a brief history of inpatient

September of 2013 marked my first visit to psychiatric inpatient.

The distinction here for those who may not know is that inpatient therapy means you eat, sleep, and live in a psychiatric ward as long as your doctors deem necessary. What I learned too late was that you can leave AMA (against medical advisement) given you aren’t there via a court order.

This all started the morning after a night I had attempted suicide, although I don’t remember what the reason was exactly for that particular attempt. We ended up talking to the school psychologist about it and she strongly recommended I go to the hospital. This led to sitting in intake for a good 6 hours.

Intake is generally hellish. If you go to the emergency room and don’t call ahead to admit yourself at least a week beforehand, they hardly ever have a room readily available and have to wait until someone gets discharged. Once you get through the ER, they give you a locker to put your stuff in (no phones past intake, either) and give you the worst- I mean the WORST paper scrubs you’ve ever worn. The paper scrubs are color-coded purple so if you try to boost they can identify you before you get out of the hospital.

Then you go to holding. During this time you sit in a white room with a metal bed and a chair while doctors and nurses pass through and make you fill out stacks of paperwork. You fill out the same paperwork like, 5 separate times. They also try and figure out what led to you being there, and you get asked the same questions by two or so different doctors until somebody takes your case. Generally the doctors are pretty tired of working intake, so you don’t get a lot of sympathy here.

You can get food while you’re there, but it takes 3 or so hours to come. It’s also really hard to get out and go to the bathroom. If you aren’t restrained to the bed, the second you open the door some nurse will come barreling down the hallway and tell you to get back in the room.

If all goes somewhat well and they do have a bed for you at the end of the night, you’re wheeled to the actual ward where they show you your room and give you the worst- I mean the WORST paper scrubs you’ve ever worn. The paper scrubs are color-coded purple so if you try to boost they can identify you before you get out of the hospital. When I got upstairs it was about 10 or 11pm and most of the patients were sitting in the activity room after having dinner. The activity room is full of deceptively soft-looking couches, but when you sit on them they’re actually hard plastic. You cannot bring blankets or pillows into the AR. It’s cruel.

If you’re lucky they’ll give you fabric scrubs the next morning. I was not lucky. I also did not know that you can ask for fabric scrubs, so I sat freezing my ass off for three days.

The kids there are usually pretty nice, but I remember there was a girl in there for self-harm who was more scar tissue than skin, a kid with severe OCD and Schizophrenia and a Bipolar II guy who wore the same 3 pairs of socks every day, played jazz way too loud and whose mania generally scared the shit out of everyone. I made friends with two girls- one who had been raped by guys at her high school and the other who was in for the same reason I was.

The first morning they take your vitals at 4am. I’m not kidding, they get everyone up at the asscrack of not-even-dawn to stick you with needles because some people struggle so much it can take up to three or four hours to get through 15 kids. I was terrified of needles at the time, I didn’t struggle but when I got my blood drawn I passed out immediately.

Then you go back to sleep for an unfortunate 3 or so hours, and they wake everyone up again so that anyone who wants to shower can do so. The showers have one tiny little space in the wall to stick your shampoo or whatever. There is a brushed metal mirror (what even is the point of that?) and a little sink and a toilet. The water from the shower runs all over the floor, so if you spend too long in there or get too crazy with shampoo your entire bathroom is a slippery hellscape the rest of the time you’re getting ready. I usually showered pretty quickly and then went to the little bank of phones on the wall to call my parents and update them on whatever craziness had occurred lately. Those phones are hard to get to once everyone else sneaks in.

I should also mention that the first few days, until you get to “green” and the staff trusts you, they watch you while you go to the bathroom and shower. After that you just have to keep the door ajar.

Then it’s breakfast, then group, (also gym and sensory therapy for me, and hospital school) and the days blend together in overmedicated numbness for a while until your treatment team starts saying things like “discharge” and you join the living world again. When that starts up, your parents are brought in for meetings to determine whether you’re ready to leave cushy-hospital-world and enter actual-adult-world. You might even get a couple on-grounds passes (meaning you can go and walk around on the hospital campus and get REAL FOOD! at the cafe downstairs).

My dad finally put his foot down for me to leave and I left with five different diagnoses: OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Psychosis NOS. None of this really meant anything except for the depression and psychosis, for which I was prescribed the same medication I’d been on during my stay.

There were a couple times after that where IP was brought up, but I haven’t been back in a while and I don’t really plan on making a visit again. Overall the experience is really stressful and surreal and expensive and only worth going to if you’re really in imminent danger.


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