4: The Shot (1998) (Draft)
My second or third day in the locked ward I was wandering around the community area, avoiding other patients. I heard a loud, startling crash. I turned and saw a young, handsome, athletic looking, black man had flipped over a coffee table. He began yelling at a nurse.
The nurse was standing in front of him, about ten feet away, with her hands on her hips. Two big psych-techs headed for him from different parts of the ward. The anger on her face turned to pleasure.
The techs approached the patient systematically. One from the front, the other flanking the patient’s right side and moving quickly, but carefully, to position himself behind the patient. The front psych-tech was a thin, talkative, graduate student. The other psych-tech was a big, heavily muscled, Vietnam vet. Their expressions were dead serious.
The patient knew he was in trouble and put his hands up in the air like he was surrendering to soldiers. He said loudly, so everyone could hear —I’m ok! It’s ok!, I’ve stopped! It’s all over now!
The psych-tech in front was saying something to the patient, but I couldn’t hear what. But, it was too late for just talk. The big tech, now behind the patient, pinned the patient’s arms behind his back. The patient did not resist, But he did start yelling – Oh yeah, I’ve given up and both of you are taking me down! What big men you are!
The nurse, who apparently started the conflict, stood watching with a big, wide smile as another nurse moved in and gave the restrained, and passive, patient a shot.
The psych-tech’s weren’t listening to the patient complain as they hustled him to the padded isolation room. They pushed him in, shut, and locked the door. The door had a small, circular window. They looked in the window and walked away.
While this was happening all the other patients, wherever they were, whatever they were doing, stood frozen in place, including me. No one told us to do this–it was an automatic communal response.
The patient began pounding on the walls, cursing, crying, and screaming- God damn it! Let me out!
The staff ignored him and began doing paper work. The rest of us, as if freed from a spell, went about our business. After a short time, the patient fell silent.
It was clear to me the nurse had incited the patient’s anger. But, I was new, so I said nothing. A couple of other patients went to the nursing station and tried to report this. The staff ignored them.
I realized then, it was them against us. Like the police and the public, there was a thin, but very strong, line that separated caregivers from patients.
Patients, who had been there awhile, or who had gotten “the shot”, talked about how unpleasant it was. By the afternoon, everyone on the unit dreaded being given “the shot”. So, I kept my nose clean, was polite to the psych-techs, and hid in my room when I got agitated- all things that came natural to me.
Twenty-four hours later the patient was out. He bumped into me as he passed by because his gait was unsteady. He apologized, said–Man, I feel like I’ve been hit in the head with a brick. His speech was slurred and he rocked a bit as he stood.
He said–Man, I never want to have “the shot” again. You should avoid it if you can.
We talked for awhile. Although hung over from “the shot”, he was friendly, open, and talkative. He seemed like a really nice guy. I’m not stupid. I’ve talked with a lot of intelligent people, and I have a mild interest in astronomy and astrophysics, but he talked about cosmology, time and space in a way that made me feel dumb.
At first, I thought it was because he told me he had done so much LSD. But, the more I listened, the more it seemed this uneducated, 24-year-old forklift operator, with a penchant for reading and hallucinogens, not only knew what he was talking about but might be the smartest man I’d ever met.
Of course, I was in a locked psychiatric ward and was manic. So, I knew I might be wrong. But, the psychiatrists must have wondered too, because in a triage psych ward that normally stabilized people in three days, then sent them on their way, they had him taking IQ tests on the third day.
I know this because he came up to me, described the tests he had been given, and asked me if I knew what they were testing for. I had been given IQ tests, and taken several college psychology courses that covered them. I explained to him what I knew, and we both agreed the situation was strange.
The fifth day I was there, he left. When he came to say goodbye, we exchanged phone numbers–a common practice among patients on the ward with dual diagnoses–drug and mental problems, but not with me.
I had every intention of contacting him when I got out and developing a friendship with him, but, by the time I was released, I didn’t want to deal with anything that reminded me of my stay. So, I never called him. I guess he felt the same way, because he never called me.
In the days after he left, those of us more in contact with reality kept track of the nurse’s behavior. We noticed she was unhappy and angry when she came on shift. We learned she was working double shifts. We watched her incite several other patients. She would find a patient (usually black) and, out of earshot of the other staff, be confrontational, rude, and disrespectful.
It was clear that she knew how to push some patient’s buttons and whip them into a frenzy, so the techs would take the patient down. She’d watch with a smile as another nurse would give the patient “the shot” and as the patient was put in the isolation room.
It was bizarre. I felt like I was in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest— except this real life Nurse Ratchet lacked the finesse of the fictional one. Various patients tried to communicate their concerns about the nurse’s behavior to staff.
I tried to broach the subject with both psych-techs involved in taking the patient down. As it turned out, they were willing to share that both hated to put people in the padded room. Patients urinated and defecated on the floors while locked up. Some spread their feces on the walls. The psych-techs often had to clean the room up.
But, it seemed like they were not listening to my concerns about the nurse because they were unresponsive. Eventually the other staff picked up on her behavior, and after the second week, I never saw her again. The unit was much calmer with her gone.