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Part Four: Why Did You Decide to Move to Argentina?

June 27, 2010

In the hospital, I feel like a panicked bird trapped in a house.

No cigarettes. No fresh air. No windows that open.

What do you do when you're banded, but you know you're a man? Photo: iwona kellie

The ward is L shaped and overlooks downtown Louisville. People and cars move below, but we are invalid. Invalids. Zeros.

This time I know the drill. It’s supposed to be 72 hours for evaluation, but they never let me out then. Someone has always had to lie, saying I’m suicidal to get me taken off the street. This makes the staff very careful not to let me go too soon. My word means nothing, though I’ve never been suicidal in my life. Not one word I say holds sway or has any power. The angrier I get, the less my words mean and the less my words mean, the more angry I get.

I dial out. Call my lawyer. Leave messages about the doctor that gave me the medicine that made me psychotic. Messages about my pain and suffering.

I am in a room alone. The bed is bolted to the floor and there is a camera in the corner. Suicide watch. Suicide risk. Given the fact that my real problem lies closer to crippling paranoia than being suicidal, this is not especially helpful for me.

Spire visible from the ward, Photo: Daquella manera

We get up before 7AM to the cry of, “Vitals! Vitals time!” Shuffle in hospital robes and rubberized socks to get our blood pressures and temperatures taken and to be fed breakfasts of congealed cold grits and rubbery scrambled eggs with damp steamed toast under flourecent lights. To get them, we wait in line next to a metal cart in the dark hallway until they call our names. The orderly hands our trays to us, removing a mauve, plastic dome with a flourish to keep the condensation inside so we can go eat at rows of fake wood tables under two wall mounted televisions playing news at low volume. They leave the blinds closed until the sun comes up.

I have no underwear or clothes of my own. They give me men’s underwear. It makes no sense to me that we can’t have shoelaces but are dressed in robes that in essence are unlimited potential rope with which to hang ourselves. The drawstring from our scrub pants are just as dangerous as any shoelace.

I’m sedated. Sedate. I may be woken from a deep, drugged, stuporous sleep after breakfast by a crowd in my room including the slight, bespectacled doctor and as many as 12 bright eyed, staring kids younger than myself. I am asked, but I give permission because I know that not to give permission may be seen as lack of cooperation. Once given, it is forever implied. Her questions are perfunctory, designed to get her in and out of the room as quickly as possible. If I ask her anything, I receive a short, unsatisfying answer, usually instucting me to ask someone else.

The staff tell me not to call myself an inmate, but I’m not allowed to leave so that’s what I am. And it’s my right, one of my very few – to call myself what I want to.

After 72 hours, not including weekends, I have a court date. It’s in a small room inside the hospital. There is a lawyer I’ve never spoken to before and a social worker who is ostensibly on my side, but who reveals infuriating content from the warrant including who filed it and reports from the hospital staff about my behavior as if I’m not sitting there.

Photo: Kate Sedgwick from Heal Thyself

What I say doesn’t matter. I can not conceal my emotion, my anger.

“She said she wanted to die, your honor.”

“I never said that.” My lawyer warns me to be quiet.

When I am given a chance to speak, I cry tears of rage, feeling provoked and impotent. This indicates that I am clearly still psychotic, emotionally unstable and probably suicidal.

In the hospital, I make friends with all the inmates who can hold a conversation and some who can’t. Most of these people I will never see again. They tell me the secrets of their lives. I try to be a good listener. To offer moral support. To be constructive. To be optimistic for them.

If there is anyone here who can understand me, anyone with whom my words have meaning, it’s the other people I’m locked up with. Broken people who can’t feel anything but depressed and useless, delusional people, confused people, women who were molested by their fathers, staring idiots drugged into submission, and rarely, someone who responds to my sniping, bitchy comments with a laugh instead of a blank stare.

We have group. We play games. AA comes by for on-ward meetings. They talk in platitudes. They smell like outside.

We get graham crackers with peanut butter for a snack. Three squares and two snacks a day. It’s about the only thing to look forward to.

I get ibuprofin for the pain. Huge 800 mg tablets. The nurses’ station is behind a wall of glass. It’s like talking to a bank clerk when I ask for painkillers, nicotine gum.

It’s so quiet. There’s no music. Outbursts are quickly squelched. One day is very much like the next. No one visits. Not this time. And after about a week of this, I am allowed to get dressed, have my possessions returned to me in a paper bag, am strapped to a gurney on which I smoke a cigarette with a rubber manacled hand while I talk casually with the paramedics, and am wheeled into the back of an ambulance to continue my involuntary commitment at the State hospital.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2010 11:25 pm

    I’m so in your story that I can’t respond to this in any headsy way. By the time I got to the description of breakfast, my stomach was in a riot.

    OK, the fourth time through I’m starting to see how you made this piece so strong.

    Was there anything to read?

    • June 28, 2010 12:32 am

      Thanks, Angie Reed! I was feeling that it was too general, but the problem is that it’s hard to keep them all straight. I want to be honest so had to eliminate incidents that may not have happened during this visit.

      Also, I couldn’t concentrate. I was psychotic or drugged. Words swam.

      • June 28, 2010 2:53 am

        I had the feeling that you probably had a lot of material you set aside in favor of giving us a general sense of the place. You can’t give it all to us at once, our brains aren’t big enough. And why the Muse invented flashbacks or something… it can all get worked in along the way.

        “Also, I couldn’t concentrate. I was psychotic or drugged. Words swam.”

        Three more FINE sentences.

        It is creative nonfiction, you are allowed to risk getting things wrong so as to tell us the truth.

        Also lovely to see Heal Thyself image making an appearance!

      • June 28, 2010 2:22 pm

        Thanks, Angie Reed. I was scouring Flickr for quite a while before it hit me that I had the perfect illustration already. I really appreciate the feedback. I really was worried that it was too generic, but then I guess most people have not had the pleasure. I think, though, that for the sake of truthfulness it would be better to set fiction in a similar setting to really get into detail. Plus, then I’ll have the added luxury of plausible deniability which I’m lacking here.

  2. June 28, 2010 12:00 pm

    Kate, is that last photo from a collection of yours? Would love to see more.

    • June 28, 2010 2:18 pm

      Thanks, Hal. If you click it, it’ll take you to a MySpace (Yes, MySpace. It’s old.) for that body of work.

  3. Ashley permalink
    July 2, 2010 1:58 am

    I started with this one, but went back and read them all.

    Thanks for sharing. I never have, I hope it is good to get out.

  4. Michelle Ferng permalink
    July 12, 2010 9:38 pm

    The Heal Thyself series is incredible. Really powerful yet mesmerizing work, just like your story. I, too, am hooked!

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