At Yale Psychiatric Hospital: Respect, Dignity and Kindness

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Large picture I did at Yale Psychiatric Hospital, the second one.

The pictures below are actually only 2.5 by 3.5 inches and are artist trading cards. I drew many of them, especially when I did not feel like working on my larger drawings at the hospital.

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In mid-February, after a week out of the hospital  (and you can read about my hospitalization by scrolling down to the previous post, but, in brief, this had been at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, during which I was kept in seclusion for the larger part of a four week stay and put multiple times, sometimes twice a day for many hours in 4-point restraints. Why? Why? Although I ONCE threw a chair, they told me it was for “not following directions.” To add insult to injury, every incident in which they restrained me was accompanied by three injections in the buttocks of Haldol, Ativan and Benadryl, despite my policy of passive, completely non-violent non-resistance.)

 

In any event, in mid-February, after I had spent just a week at home, I became acutely psychotic again, and in consultation with the only doctor I trust, a friend drove me to Yale New Haven Hospital’s emergency department. There, after a very long and arduous wait  — alas, I cannot say much that is good about Yale’s ED. It felt like the psych/alcohol patients – and there were no discriminations made between the drunks and anyone else — were lined up on their beds in the hallway like buses at a terminal for what felt like “miles.” In fact at one point there was probably a line 15 gurneys long snaking around the corner until I could not see the end.

I was there for two and a half days, maybe longer, I do not recall. In fact, I remember nothing about my ED stay after I was finally “admitted” to the actual psych portion of the ED, as opposed to the hallway. I believe I was finally given medications, but also that I was no longer permitted access to my artist crayons, which meant that I only wanted to sleep and likely did until I was admitted to the Yale Psychiatric Hospital, a street or two away.

To say that my experience at YPH was an order of magnitude better than it had been at the IOL or even at Natchaug Hospital is truly not to give YPH enough credit. I scarcely want to mention the other two hospitals in the same sentence, that is how different Yale is and I say that even though I once considered Natchaug my “gold standard.” No longer, no longer. I think Natchaug was decent once, but only because of the civilizing and humanizing effects that the director of nursing, Sharon Hinton, APRN, had on the hospital. Once she left, the whole place went to pot, as evidenced by my experience during the last two stays, which went progressively from bad to terrible without her there…literally without her protection I was brutalized by a dehumanizing medical staff that had been left to do whatever it wanted to on its own, to hell with the consequences to the patients.

Be that as it may, and we know that the Institute was never humane, Yale took me completely by surprise. I was hard to surprise, and hard to convince that they were for real in their gentleness and kindness, let alone in their determination to treat me and everyone there with respect and dignity. I was certain that they would prove me right, that SOMEONE would be put into restraints, that someone would be violent enough to push their buttons and get 4-pointed. But it never happened, not in the entire three weeks I was there. Not even when a patient threw a punch or a push. Not even when a patient screamed bloody murder or used foul language. Nothing that earned me or anyone else seclusion or restraints elsewhere even came close to pushing the staff’s anger buttons at Yale. Instead, they persisted in using persuasion and gentleness and kindness…and if anyone lost it, if anyone became angry and could not keep it together, so far as I could tell, that staff member took themselves away from the situation to cool down, and did not take it out on the patient.

The most amazing things happened. No one forced me to do anything. Not even to take medication. I agreed to take it, after some discussion with the doctor and social worker…but when I evinced some doubt about the side effects, instead of pooh-poohing them as the doctor had at the Institute, Dr Milstein agreed with me, saying that the Zyprexa definitely increased appetite, and that it was not imaginary or something that was in my control, the way Dr Banerjee did at IOL. Instead, he and the other team members not only agreed to help me control what I ate, but went out of their way – I believe they actually went “Stop and Shopping” – to provide me with my own private supply of raw vegetable snacks in the staff refrigerator to eat at any time of the day…just so I wouldn’t have to be tempted by the hospital snacks of Doritos etc.

 

Dr Milstein asked me not to worry about what they did or did not do “extra” for me,  and I tried not to. But when two large bottles of brand name Diet Coke kept appearing for me every day, and when the resident was sent to buy me batteries for my personal pencil sharpener (with a grinder not a blade), just so I could continue to do my artwork and not rely on the staff to sharpen my pencils in the back, well, I knew 1) they were truly watching out for me and treating me with TLC, or what certainly felt like extraordinary care, and 2) they were in fact spending “extra” money, if not indeed their own money just to supply these special needs…All of which – or NONE of which would have mattered at any other hospital or to any other staff. If I had no pencil sharpener, who would care? If I had to eat hospital food, who gave a damn? Dr Banerjee basically said it was MY fault and only my fault if I gained weight on Zyprexa, that none of his other patients, the good ones, ever did. But at Yale, all these matters were important to me, and so they were important to Dr Milstein to to Chris Simpson the social worker and to the other team members. Not just as a matter of words, but to be taken care of so I could both take the Zyprexa and do art.

Just as important, Dr Milstein took at least a half hour every single day, and I think sometimes it was more than that, simply to talk with me and listen to what I had to say. Even if it was only to rant about how badly I had been treated at the IOL. He repeatedly told me that he just wanted me to learn to trust again, to believe that not everyone was against me or would hurt me…And if I did not learn that precisely, I did eventually come to believe that the staff at Yale were trustworthy and kind and meant what they said about their NO restraints and NO seclusion policy, for everyone. I may had still had frissons whenever someone screamed or threw a fit, panicking, believing that 4-point restraints were finally going to be resorted to. PTSD is not that easily overcome after all. But I grew more trusting, and by the time of discharge, I was able to thank them all for everything, to know that they had gone out of their way for me,  and not feel too  guilty.

I did  a fair amount of art while I was at Yale Psychiatric Hospital. I will post more in the coming days.

9 thoughts on “At Yale Psychiatric Hospital: Respect, Dignity and Kindness”

  1. I sent my daughter there for her own saftey. Little did I know one of the male mental health workers was out to take emotional and physical abuse of my daughter,during and after her stay there. He had access to her file. So he knew at 25 she had been through a lot with issues of abandonment,depression,anger and suicide. But at 35 he knew all he had to do is shower her with attention to get what he really wanted. I’m shocked Yale would hire someone so careless and heartless,as to use a young mentally disabled woman as a playtoy, a victim. Shame on the person who hired him,fired him, and rehhired him again. He must of really grovelers for his job back. He badgered my daughter all morning, saying,”ha ha,I got my job back” after asking her to come to his hearing and lie for him, and then finding out others were no longer allowed in. Shame on Yale!

  2. Pam, you are an exceptional and beautiful woman. I just read about your experiences at Yale, and was so pleased to find that you and others were treated with dignity and empathy. Your art, like your poetry tells us much about your inner strength, and your tenderness. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

  3. Thank you so much, Pam. I am honored. Just let me know what you have in mind, ok?

    I struggle with writing my own blog, you do much better than me on blogging. I gave up on my PTSD-is-Normal blog a few weeks ago. I discontinued it, because I had become unhappy with the title. Also, I was getting feedback from a family person that in some cases was a bit hurtful.

    I haven’t published on my LadyQuixote.com in ages, either, mainly because the winter months tend to put such a damper on my spirits. Spring is finally in the air, though. I now have a new blog that I am trying out, it’s called MrandMrsPTSD.com. I chose that name because my husband and I have both been diagnosed with severe chronic PTSD. On that blog, I intend to talk a lot more about my own history with schizophrenia. Although a number of doctors and therapists have told me over the years that I was misdiagnosed as a teenager, because people aren’t supposed to recover from such a severe psychosis, the more I read on the topic — including my reading of your memoir — the more I have come to believe that I did indeed have schizophrenia when I was a teenager. It was a terrifying, painful, hard, HUMBLING experience. I know you know what I mean, only too well.

    But, Pam — of all the trauma and heartache and pain I’ve experienced in my life, and I’ve had more than my “fair share” — by far my most painful, dehumanizing experience was being treated like I was LESS THAN everyone else, because of my mental illness labels. When I was treated the way you were so recently treated, I began to believe that all those hateful, condescending, judgmental, holier-than-thou know-it-all “normal people” and “healthcare professionas” were RIGHT in their disdainful attitude about me. And so, from their mean-spirited treatment, I learned at an early age to be deeply ashamed of simply being ME. Absolutely nothing, in my experience, is more miserable than hating yourself.

    You are amazing, the way you keep bouncing back and showing up on your blog. Truly, you are stronger, in many ways, than probably most so-called “normal” people. How many “normal” people would crumble, curl up, and die, if they had to endure one such dehumanizing episodes, of which you have had many?

    You are a true hero in my eyes, Pam. Some day, God willing, I hope we can meet face to face and I can look you in the eyes and tell you that.

    Love,
    Lynda

  4. Dear Lynda,

    Thank you so much. I can feel your hand holding mineand it is very special indeed. Thank you. THANK YOU. I still want to extend you the offer of making you an honorary author of my blog, if you would ever like to write for it. I know you want to write your own blog, but you have so much to say that is so immediately important and I would love to have you have the forum for it here. Please do consider it. I would be honored to have you. (C.A.R.E is brilliant!)

    Love,

    Pam

  5. I wish I could just hold your hand. I’m holding your hand right now, in my heart. You are very special to me, Pam. Your art and your words, your soul that comes through in all that you create, moves me very deeply. I feel honored and blessed and humbled by you.

    We “mad” do indeed climb shaky ladders….

  6. This makes me want to cry. The way you were treated at Yale Psychiatric Hospital… that is how it should be, always, everywhere. The minimum standard of psychiatric care should be C.A.R.E.: Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, and Encouragement. Why can’t everyone in the “helping professions” understand that simple concept?

    Your art amazes me, Pamela. YOU amaze me.

    XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO
    Lynda

  7. I love your art and your inner strength that keeps you coming back here. Thank you Pamela. I am so glad to hear that you have found a place where you can begin to trust again.

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