Seclusion and Restraints: How it feels

I remember, I remember, well, I remember very little, except in flashes of dim light, like a candle held up by which to read the fading pages of an ancient diary. I remember a sign with my name on it, taped to the door of a room, and how hard it was to find my way back, no matter how many times I made the trip. I remember a nurse with blond hair named “Patty,” whose real name, Lil, I learned only the second to last day I was there. I think I liked her, or that she treated me with kindness, and another nurse named Mary Ellen, who was kinder still, but not always there to save me.

I remember too, but again in uncertain flashes that tell me only that something happened but not exactly what: Being carried by arms and legs into a cold, empty room lined with linoleum, dropped onto my back on the floor, dressed in just two hospital johnnies and pajama pants and locked in there alone. I remember begging for a mattress, then screaming in outrage when I was refused.

This is how it goes: There is nothing in the room but me and air conditioning turned on full bore, though it is October and in the 50s outside. Why do I need johnnies or the huge pajama pants that are falling off me without ties to hold them up? Alone in that room, I take them all off, then squat to pee and take a dump. Good, that feels better. Blankness. Cold, cold. Again I scream for a blanket. Of course, nobody answers. I try to push the johnnies under me to cushion my bones so I can sleep, but the shivers prevent me from relaxing. I have to do something.

I make a long rope of the silky acetate pants then form a slip-knot and put the O over my head with the knot to one side. I pull tight, figuring it won’t take long. I sit to one side of the little window in the door, so no one sees me immediately. Finally they come running. But they don’t understand it is a slip-knot and that pulling at it only tightens it  more. I am struggling for air. A nurse yells for scissors, bandage scissors the only ones available and they cut the pants free. Still, I am in big trouble. I would tell them I only wanted to get their attention, that I just wanted a mattress and a blanket, but what good would that do? Still, do they really think their act of violence, which will follow, will solve anything? Blankness. I have been thrown onto a bed in another seclusion room. As staff and goon squad wrestle my wrists and ankles into padded cuffs, I kick and bite in protest, all of which will be written up as my being “assaultive.” In the end, it is no use.  I scream and scream until the usual injections – 5 mg Haldol and 2 mg Ativan – take the scream out of me and I finally fall asleep.

That should have been the end of it. “Wake up calm and they take you out of restraints.” That’s the name of the game. But this time, I wake and I am still in full 4-points. I ask the nurse why. “Doctor’s orders,” he says. “But that’s punishment!” I answer, shocked. “No,” he says, “restraints are therapeutic. We never use them as punishment.” “Bullshit! Dr Z is punishing me because he doesn’t like me and you know it. He is a sadist.” The nurse doesn’t answer immediately and when he does, he just says, “Go to sleep.”

I remember how they kept me in restraints for 12 hours that time. The chart summary tells me more, that I spent a good part of 5-7 days in seclusion and/or restraints, so there is a lot I do not remember. Am I better off for not knowing? That’s what some people tell me. How would you feel? Would you want to know, or not to know?

————————————————————————————

I realize that the above is simply a restatement of an earlier more detailed post, so it must be obvious that I am still very troubled by what happened. Indeed I am. I am even more troubled by my lack of memory the rest of the three weeks there…which fact was noted even in the summary of my stay, which Dr B (Li) got from the hospital the other day (in lieu of what he requested, which was my entire chart.) Memory loss has dogged me for many many years. Only now can I acknowledge it, and only because Lynnie and others witnessed it. But for so many years I felt desperately  troubled and, well, desperate to hide it, afraid lest anyone know how little I could remember of what happened from day to day. This was especially extreme when I was in hospital but even afterwards it was troubling to me; sometimes I felt I was missing half my life! People — that is to say,  doctors. nurses,aides — expected me to remember ordinary happenings, because they obviously  thought that I was responsible for what I did from one day to the next, which you are not, not in the same way, if your memory is impaired. This expectation was so stringent that I dared not admit how little I did remember of events after they passed. I thought the scant trace they left would somehow prove my evil, prove that I was a shameful deficient person. So  I desperately took cues from others about what they wanted me to “remember,” tried to “pick their brains” about whatever it was that had happened, or that I had presumably done, whatever it was that they expected me to recall. Sometimes a concrete clue might help me piece things together – say for instance if I had scars or wounds that hinted at recent self-injurious behaviors or if there were scribbling on the walls that suggested another sort…But if there were no cues, it was much harder to ferret out what was wrong. Sometimes I might have to come right out and ask, “And you are referring to…?” But I didn’t dare do that often or it would have given my lack of memory away, something I didn’t dare permit…

Now here is the other side of the story, which I find hard to square with my experience in October: one  psychiatric nurse’s account of how situations involving restraints can look to staff.

 

3 thoughts on “Seclusion and Restraints: How it feels”

  1. Thanks for pointing that out, Pamela, I believe I have fixed the link to my blog. I got your email as well and will respond to that shortly. I hope to find justice in my involvement in the ex-patient/ex-consumer movement. It’s not strong where I live, but I will eventually help bring it here. For now the revolution lives inside me. I revolt against the system instead of sabotaging myself, or punishing myself for what a corrupt system did to me. I hope my story helps you feel less alone – we are definitely not the only survivors of psychiatric abuse. Keep up the positivism, and it’s nice to meet you.

  2. Hello,

    I tried to go to your URL but got the message server not found….so i dunno if it is real or made up but your email address also interested me so i thought i would write to you both by email and also in response to your — i felt — heartfelt message about memories of seclusion and restraints. Yes, i wonder too whether we will ever forget or be able to let go of thise horrific memories (or even the knowledge that so much is buried in amnesia?!)

    Anyhow if this reaches you, whoever gaviaswimmer is, i would be interested in Hearing more and an interchange, if it is something that is nit too much for you. I too want justice, and also peace…

    Thank you for your comment at any rate,

    Pam w.

    “There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner

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