Reflecting on yesterday afternoon’s events, I have had more dramatic hospital admissions (e.g. through emergency departments); more emotionally draining ones (e.g. my mother taking me to a psychiatric clinic for the first time); but never one so Kafkaesquely funny … in hindsight. Once again, I was astounded not only by human stupidity but also human kindness.
Before I start telling this story, I need to remind you of the criteria I maintain for telling stories on this blog: 1. each fact is true; 2. anonymity is protected absolutely, to the extent that I am able to do so. The institution I am about to write about is, in my opinion, among the best private psychiatric hospitals in Australia (despite yesterday’s events). If necessary, in this or future posts, I will refer to it as ‘H’ for hospital.
I had been told at 2:30 on Friday afternoon that there would be a bed available for me at 2:30pm on Saturday. (In other words, my admission was not considered a clinical emergency, or else I would have been referred to another institution such as a public hospital.) It takes us over half an hour to drive there, and I was crying much of the way; I felt crushed between the rock of suffering a difficult medication change and the hard place of submitting oneself to institutional living, albeit voluntarily.
But … have you ever arrived at a party to find yourself unwelcome or mis-dressed?
I arrived with my husband and luggage and went to my usual ward. I knew all the nurses on duty but was taken aback by their greeting: “What are you doing here?” The expressions on their faces were hilarious: apparently I was not expected. However, they know that I am an organized person and unlikely to make mistakes, so they didn’t assume I was deluded and had imagined a conversation with the admissions office. A few phone calls revealed that I was, in fact, expected in the intensive care unit (ICU). One of the nurses escorted us there.
Already my antennae were twitching.
“Why am I being admitted to ICU? I don’t understand. I didn’t consent to this. I’ve never been to ICU before!”
We arrived, entering via a gate and then into the ICU nurse’s station, a sort of ‘airlock’ arrangement between the tiny ward and the outside world. A television was on. Basic exercise equipment stood to one side of the TV. There were glass walls everywhere: between the nurses’ station and the common room; the common room and the single bedrooms. I was reminded of the old omniopticon prisons, which were designed so each prisoner was in the line of sight of a warden at all times.
The nurses on duty were very kind, but reminded me of the ICU restrictions, i.e. that my luggage and person would be searched thoroughly, that I would only be allowed access to certain personal items, that I would be in one of the available beds which were without privacy, that bathroom areas were shaerd, etc. ICU, in my mind, is a place of last resort, and I did not feel I belonged here. To be honest, I was in shock: it’s hard enough arriving at hospital, but then to be whisked from one’s comfort zone into … well, somewhere quite different?! That was not fun.
I explained that I had brought quite a lot of luggage, and that much of it would not be suitable for ICU, as I had brought along some knitting, sewing and so forth. My husband left to retrieve the rest of my luggage from the car and the ICU staff called my psychiatrist. I did some deep breathing then went to remind them that this was a voluntary admission, that I had not consented to being admitted to ICU, that I had not been expecting this, and that I was free to walk out of the place. (I doubt the hospital would receive any funding had I left at that point, as I had not yet signed any admission papers … hmm: I wonder now whether this statement, made in comparative innocence, was a game changer?) At this point the Boss* arrived.
He listened to me, settled my husband and myself into my glass cube, and again called my psychiatrist. Lo and behold, within minutes a bed had been found for me, on my usual ward. The Boss made it clear that he had pulled off something of a coup. (I am not entirely convinced of this, but am willing to go along with it.) I thanked the ICU staff for their kindness during our brief encounter and we carried all my goods and chattels to my new room.
We deposited my belongings on my bed, and then were escorted to a tiny ‘interview room’ where I would end up spending the next two hours. But that is a story for another post.
I will just add that during the coming two hours, most of which my husband and I sat waiting in a room smaller than police interview rooms you see on TV, I said to him: “This is going to be funny one day.”
“Too soon,” he replied tersely.
“Come on,” I cajoled. “What’s been the funniest part so far?”
“Probably the looks on those nurses’ faces when they realized they weren’t expecting you,” he smiled.
In my next post: though the mills of administration grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.
* “Boss” is misleading. He was the supervisor of the clinical staff on duty. He has a particular title, but this can vary from hospital to hospital, so I will simply refer to him as “Boss”.