Lockdown: Chapter 2: I Enter The Underground (1998)
Once the door locked behind us, the gentle resident took me down a short hall that ended in small communal area. There was a nurse’s station to the right, a small waiting room to the left and, between them, a long, dim hallway with closed doors.
I was taken into the small waiting area. It had a variety of chair types arranged in random order–they were all occupied by people with depressed expressions. Everyone looked up at me as I entered. A TV, which was turned on, was mounted in the top left corner of the room. There was one, big, padded recliner to my left below the TV. The recliner was occupied. I squeezed between the recliner and the wall, curled into a fetal position, and rocked back and forth on my heels while the other people in the room watched TV or stared off into space.
Eventually a staff member came in, told me gently, almost apologetically, that I needed to move–I had to be where staff could see me. I was floating. I felt like a child. I felt hypnotized. His words seemed to make my limbs move. He thanked me for my understanding and left.I stood with my back against the wall, withdrawn, imagining I was somewhere I could not be seen. Time passed slowly. I don’t remember exactly what happened, just that whenever staff periodically spoke to me, I said, As long as no one touches me, I will be fine.
Staff kept checking my blood pressure and heart rate. Each time we had a negotiation about touching me. I ended each negotiation by telling them they could touch me to check my blood pressure because I understood medical tests were necessary. Staff eventually told me my heart was racing so fast they were afraid I would have a heart attack during transfer to the psychiatric hospital. They said were waiting to see if my pulse would slow down.
I was eventually moved me out of the room into a chair whose back was against the nurse’s station. I felt less threatened because I was surrounded by friendly staff instead of potential mental patients.
A resident came behind me and, in the process of passing a chart to a nurse on the other side of the counter, he brushed the top of my head with his coat sleeve. I leapt up, unintentionally knocking my chair over, and backed away from him with both my arms extended— ready to defend myself.
I said rapidly- He touched me! He touched me! I felt like a small, scared child and assumed, without thinking, a defensive martial arts posture. I believed I was in danger of being attacked and eyed the staff warily.
My behavior appeared to alarm the staff around me. They said WHOA! and IT’S ALL RIGHT! The young resident who had touched me looked startled and backed away. The resident who had been dealing with me said, as he moved between me and the resident who touched me, IT’S OK JOHNNY! YOU’RE SAFE! He continued talking to me. He had a gentle, soothing voice- it was hypnotic and reassuring.
After a brief discussion, the staff decided to put me in a room by my self. The friendly resident took me down the dim hallway to a dim, unlit room, with a bed and no window that was far away from everybody.
At some point, I had taken my ear plugs out. In the room, the hiss and hum of the air passing through the AC vents was like a roar.
I put my ear plugs back in; wrapped myself in the bed’s sheet for extra protection like I did when I was a young child, curled up in a fetal position in the bed, and leaned my back against the wall so no one could attack me from behind.
As time passed, staff periodically poked their heads in. After awhile, the nice resident suggested I take a tranquilizer. I did. Gradually, I began to have a sense of well being. I uncurled from a fetal position, lay on the bed, then bored, wandered down the hall to the nurses station and back to my room.
A staff member, with a suspicious facial expression, took me a few rooms down the dim hallway to another dim room with only a desk and two chairs. He did the intake without turning on the room lights. He asked me a lot of questions. The only one I remember was- Why are you wearing ear-plugs?
I told him my hearing was hypersensitive. He appeared skeptical. He asked me to prove it. I took the ear-plugs out, and pointed out the slapping sounds made by the footsteps of someone walking far away down the hallway. Then I pointed out the hissing of the air through the air conditioning system.
The interviewer appeared surprised, affirmed I was hyper-sensitive and wrote more notes in my paperwork while I put my ear-plugs back in. He told me I was going to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. Something about the way he delivered this news made me feel like I had won a present.
I don’t remember what happened next, but after what seemed a long time, they put me in a van. A wire fence separated the driver from the passengers. There were benches on each side. Maybe there was someone else with me. The sun was setting as we drove over route 288. The traffic below flowed like a slow, red river because the car tail lights were on.
The driver was a talkative, jolly, black man. The cage made me feel both odd and safe. The driver made me feel at ease during the transport because he was extroverted and talked to me like a regular person. He took me to a dirty, unmarked, white door nestled between two tall bushes, and pounded on it.
Twilight was turning to darkness. Nobody answered. This irritated him, and he started complaining to himself. This change in his demeanor frightened me. It also occurred to me that the driver might be feeling afraid because it was getting dark and because he was alone with a mental patient. After a long time, an angry nurse came. They bitched at one another.
The driver was angry that we had to wait so long and the nurse was angry that a patient was arriving after the hospital front doors had been locked and the normal intake area was closed.
Then the nurse, still angry and complaining out loud to herself as if I did not exist, took me down a series of long hallways with dirty, dingy walls and poor lighting. We finally reached the hospital overnight area. It was a brightly lit mini-ward, with a nurse’s station and a few rooms to sleep in.
By then, I was confused and disoriented. I felt like I had just traveled through a series of secret tunnels to reach this very cold cave. It was too late to transfer me to an actual ward. So, I was to stay there the night- much to the apparent annoyance of the two black nurses who were in charge. They clearly were looking forward to a shift with no patients and I was the only patient there.
I told the nurses I had nightly medications to take and that I needed some food to take them with. I could see my medications on the nurse’s counter a few feet away from me. I pointed this out to the nurses. They replied it was hospital policy I couldn’t take the medications I brought.
The nurses explained, although my medications were in prescription bottles, they could be any kind of drug. The nurses stated it was too late to get replacement medications or food because the pharmacy and kitchen were closed.
The tranquilizer was wearing off. I was feeling manic and irritated. I got pissed. I told the nurses I voluntarily committed my self and that denying me medication would probably make me psychotic. The nurses argued missing my medications for a night wouldn’t be a problem. I told them I had lived with my illness for thirty years, I knew my limits, and that it would in my present condition. The nurses were unimpressed.
I told the nurses it was crazy to come there, only to be denied medication, forcing me to become psychotic when I came there to prevent psychosis. They said rules were rules. I didn’t believe they were telling the truth. I told them so. I also told them they were full of bullshit.
I continued to rant animatedly. Manic energy was coursing through my body. I rushed over to a public telephone on the ward. I called my mother because she was good at getting things done and parents of psychiatric patients often had more influence than their mentally ill children— no matter how old they were.
I told my mother the situation loudly enough for the nurses to overhear. I told her to call the hospital and get a hold of somebody, explain I had voluntarily committed myself to prevent psychosis, and find someone who could do something about my situation. The nurses shot angry, dagger eye looks at me.
Eventually, a white supervisor came down, brought me my most essential medications, a meal, and apologized. She said the meal and medications were from other wards. The supervisor was clearly irritated with the nurses.
She then told me, in front of the nurses, it was hospital policy to search the wards for the necessary medications for a patient in my situation. I expressed my appreciation and was polite and respectful to her because she had been polite and respectful to me.
The nurses hated me all that night. I know, because I hardly slept, and, every time I wandered around the small ward, they gave me dirty looks. I took to hiding in my room to avoid their anger as I waited for my transfer to the locked ward.
My mood stabilizer took the edge off my mania, and I managed an hour, or two, of fitful sleep despite the fact the holding area was quite cold and the blankets that were provided were ineffective. I alternated between feeling like a trusting pre-pubescent child and a scared adult.
I had difficulty staying inside my body and faded in and out of reality. I worried that I might be assaulted, or sodomized, and that my abuser might magically appear in my room. The latter fear forced me out of my room- even though the nurses were clearly mad at me. I felt some relief and safety because they were not men.