany all family visits, which are limited to a specific half hour dictated by the staff and at no other time. Visitors must leave wallets and phones outdoors in their vehicles. Visitors cannot enter at all unless they already know the patient’s identification number.

From the standpoint of the visitor, this place is the next thing to a benevolent prison. One thing for sure…the entire experience is designed to be avoided! My heart goes out to someone mentally challenged who lands here. If they’re not crazy when they arrive, they may well be crazy when they leave!

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