Tag Archives: hospital

Revisiting the Psych Ward

Don’t worry, I haven’t been re-admitted! That wouldn’t be the end of the world – after all, I’d only be re-admitted if I needed it – but, thankfully, I don’t need it right now. However, I have been back to the psych ward I spent so much time living in last year.

In 2013, due to extreme depression and anxiety, there were four months when I spent as much time in hospital as I did at home. Thankfully my wonderfully plastic mind has redacted most of those months out of my memory banks, but I remember the good bits: laughing hysterically with some of the patients who’d become friends, the nurses’ names, the times hospital felt like a haven rather than a prison.

I’ve attended the same building as an outpatient quite a few times since then: my medications bloke is housed in the same building, as well as some other services, but I hadn’t been back on the ward until a few days ago.

One of my very good friends is “in” right now having a course of ECT. Obviously, I’ve been going to visit and support her.

In 2010 I also had a lengthy hospitalization, in the city I used to live in. I also went back to visit, this time to help out a friend who only had accompanied leave (i.e. she wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital without a responsible adult). She needed cigarettes, and so called me up to come walk her to the shops. When I turned up at the hospital, one of the nurses laughed and said to her, “So this is your ‘responsible adult’?” Way to make someone feel good, lady.

Going to visit my friend these last few days has been a completely different experience. The staff were friendly and welcoming. for a start. I even saw one of the clinical coordinators who’d helped me out last year and clapped him on the shoulder. “I haven’t forgotten I owe you one,” I said jovially. “Only one?” he replied. Apparently favours accrue interest!

Even being in the place felt good. I wasn’t overwhelmed with gut-wrenching fear. I didn’t feel panicky. My friend just happens to be sleeping in my old best (weird!) and even going into that space felt OK.

I’m pretty chuffed that I could go back to a place in which I had suffered a fair bit last year, and feel good about being there. The place is a good place. My friend is in good hands. And should I ever have to be re-admitted, I know I’ll be OK, too.


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Medication Queue Blues

A little-known terror of the psychiatric inpatient system is the medication queue.

Imagine a group of mentally unwell people arriving at an inadequate row of plastic chairs in no particular order to wait for their personal medications to be dispensed through one of three glass windows, as the patients step up to a window, in order of arrival. Can anyone else see a problem with this?

It’s actually quite amazing that the ‘system’, such as it is, works so well. In all my hospitalizations, I’ve only ever seen or heard two blow-ups at medication time related to the queue system.

I’d better define some terms first. I’m talking about adult wards in private psychiatric clinics in Australia. All admissions are voluntary, and patients with more extreme problems are either in an intensive care unit or at a different type of hospital which can cater to their needs.

Some people take the medications queue in their stride, but I once brought it up in group therapy, and there was a general agreement that it’s a fairly stressful situation (all bar one extroverted and highly confident patient who couldn’t see what we were going on about). Because people arrive in dribs and drabs, there’s no order to the queue – so somehow you must remember who was there before you. I do it by counting heads. The problem with my method is that it doesn’t identify who’s still waiting, so if, say, the person immediately ahead of you in the queue forgets their place, there’s this awkward holdup while everyone says: “Were you next?” “Not me, I think it was you.” “Who, me?” [Yes, you. Just go to the window and get your fucking meds so the rest of us can move along.]

During the group therapy session in which I raised the topic, one brave soul suggested numbering the seats from left to right, and having people sit down in order and move along. A few problems were identified:

a) people are always being admitted to and discharged from the ward, so the new-though-sensible rules would need to be continually explained

b) some people bring knitting or other craft projects to keep them occupied while they wait, and won’t want to move seats

c) for some reason, no matter which hospital it is, there never seem to be sufficient seats

d) come on, we’re talking psych patients here! Are they really going to follow the rules?

Look, perhaps it’s just my anxiety talking, but it seems a minor miracle that the medication queue works at all. As a psychiatrist said to me once, with all these unwell people living in close quarters, it’s amazing we don’t have more disruptions.

Do you have a psych hospital bugbear? A story of systems which somehow hang together?


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Regulars will know it’s been a difficult few days. I think I’m ready to tell you why.

On the advice of my doctor, I am making an income insurance claim going back to 2010 when I stopped working full-time. As a general rule, I don’t trust insurance companies, so I am approaching this exercise with a great deal of trepidation: no matter how strong the moral claim I may be able to lay, I  know they will do anything in their power to avoid paying up. Still, my doctor thinks I have a strong case, and he says he has helped other people with such claims in the past.

I needed to get accurate data about my admissions to hospital during that time. The private hospital I had no problems with, because by the time I was transferred there I had recovered some function, and can remember when I went in and when I was discharged. The public emergency admission which preceded that has always been a bit fuzzy in my memory, though, so I made a FOI (Freedom of Information) application for copies of my hospital records. (At least the records show another reason why my memory of that time is hazy: it looks like they doped me with lorazepam whenever I opened my mouth.)

They sent me everything from notes of the initial phone call my psychiatrist made telling them I was on my way, to nurses’ observations, to the evaluations of various psychologists and psychiatrists. It made for pretty horrific reading.

Yesterday I took my journal of that time and read the corresponding pages to my therapist. I have not looked at those pages except briefly, last week, to try to verify admission/discharge dates. The pain and self-loathing seemed to fill the room, even as I stumbled over the frequently illegible words. The belief that I should somehow be punished for being so ill as to have to go into a hospital; the now-poignant letters of apology to my loved ones (never sent); the bleak certainty that my life was over … the sense that there was no hope, that I deserved no hope, and that no hope would be forthcoming.

I’m not in hospital now, but I feel a similar sense of hopelessness, and I struggle not to feel the same levels of self-loathing. I was so stupid to think I could read that material and it not affect me deeply.

I don’t want to write much more now. I feel, overall, a strong absence of hope. I’m deeply connected to that part of me which despairs; I need to go and reconnect with my positive self, my beloved self, the observing self which sees but does not identify with this suffering.

I feel obliged to end on a more positive note, so here goes: this, too, will pass.

Bleak; but this, too, will pass

Bleak; but this, too, will pass



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Another Hero

Today’s blog is dedicated to another woman I sincerely admire, and appreciate.
I’ve been living in this city for two and a half years. If you work hard, and don’t have much time for socializing, that’s enough time to make many acquaintances, but few friends.
When I went into hospital for the first of three admissions earlier this year, there were five women in this city I reached out to. I emailed them, explaining where I was and why I was there. I asked whether they might perhaps be able to come and visit me. I knew I would be “in” for some weeks, including the upcoming school holidays.
Two of those women said outrightly that no, they would not be visiting me. That stung. (What did they think would happen?)
One woman said she would, but never quite got around to it. That still hurts, though I can understand how busy life can be.
Two women said they would come, and carried through on their promise …
… and one of those women visited me once a week, for each week of that admission.
Psych wards can be confronting if you’re new to that end of the bell curve. Depending on who’s “in”, there may be a smaller or larger percentage of patients presenting with confronting symptoms – expressions of extreme emotion, hallucinations, tics, and so forth. But my friend was cool with it. She seemed curious about the clinic but also open to sit with whatever it – or I! – might present her with.
We drank hot chocolate in the dining room and chatted. Well, at first, I let her do the talking. It was wonderful to hear about the changes which were taking place in her career, her upcoming travel plans, and how some creative projects she was working on were developing. It seemed like news from another planet, a place where people still had order in their lives, dreams, hopes and ambitions. It was just so restful, so normal, so nice.
That’s why, my anonymous friend (you know who you are) I appreciate you. Thank you for your kindness and understanding, and for patiently continuing to be my friend through this difficult time, despite cancelled coffee dates when I couldn’t get out the door and times when my conversation may not quite have hung together as coherently as usual.
And to others who may be reading this: I know it can be scary, committing to visit a friend in a psychiatric hospital or clinic. But if you find yourself in that situation, if you are asked, please consider going.
Your visit will mean so much more than simply saying “I am thinking of you.” It will mean things like: “You are still a human being.” “Your illness does not overshadow my friendship of you.” “Your illness does not make you bad or untouchable.”
These are things which patients on psych wards need to hear, need to feel, need to understand.
Don’t forget – the word “angel” is derived from the ancient greek αγγελος, or “messenger”. You could deliver these messages which psych patients so desperately need to hear. You could become someone’s angel of hope.

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The New Question

Last time I was in hospital (read psychiatric clinic, psych ward, acute care, whatever you want to call it) I started a campaign for a new question.

Where I live, the usual greeting is some variant of: “Hi! How are you?” However, if you’re staying in a psych ward and the answer isn’t “shithouse”, perhaps you’re in the wrong place.

So I thought long and hard and came up with the question: “What’s new?”

It’s just as innocuous as “How are you?”, just as non-specific, and invites either a meaningless brush-off response – “nothing!” – or a meaningful one – “some fuckwit ate the food I’d put in the fridge to eat after ECT”, “I haven’t cried all day” or even “the purple man who was following you yesterday has left, you’ll be pleased to hear”.

So if you are one of the over 225,000 Australians who are admitted for psychiatric care* may I suggest you go around asking the New Question “What’s new?” Just a suggestion.



* According to “Mental Health Services In Brief“, there were over 222,500 admitted patient mental health‑related separations reported in 2009–10, accounting for 2.6% of all hospital separations (p. 14)

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