Art created at the Torture Chamber called the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital

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I was a prisoner at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living’s Donnelly 2 South from January 10th until February 7th, 2013, the day before the east coast blizzard, and I only “escaped” because the torturing doctor went on a four day vacation and the substitute decided that I was not actually psychotic any longer and did not need seclusion or restraints after all…and opted to let me go the very day I was freed from both.

 

Good thing too, because it was a Thursday and all travel stopped the very next day and for several days after that. The picture above is one that Shedana, RN liked very much. She said it captured her “physique” and while the flooring is imaginary, the unit was structured much as it is pictured. At least while I had a bed on the unit, with my door facing the med room and another bedroom opposite. Shedana was a “good egg” but of course it didn’t help when they decided to attack me in force and secluded me for two weeks and worse…But more on that later.

 

The first doctor I had merely convinced me to take, semi-voluntarily, a fairly stiff dose of Zyprexa. which I tried to do with regularity. I soon found, however, that far from being the miracle drug it had once been, mixed with Abilify and Geodon it induced a state of apathy and boredom. As if the Intake and Feeding drug, the drug on which I used to feel enthusiasm to learn and read, Zyprexa, simply mixed very badly with the Output drugs of Geodon and Abilify, such that I neither could read and learn, nor do art or write. In any event, this abysmal lethargy pushed me out of desperation to paint this, in oil pastels.

 

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After that, I simply started refusing to take the Zyprexa, and refusing a lot of other things…A great deal of abuse happened. But I did this picture before all my art supplies were confiscated for no reason other than punishment (you cannot damage yourself or others with soft oil pastels)

 

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Before I tell you some of what happened, without naming names, lest a legal case be made against them, as there might possibly be a chance to do, let me show you most of the rest of the art I did there, though one of them is unfinished and may never end up being finished, since it was hospital art and may stay that way.

 

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This one is an oil pastel, me with a dung beetle pushing a ball of shit around on my cheek…Says enough just that, doesn’t it.

 

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This one can be turned any which way to see all sorts of things buried in the picture. It was the one I started first and never did get to finish. What I can point you towards is the central object at the very bottom, which you can trace up to the blue figure and see what is happening. It should tell you something…The hand on the upper left is pointing at this process. Also, the exploding biohazard ball is part of it all, representing me, the all-polluting biohazard…But you have to look at the picture carefully. There is a Boat To Nowhere, and there are a couple of turtles, why, I don’t know…yadda yadda.

 

Finally, the very last time I had access to any art supplies, and I do not recall whether it was my last morning or some other time, I painted this one with oil pastels. I believe it speaks for itself.

 

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What happened was that they were routinely, literally routinely restraining me “for not following directions” as they would quite openly state. Four-point restraints, in a tight no movement position, for many many hours at a time, with absolutely no indication of how, just how, I might “earn” my freedom. Of course they wouldn’t tell me what I could do to “be good” because I hadn’t done anything to ‘deserve” restraints to begin with as they knew perfectly well. For example,. and this was typical, but it was one of the few opportunities I managed to document because they ha removed all my writing materials, illegally, but I forgot that I had a right to a crayon and paper until Feb 6th. That afternoon, I simply walked away from my seclusion room. I had had enough of them saying it was “merely a side room” not a seclusion room, then preventing me bodily from leaving it. So when I could do so without someone actually wanting to fight me, I walked away, and proceeded to enter the unit and walk down the hall to the end and look out the window, I took a deep breath, heard THEM behind me, and sauntered back to the proper end of the hall, the “lost end” where they kept anyone from seeing me or knowing what they were doing to me. Once I got there, they descended on me, the horde of the goon squad, some staff I knew, but most I did not. I did not bother to look at who was doing what to me. I simply lay passively on the bed, and put my arms out so they could do what I knew they would do. Tightly, they shackled my wrists out past my hips so there was no play in the restraints and I could not turn on my side or do anything but lie stiffly on my back. At the same time, others jerked my feet apart and just as tightly shackled my ankles to the lower corners of bed. Then came the coup de grace. They pinioned me on my side somehow, pulled down my pants, and injected me with three drugs: Haldol 5mg, Ativan 2mg, and Benadryl 50mg. Why, except as punishment I do not know. because I had, just a half hour before, been doped up on involuntary Zyprexa 10mg.

 

But of course it was punishment. The very fact that they told me it was “not punishment” but “what your behavior brings on every time, Pamela” only proves my point. At first and usually they only said, it was because I “didn’t follow directions” so if they were not punishing me, what were they doing? They most certainly were not following Centers for Medicare and Medicaid regulations for the use of Restraints and Seclusion only in cases where a person is in imminent danger or harming self or others! Indeed, the best they could do, when I protested, passively, saying just those words, was to respond, “You are not safe” as if that proved somehow that I was in danger or posed any imminent threat to the safety of anyone.

 

No, I did not. I didn’t threaten or harm anyone. I merely walked the length of the hall and looked out the window and then went back to my solitary confinement. But it was enough to trigger their retaliation, and that started at 1pm. I was not released, not even to use the bathroom or eat supper, no never even was a single hand freed to permit me to eat supper — until 7pm.

 

THEN, at 8:30pm, I became upset and frustrated because — well, I do not know now why, but I “threw a half a graham cracker at the wall” as I recorded later. And the goon squad descended on this dangerous patient again, not only with the strait jacket of four point restraints, but with the same 3 drug IM-in-the-ass cocktail.

 

This time, however, passive as I was as they trussed me up — and I said only, “For shame, for shame. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, doing this to me…” — passive as I was, allowing them to seize my limbs and tightly shackle me yet again in truth I dared not resist, as that would only have justified their violence, and i already had my share of bruises. Bur I had come to my limit of the abuse i would silently tolerate. They could restrain and seclude me but they had up till now only silenced me in restraints because iu wanted to earn my way free quickly. THis time I didn’t give a damn. It was nearly nine o clock and no one knew what they had done to me. Everyone was getting their bedtime meds and going to bed without any understanding of what was going on. I was a stranger to most people on the unit, who had no idea I even existed. THAT was a situation that had to change. NOW.

 

After they trooped out of the room, stationing a 1:1 sitter at the door as usual, I stopped my merely silent and passive resistance and started to scream. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to scare people. I wanted them to wonder, Who is that person,. and what in god’s name are they doing to her? Are they torturing her? And I wanted them to ask questions of the staff that the staff could not answer. I screamed and I screams in desolation and despair, feeling like my life was at an end. The plan they had set up for me was impossible for me to live up to. In nearly 10 days I had not even earned my way to a pencil and my journal. Only to restraints and more restraints. I saw no way out of the hospital. So I screamed, long blood-curdling, heart-wrenching screams that I assume did the job of scaring all, as eventually they closed my door, much to the disgruntlement of the sitter who was forced to come inside with me and was no longer free to socialize. But not for a while. I kept on screaming until my voice gave out and I felt asleep.

 

The next day the substitute doctor freed me, I dunno why or how, but she did. and I thank my lucky stars as the staff doctor was a sadist and never would have. I have a lot more to say, but for now I am hoping to hear from a sympathetic lawyer who will take on my case for some reason for some purpose…Unlikely to happen. despite my bruised body and joints that are so out of whack I cannot sit indian fashion or cross my legs. Why won’t they help me or respond? I didn’t die, so they won’t earn a lot of money from my case, nobody gives a damn about mental patient abuse…

 

You really know when you are a third class citizen when you only MIGHT be worth more to them dead than alive.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Art created at the Torture Chamber called the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital”

  1. I am glad your experience was decent, but i think if you do some exploring, you may find that for many many other people it was quite the opposite. In any event, thank you for your comment, i agree that hospitals in the 60s in private hospitals at any rate, there was the opportunity to do good work, if you had the funds and a compassionate staff. Different entirely were public hospitals…though even then many were open units and not double locked and dependent entirely on medication as they are now. Things are MUCH WORSE now than two or three decades ago.

  2. In the late 60’s, early 70’s, I spent 18 months at IoL. My high school diploma is from there and I am so proud of it. I started in Brigham. It was nothing like you describe; either for me or other patients. I did Butler, Whitehall, and Braceland. They saved my life; literally.

    I am so sorry that you feel they treated you poorly. They treated me with great respect and minimal medication. The on-unit staff was magnificent.

    I miss them; badly at times.

  3. Thank you, Pam, this part of the mythology would be purely conceptual (relegated to the Sandman’s library of unwritten works) without you. It blows my mind to think it may not have ever been, and I’m deeply thankful to you. If I ever get this novel published, you will be one of the people on my thank you page. Cheryl

  4. Dear cheryl, i wanted to say thank you so very much for your comment and for your great kindness in dedicating your series of stories to me. That pleases me hugely! Warmly and with much appreciation, and apologies that i was unable to respond until now, Pam w.

  5. Pam, I’m very sorry for what happened to you, and am perplexed this treatment still goes on in a supposedly developed society. I greatly value your suggestions a few weeks ago for me to complete a series of stories, and have dedicated this series to you. Please know that you are valued and respected. I just want to say thank you. My thoughts are with you at this time. Cheryl

  6. One thing I’ve been thinking about, Pam, is something you wrote in your reply to Kate’s comment. You wrote: “..when they are using physical violence against you, their physical bodies against you, violently, I dunno, sometimes as a 60 year old woman, I just used my own nudity as a weapon against them. Does that seem crazy? I would strip and then pee on the floor in front of them, saying by my actions, I do not give a good goddam about what you see or what I do. You are NOTHING to me. But of course it always backfired, because they could accuse me of “exposing” myself like a sex criminal! I couldn’t win.”

    You also mentioned that in a reply or perhaps in an email to me recently, about stripping off your clothes and peeing on the floor. I didn’t understand that when you first mentioned it, and because I did not understand, I left it alone. But here you have explained that you were using your body as a weapon.

    Ok, that makes more sense. When you feel utterly powerless and so deeply wounded that you would resort to that, I think it’s the sort of thing that most people cannot understand, UNLESS they were IN YOUR SHOES. Like the time when I was a teenager in the institution and I hung myself. Most people probably couldn’t even conceive of such a thing. But if they had lived through what I had lived through by the time I was 15, then they would surely understand.

    I have always been very shy and embarrassed by my own nudity. I can’t even bear to look at my own naked self. Being naked in front of other people seems like a nightmare to me. THAT would be TORTURE, for my almost-60-year-old body flabby body to be stripped naked in front of strangers, or non-strangers. And then to pee on the floor, oh my God that would be a hell of a nightmare of embarrassment for me to do that. This is why I couldn’t understand why you did that. But, even when I did not understand, before I read your explanation to Kate, I still respected YOU, nonetheless. I accepted the idea that I did not understand, only because I am not you. But that if I were inside your head, if I were in your shoes, if I had lived your life, and if I were in your exact situation going through what you were going through when you decided to do that, then I would understand.

    So now I see that it was your way of fighting back, which helps me to understand. Again, I am proud of you that you had the ability, the strength, and the desire, to fight! Wow! That is so amazing. I admire that and I applaud that. You are amazing and awesome and inspiring, Pamela Spiro Wagner!

    I do think, however, that fighting with your body in that way was counterproductive to the cause you were fighting for. Just as hanging myself at age 16 was counterproductive to my deeper desire to want to LIVE. Most people in our society see nudity as offensive, and many would also see it as proof of psychosis. They probably used your doing that as “justification” for their escalating harsh treatment of you. Just as, when I hung myself after being unjustly thrown in solitary confinement, I’m sure the staff used that as “proof” that I had needed to be put in solitary confinement in the first place.

    I believe, from everything you have shared about your recent experience, that the trauma of being treated so horribly in that institution, treated as less-than-human, exacerbated the problems that sent you to the “treatment center” in the first place. You went there for help, and instead of being helped, you were further traumatized by the bullying, disrespectful, soul-annihilating way they treated you. What a nightmare you stepped into!

    Plus, the drug cocktail they had you on, was no doubt scrambling your brains, which skewed your judgment at the time that you made the decision to use your body as a weapon in that way. My doctor tells me that because I am getting older – almost 60, the same age as you – my liver and my kidneys cannot flush medications out of my body as fast and efficiently as they could do when I was a few years younger. She is giving me less and less medication, for this reason. You describe in this post how badly you felt on the medication they gave you, although it was a medication that you had previously done very well on (except for the weight gain, as I remember). I have been experiencing the same thing, Pam. My doctor recently put me back on Lexapro. I used to feel and think and functionabsolutely great on Lexapro, and had only stopped taking it because it was very expensive and not on my insurance formulary. But now they have a generic, so we though I should go back on the medication that I had done so well on, 10 years ago. However, apparently with my changing body, at age 60 I am no longer a good candidate for the drug that suited me so well at age 50.

    Dear Pam, I believe that what you did, in using your body as a weapon, was very much like what Viktor E. Frankl, MD, said in his brilliant book, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” Most of the time, in most normal situations, you would not dream of stripping off your clothes in front of other people and then peeing on the floor, would you? But, in the extremely traumatic situation you were just in, while your thinking was scrambled by the powerful drugs they were forcing you against your will to take, what you did, fighting back with the only weapon you had: again, Pamela, I applaud you. You are inspiring and heroic and amazing. Hang in there, and please, don’t stop speaking your truth.

    I have one more thing to say, and then I will stop. For now, anyway. 🙂 – The fact that you are telling what YOU did, that you went so far as to stip off all your clothes, and pee on the floor – that makes me believe you all the more, in everything you are saying about what happened and the inhumane way you were treated. You are not trying to paint an image of yourself as perfectly behaved and normal. You are telling what happened, to the best of your ability and understanding. You went to a psychiatric treatment center in great distress. That is what the treatment center is there for. They are supposed to be professionals, trained specifically in helping people who are in the kind of distress you were in. But instead of helping you, they distressed you even MORE. This is the TRUTH that shines through in what you were saying here. Not that you were perfectly normal and mentally healthy – if you had been, you would never have gone to such a place. You went there needing psychiatric help. But instead of giving you compassiate care, they treated you with disdain. They bullied you, and they pushed you even further over the edge.

    I’m so sorry you went through that. That could have been me, as easily as you. I don’t know that I would have survived that, at this time in my life. You amaze me. If I am ever in such a situation again, I will remember: Pam went through this, at the age of 60, and she survived, and she kept fighting, and she kept writing. If Pam can do it, so can I!

  7. Dear, Precious Pamela. As I read this post, I felt a lot of emotions. I felt horror and anger at the way you were treated, and intense, painful empathy as I remember being the subject of similar treatment. But the strongest emotion I felt as I read this was PRIDE. I feel so proud of you that I want to jump up and give you a standing ovation.

    Why am I proud of you? Because you have gone through pure hell, and yet you are STILL FIGHTING BACK. Even when the only thing you have to fight back with is a SCREAM. Or your art. Or this blog. You are still here, you are still fighting, and I find that heroic and inspiring.

    I have more to say, but I need to calm down before I can write any more.

    You are my sister in spirit. I fought back, too. That’s why I’m still here. And I’m about to turn 60, too. I feel tired sometimes. It’s been a long hard fight. But I can’t quit yet.

    HUGS & LOVE

  8. Thank you Kate, for your life affirming and ME-affirming comment. I felt so debased by their routinely four-pointing me, but except for the one episode where they forced me to fight back, and then made a case for restraints, I was NEVER aggressive, except the way a traumatized animal is aggressive, in a defensive mode. Oh, I could be provocative, and even would if provoked to it myself, strip nude and moon the people who so demeaned me. Men use their bodies as violent weapons, and some of hte bigger women did too, and the smaller ones either did or followed, or used other tactics. Some were kind, like Shedana, and really never lost patience, but went along with the system and never fought it. Which was AWFUL. But when they are using physical violence against you, their physical bodies against you, violently, I dunno, sometimes as a 60 year old woman, I just used my own nudity as a weapon against them. Does that seem crazy? I would strip and then pee on the floor in front of them, saying by my actions, I do not give a good goddam about what you see or what I do. You are NOTHING to me. But of course it always backfired, because they could accuse me of “exposing” myself like a sex criminal! I couldn’t win. If I fought back or resisted, I was violent, but if I was passive, they punished me anyway,. And the things that one of them said to me were so vile! Then when I was restrained, she went and tore the notes I took out of my notepad and stole them…I know she did that because I wrote it down. OH, Kate, thank you so much for your support. It helps to write these blog bosts too. Every day I come across little scraps of paper where I wrote down bits of things that confirm what happened. I managed somehow to record things that they didn’t know I was doing, or that I forgot I did, but I took notes somehow for some part of it, so I do not have complete amnesia for the times that they drugged me up and put me to sleep in restraints. I do have a huge memory gap, but not for all of it.

  9. It seems to me that groups tend to want general conformity. And groups given authority over others seem to want to instill punishment which often involves public humiliation when an individual openly asserts his or her individuality thereby challenging the groups authority. Very primal. Dehumanizing a person is a great crime. It is cowardly from one individual to another, but from a group it really is criminal I think. I can totally understand why you screamed till you could scream no more, why you wanted to be heard, why you needed the simple release when systematically denied all of your creative outlets, including human contact with your fellow inmates. This is a male dominated, militaristic way of “handling” (literally & figuratively) so called “difficult” people, though there are many women, too many, who go along with the male model and don’t challenge it. You have that too rare, brave spirit to stand up against authority when it is obviously unjust.

    I am so sorry Pamela, for all you have been through and yet I am proud of you, too. For surviving, for letting your voice be heard, for your art. I think you were right and your abusers were wrong. What a horrible, soul-deadening system!! It has to change and you are working towards that. Thank you for always returning to tell your story to all of us who really need to hear it.

    Kate : )

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