SISTERS OF NO MERCY

POEM IN WHICH I SPEAK FRANKLY, FORGIVE ME

GOMER: ER-speak for a troublesome, unwanted person in the emergency department, acronym for Get Out of My Emergency Room

So many times gurneyed in by ambulance and police escort
“dangerous to self or others,” and too psychotic
to cooperate or scribble consent, you suspect by now
you are just a GOMER to the snickering scrubs in the ER
who whisk you in back with the other disruptives
lying in beds, waiting for “beds.”

One time you dip paranoid into the inkwell of your purse
extracting a paring knife more amulet than effective protection,
they strip-search you, then, unblinking, eyeball you all night
through a bulletproof plexiglass window.
In the morning, 15-day-papered so you can’t leave,
they send you ominously upstairs.

Later, at home, the voices decree your left leg
should go up in flames to atone for the evil within,
and you listen, and you do it, you do it:
the searing flare of cobalt actually crackles.
This time you tell no one, the char too deep for pain,
until fear of worse trumps your fear of being taken away.

This is not the story of your life.
It’s not the story of your life–
but every time a hulking goon squad clamps restraints
around your flailing wrists and ankles, threatening
to prosecute you for biting those hands that shackle you,
you wonder if there will be any other…

© Pamela Spiro Wagner. All rights reserved (Please note that I request that you do not reblog, reprint this poem or save this poem for anything but personal use. The rest of this blog post may be used if you credit Wagblog properly.)

________________________________________________________

A new reader, Rachel, has had training as a nurse, and is not reluctant to share her insights from the other side of the gurney, so to speak. Her comments have been enormously illuminating to me and contain so much helpful information that I have asked her if I might post them on Wagblog itself so others might have the opportunity to read them “first hand.” I have collected all of the ones here at Wagblog (there are others on my http://www.aboutschizophreni.blogspot.com site) and will try to provide some context for each one so they make sense, if they do not by themselves.

This first comment was in response to my post, AM I CRAZY…Nov 4, 2012 — when I doubted the veracity, of fact if not experientially, of what happened to me at the ED last summer.

Here is what Rachel wrote:

“OH….. Pam. I completely relate to this post…

Is anything more traumatizing than not being able to trust your own perceptions? I don’t think so.

I have so much swirling around in my head that I could say about all this, it’s hard for me to sort it all out, but I will try.

15 years ago I went through nursing school. One of the things that was greatly impressed upon us in our training was the fact that medical charts are Legal Documents – therefore, you must be ultra-careful about what you write in the charts! Also, there is so much charting and other paperwork required, to meet the legal demands of insurance, etc., that it is truly impossible to do the charts “right,” and still find time to do the actual job of patient care. So… just because important happenings are not recorded in your medical chart, that should by no means be taken as proof that it did not in fact happen, in some fashion.

As for that security guard…. sigh… I’ve led a strange life… about 20 years ago, for part of one year, I worked as a security guard in a bank. The security guard who trained me was one very scary dude. All he did was talk about his wonderful collection of guns, and his beloved hobby of shooting those guns, and bragging that he would have made a satisfying career out of being a hit man, if it weren’t for these pesky laws against being paid big money to commit murder! I became so alarmed by this fellow’s homicidal rants and ramblings that I told our boss all about it. The male boss, a retired U.S. Marine, dismissed my concerns out of hand. “People who talk about killing never do it,” he said.

A few months after I left that job, the hit man wannabe shot his fiancée. It was an accident, of course, he having so little experience with guns….

I am so sorry for this latest cruel trauma you have endured, Pam. Just being treated so roughly is enough to put any person at risk of losing touch with reality. As the late Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, survivor of nearly 3 years in Nazi concentration camps, said in his life-changing book, Man’s Search for Meaning: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

I believe that is probably what happened with you this past July. You were thrust against your will into an abnormal, traumatizing, soul-annihilating situation, which undoubtedly unleashed multiple memories of similar traumatic indignities in the past. You were being treated, not with the kindness and compassion that you needed and deserved, but with palpable disdain. Harsh thoughts and hateful emotions are communicated, far more than with words, via body language, facial expressions, the eyes, the tone of voice, the “vibes” – even a so-called dumb animal instinctively knows when it is not safe, when the people in charge are not to be trusted.

A nurse, concentrating on giving injections in the proper way and in the proper amount, is not going to be paying any attention to what exactly a security guard is doing, or saying. Also, if she realizes after the fact that she gave an injection for which the order had already been cancelled, I am sorry to say that too many nurses, AND nurse instructors, are NOT going to admit that in the chart. I know this, for I’ve witnessed it firsthand. It’s sad, it’s illegal, immoral, and potentially deadly dangerous , yet it is true.

As for having a run-in with a security guard who has a homicidal attitude? I’m sorry to say that they are not at all uncommon, either.

Did your terrified, traumatized mind fill in the blanks with words he did not actually say, as a way to make some kind of sense from what he had done to you? Maybe. But the fact remains that your autonomy, your power, your rights as a human being, were taken away from you, and you were thrust into a terrifying, traumatizing, abnormal situation. For you to be put into such an extremely abnormal situation, particularly in light of all the old trauma memories it undoubtedly evoked in your mind, an abnormal reaction on your part in such an abnormal situation is, really, truly, Normal Behavior.

Rachel

My response to her comment:

All I can say to these things, Rachel, is WOW! I may have to rethink my blog post. Maybe some of what I thought was not delusional but did in fact happen. For instance, I wrote so often that I got those 3 shots. Now I am thinking, maybe i did indeed get them, because why would I pass out so immediately from a mere 20mg of Geodon and 1 mg of Ativan. But with 5 mg of Haldol added it would make more sense.

As for the guard (I refuse to call them security guards as they provide NO security and are in my opinion out of control thugs) I think he may indeed have compressed my neck, if only by holding me down in such a way as to restrain me roughly. Whether or not he intended to strangle or kill me, I dunno. And I have no idea whether or not he said those words, only that they do echo precisely what those nurses said or I hallucinated they said over the hospital PA system about my phone call, which they claimed to have recorded and were also replaying over the same PA system…So if those were the same words, perhaps it was only a hallucination. But perhaps only the words, not the rest of it. Thank you SO very much for validating as much as you have. I truly appreciate your contribution to this site and hope you will continue to offer what you know and have experienced. It is so welcome!

Pam

Rachel’s next comment was in response to my two new artworks: first the Killer Nurse collage, and then the Monet “take-off” of Argenteuil boats at evening…:

…Killer Nurse, HAHAHAHA! When I was in nursing school, a group of my fellow students dubbed themselves (oh you are going to love this): “Sisters of No Mercy.”

They were, too! By the way, I was elected class president by my fellow nurse students, an honor I did not seek out. When I realized by the end of the first semester that I am not cut out to be a nurse, I thought I could not let down my much-younger classmates who had honored me so, by dropping out! Thus I kept slogging doggedly away, and made it through to the bitter end, making all A’s or 4.0s, I’ve forgotten now how we were graded. Then I took the final big test that determined one’s eligibility to get a license, shocked myself by scoring in the top 1% in the entire nation, gave the big Class President year-end speech at graduation, got my diploma, obtained my license, and…. I worked 3 or 4 days as a nurse, hoping to get my money’s worth out of my costly education, but I still wasn’t emotionally cut out to do the hard job of a nurse and I knew it, so I abruptly quit, and let my license expire.

If you have to be a “Sister of No Mercy” to make it in that profession, you can count me out!

Rachel

Then her latest comment is again in response to my blog entry titled AM I CRAZY? and  my response to her first comment.

You are most welcome, Pam, I’m so glad my words could help.

I just want to add this, though: most of the security guards I worked with so long ago were very good people. There was only a small percentage of guards who had that scary macho-swagger itching-for-trouble attitude. You find people like that in every segment of the population, as I’m sure you know. But it truly did seem to me that a higher-than-average percentage of such types are drawn to work that allows them to wear a uniform and carry a weapon and push people around. These types are more like children playing at cops-and-robbers, than adults doing a serious job.

On a typical day, standing around in a security guard’s uniform watching the world go by is the most boring job on the planet. When finally “something happens,” these “Make My Day” gung-ho types come alive, and in the worst way.

As for the job of nursing… that’s a very different thing. I worked for a couple of years as a nurse’s assistant, before I finally went to nursing school. Nursing is HARD. Really, it’s an almost impossible job. There are never enough nurses, meaning most hospitals and nursing homes are chronically understaffed, and therefore there is never enough time to get everything done that needs doing. The work is absolutely overwhelming at times. You can work your entire shift at a flat-out RUN and STILL not be able to do it all, and do it “right.” You need 6 hands, you need a stomach made of cast iron, you need a backbone made of steel, and you need feet that can take an unbelievable pounding.

A person can go into nursing with a heart of pure gold, caring and compassionate and empathetic to the max, and the day-in-day-out unrelenting MISERY you see all around you will either kill you, or make you harden your heart in self-defense. As a nurse in a busy hospital, a nursing home, and most especially in an emergency room, the world is one big gaping aching wound, a bottomless pit of sorrow and need, and nothing you do is ever nearly enough. You need to be in 10 places at once, doing 10 different things, and almost everyone demands and criticizes, if not the patients, then very often their family does the complaining.

Stay in nursing long enough, and it is almost impossible to hang on to both your sanity, and your heart. This is why I could not do it! I only worked one week in an emergency room, this was as part of my nurse’s training, and that one week of non-stop, often life and death emergencies, almost did me in!

As I read your vivid, beautifully written description of what you endured last July, I could SEE it in my mind. In the eyes of the nurses, you were not a suffering human being with worth and dignity and rights no less important than their own, you were merely an unwelcome interruption, a problem to be dealt with, quickly and firmly and with a minimum of fuss and paperwork. This was not YOUR fault, it was the fault of the system, for want of a better word.

But knowing how HARD nursing is, does not in any way excuse the harsh, hateful, disrespectful attitude you were shown.. yet it does, in my mind at least, explain it. I have seen and experienced it myself, from BOTH sides of the medical charts, this harsh, disdainful attitude.

I have witnessed this, both as a nurse-in-training, and as a patient. When you’ve been called from the bedside of a child whose body was crushed less than an hour ago in an automobile accident, and his mother is dead, his father is hanging by a thread, and if the child survives, he will most likely never walk again… and here is a patient who has nothing visible wrong with her, only she is “inexplicably” freaking out – the disdainful, put-upon attitude from the medical personnel who simply do not “get” the first thing about the very real horror of psychological distress, is very real. It’s not your imagination, and it’s not your fault, either. It’s just that they don’t get it, and they are overworked and exhausted and stressed and overwhelmed with the horrors of life in the trenches.

I hope you know what I am trying to say here? To you, in your time of extreme duress and suffering, the snappy bitchiness and cold-heartedness of the medical personnel, coupled with the terrifying physical roughness of the guard, must have felt so very personal. But YOU were not the real target, in my opinion. The nurse was probably (inexcusably!) bitchy because she was already behind in her duties when you were brought in with your immediate pressing needs, and the guard was probably an overgrown boy playing macho-cop-wannabe, who finally got to see some adrenalin-pumping ACTION.

Someday, if they live long enough, that guard, and the nurses, will become old and infirm, and they will most likely experience, in some fashion, what it is like to be the one who is disempowered, hurting, fearful, and in need of compassionate help, while being treated like they are nothing more than an unwelcome interruption, a pain in the ass, an unimportant, non-person. Someday, I believe, it all comes back around. At least, that’s my hope!

Rachel

Finally, the following comment concerns my post “Open Letter to Dr Deborah Weidner (Sept. 9, 2012)”

The memories this post brings back…. I was shaking inside as I read it. It was hard enough going through this kind of mistreatment as a powerless teenage girl in a state mental institution, I can’t imagine going through this now, at the age of almost-60. I’m so sorry you were put through this. Until I read this just now, I thought your emergency room mistreatment of last July was the worst you had gone through recently. But this…. I don’t know how you came through it. I think if this had been done to me, I would have permanently checked out of reality.

Your feistiness is what’s keeping you alive. The very thing in you that the “wardens” of the mentally ill want to drug and shame and torture out of you, that undying spirit of yours is why you are still here, still breathing, still functioning, and still able to coherently tell your story. You are amazing.

Rachel

4 thoughts on “SISTERS OF NO MERCY”

  1. Reblogged this on WAGblog: Dum Spiro Spero and commented:

    I just reread my poem and the incredible comments i posted from “Rachel” –who knows who she really is, a loyal and wonderful reader of Wagblog and a terrific writer herself — and i thought it bore a reblog right here on my own blog. Rachels comments about the difficulties of nursing in this insane world are right on! Thank you.

  2. Pam, your poem inspired me to write the following:

    ……………………………………………………….
    A BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF MY MADNESS
    ……………………………………………………….

    “You will be happier with your own kind.”
    My mother’s justification
    for locking her eldest daughter up
    and throwing away the key:
    “It’s For Your Own Good.”

    I was 14
    more child than adult
    more girl than woman
    although my mother had been saying
    since I was 12
    “No House is big Enough for Two Women”
    ~and~
    “I will be so glad when you are gone!”

    “All hair, freckles, teeth, and legs”
    my new stepfather
    affectionately described me
    I was:
    quiet
    shy
    compliant
    obedient
    a good student
    never mouthy
    not a back-talker
    and I never:
    harmed anyone
    nor threatened to harm,
    not even myself

    ~BUT~
    I heard voices
    ~AND~
    hearing voices
    was a very serious crime
    in 1967.

    Today
    more than 45 years later
    I am:
    a wife
    a mother
    a grandmother
    a great-grandmother-to-be
    I have:
    a high IQ
    and
    chronic PTSD
    but I have not:
    been considered schizophrenic
    nor treated for a psychosis
    since 1969.

    The massive
    over-crowded
    state insane asylum
    where I spent 2 of my teenage years
    was closed and torn down
    many years ago
    I have tried my best to move on
    leaving the past far behind.

    But in quiet moments
    of sollitary introspection
    the painful old memories
    rise up and haunt me
    with the immediacy of NOW,
    a fire kept burning
    as my newly widowed
    elderly
    narcissistic
    scapegoating
    gaslighting
    mother
    sends me letters
    unprovoked
    50 and 60+ pages long
    with copies to extended family
    chastising me
    for my disowned insanity
    insisting that I am
    “Too Crazy to Know You’re Crazy!”
    replete with dire warnings
    of Eternal Hellfire and Damnation
    if I do not
    Honor my Mother.

    I respond
    with
    silence.

    “Rachel Smith”

  3. Thank you so much, Pamela. I am honored and humbled that you saw fit to post my comments. As I told you in my email, I don’t usually write so deeply from my heart – it was YOU, your words, your blogs, your wonderful spirit shing through in all you write and create, that opened up the floodgates for me.

    Rachel

Talk to me! Let's continue the conversation.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s