Monday, February 01, 2010

Trip through St. Joe's psychiatric ward was not bad, kind of like summer camp

December of 2009 was my first and (so far) only time in a mental health unit at a hospital. St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. I've seen therapists before, but never been admitted to a hospital.

Sleep deprivation was a big factor putting me into the hospital. Road construction near where I live was interrupting my normal sleep time. I should have gone to a part time work schedule during that month, of construction, but I didn't realize what was going to happen to me until too late.

Part of the reason why I'm in the slow lane is an inability to take the fast lane with it's hectic pace. It's not just "low carbon footprint," there are some medical reasons why I choose the slow lane as well.

Rather than just preaching at others about their fast lane living, I also marvel at it. "How can they juggle so much and not literally go into the nut house?"

I couldn't do the "long term commute, double job and take classes at the same time" routine.

Often, the inside of my mind feels like a fast lane.

The mind can be a microcosm of the nation.

Yes, it seems like there's a country in my head. Decisions made by committees of "voices," different interests jockeying for influence, an internal dialog.

There's even a stock market in my head. Am I having an up day?

Sometimes it feels like radio talk shows are jabbering inside me. Discussing how things in the real world will "play in the Peoria" of my inner world.

Remember that phrase, "how will it play in Peoria?"

Try driving with this going on in your head. Could be worse than a cellphone.

No wonder I don't try driving. Bicycling is slow enough for me.

What put me in the hospital

Early December 2009, the radio show in my mind sounded very real. Audio voices rather than just thoughts.

Normally, I realize that all this morass of thinking is just thoughts, but in December, the voices sounded more real.


It sounded like talk show personalities were having a discussion about my life in my ear.


I was worrying a bit more about work and other things. So called normal folks might not react the same way, but worry is fairly common for me.

For most of a week, my life remained fairly normal, but voices and other odd things would come and go.

Then, as I awoke on December 12, I couldn't tell if it was a dream or reality.

Last time I remember such a daze was after a marijuana brownie in the early 1980s. That's why I don't use pot much, it was a paranoid trip, but that was back then.

This was something else and there were no drugs in my system.

Most of December 12, I was in a confused state. My mind was spinning with thoughts about possibly entering something like a parallel universe.

Eventually, I was wondering the streets of downtown Bellingham in a daze.

Soon a friend found me.

Good thing a lot of folks around town know me.

He ask, "are you OK?" and my answer had his wife dialing 911 on her cellphone.

Next thing I knew, the ambulance was there.

It was surrealistic.

Then I thought I might be making a movie about randomness in the universe as I rode in the ambulance.

They rushed me to Saint Joe's Hospital, North Campus.

In the emergency room, they were trying to figure out what was wrong.

I wasn't much help talking a mile a minute about random parabolas and wondering if I was in Quito Ecuador, for some reason.

My guess is, they wanted to run tests to see if I was on drugs before doing much because adding anymore drugs to my system could be bad.

Well, the test came back that there were no drugs or alcohol in my system so they started some medication.

I got better and was talking more rationally to the nurses. Then started to fall asleep, which is what I needed most.

About that time, a Whatcom County mental health specialist became available so a nurse woke me up again to talk to him. I think he came to help plan the follow up strategy for what happens after leaving the emergency room. Should I be released? What kind of follow up should there be?

Being woken up again put me back into the crazy state and I didn't make any sense talking to him. After he went to consult with other staffers, I left the bed and crouched on the floor which had nurses scrambling. Eventually they got me back into the bed and I got a small shot to the leg. An anti psychotic and probably an anti anxiety mix.

My last memory of that odd day was being wheeled down some hall, but I was soon sound asleep. That's what I really needed most.

When I came to, a few hours later, my rationality (if it exists now) was back. It felt good; like waking up from a bad dream. It was next day and I was in a quiet hospital room. It felt good to be back to normal thinking again.

Sleep was the cure.

Involuntary confinement to the psychiatric ward wasn't bad

Next, I ventured into the hall from my room. "Yes, this is the hospital." "There's a nursing station to the right."

As I wondered what would happen next, a kind man approached me and said, "would you like the newspaper?" It seemed like having a complimentary paper at some classy hotel. They looked around the coffee tables in the hall, but no interesting newspaper was found.

More interesting than a newspaper, at that point, was the followup plan for me that they decided on. They decided to get a commitment to the psychiatric ward. This was located at Saint Joe's South Campus (since that time, the psychiatric program been moved to Main Campus). They explained that state law only allows them to commit someone to 72 hours, or less, unless there is a hearing, so I would most likely be in less than 72 hours since I seemed to be coming out of what ever that episode was pretty quickly.

It meant another ambulance trip down to South Campus, but I wouldn't have to pay for any of it because it was legally a non voluntary confinement. The cost of that South Campus stay was covered by government. I think the whole plan was partially based on hospital staff people looking for ways they could get me some services and save me money. There was some brainstorming about community resources going on and this seemed like the best, and least costly idea for me.

I went along with the idea. I was doing well enough, at this point, that they could have released me, but the paperwork and the inertia was already in place to head down to South Campus.

I called in sick from work. If nothing else, being sent to South Campus is a break from one's daily routine. Sort of like going on vacation.

Photo: Saint Joe's Hospital South Campus. Program has since been moved to Main Campus, so I hear.

South Campus was like a summer camp. I had my own room. There was meal time, group time and art class. There was various appointments with a public defender, social worker, psychiatrist and plenty to keep one occupied.

I called it "Club Med;" a take off on the resort called Club Med, but in this case the med stands for medical. Club Med resorts used to have a radio ad calling themselves "the antidote for civilization."

Everyone seemed quite nice including the patients. The social worker was especially good.

Really, it was like a summer camp. Structured interaction.

There were quite a few rules, but not enforced harshly.

With no Internet access on the ward, I figured out how to put my Wednesday Dinner announcement out, from inside the unit. It was a short newsletter just to say where that week's dinner was located. Taco Lobo in Bellingham.

Problem solving is one way toward mental health. I used the phone to call one of my newsletter readers and talk him through the process of putting out the newsletter. He checked his email and confirmed, by phone, that the newsletter had come out. Then the social worker at the hospital offered to get a print out for me from the ward office computers that were off limits to patients.

Two confirmations that the "work around" worked.

Art time was most interesting. People used coloring pens and then shared the meaning of their creations. One of my art pieces I did was about an old radio tower in Pullman, WA. where I grew up. Folks on the "outside" should have art sharing time more often.

I got out of South Campus early. They released me before the full 72 hour confinement order was up. No need for a detention hearing. That would have been scheduled if they had wanted to keep me over 72 hours.

Several folks gave me the "high five handshake" for getting out early.

Photo: Sign for things at South Campus. I don't see "psych ward" listed. "Behavioral Health Services" must be a more politically correct title.

It was a bit sad leaving as there were some good folks at the "camp," both staff and patients. On the other hand, I was glad to get out and start putting my life back together.

Did I leave my heater on when I left my home that strange day? Could I get my desk top computer running again? For some strange coincidence, my computer gave out that day.

A good excuse to have Christmas Vacation that year.

They offered me taxi service, but I wanted to walk. It wasn't far back to my home.

I was released with a bag of forms and artwork. Luckily not a bag of bills.

My employer found that I had accrued 35 sick days over the years I've worked as a custodian. Paid sick days. He said, "Enjoy the holidays."

Christmas vacations were good memories from grade school.

I didn't plan to burn up all my 35 days, but taking around 12 days made the holidays for me.

Too bad so many people have to work right through the holidays, I took a break. It was more like a holiday than sick time. Remember, mental illness is different from physical illness. One of the first things I did was get on my bike and head out to Larabee State Park. Quiet along the trails.

Back home, quiet is what the doctor ordered. Time to catch up on sleep. Also fielding calls, emails and Facebook comments form various folks and family members.

Do I need ongoing medication?

White noise from fan of this air filter helps sleep.

The doctors listened to my suggestions on medication. There's lots of pills for sleeping, anti anxiety and anti psychosis available. I didn't want to get dependent to any of these things so I just decided to have a light anti anxiety pill available. 1 MG tablets, Lorazepam.

Some mornings (I sleep in the morning due to night shift work) I sleep fine without any pill. If sleep is difficult on other mornings, the pill helps. About a year after getting out, I didn't get a refill on the pills and don't need them anymore.

Rebuilding a bit

During Christmas Vacation, it was time to go shopping for myself. Maybe this sounds selfish, but time to bolster my being.

I was still using old glasses without the earpieces. First ear piece had fallen off a few months ago, but glasses stayed on. Just before going into hospital, second ear piece fell off and new glasses had just made it to my "to do" list.

These are still just reading glasses from the supermarket. Good enough. I'm a bit far sighted.

These are Dr. Dean Edell Glasses. Cost less than $20. What a difference clean lenses can make.

Strange co-incidence

My desktop computer gave out also. It's last functionality was early AM on December 12. When I woke up the next noon in a weird state, my computer stopped working also.

Corrupted boot disk? Ghost of a person I knew who had died? My own illness infecting the computer?

Back from hospital, I tried to reinstall Windows, but to no avail.

At least my data is backed up on CD Rom and all my web pages are on-line.

Next idea; carry computer down to store and see if they can figure it out.

I had another computer that could serve as a backup.

My Asus notebook which is used for checking mail from WIFI spots during bicycle tours.

Problem is, I forgot the WIFI password to get into my own modem.

Run to the Swan Cafe for WIFI?

No, how about sorting my box of computer stuff.

There I found the document with the password. Part of getting well is taking the time to organize my things. There's the old phrase "garbage in, garbage out."

Soon I was up and running with Linux as that's what the Asus was using.

Email, Facebook, Skype and all working again on this Linux desktop.

Even my wooden desk had been neglected. Still standing but wobbly with a broken leg.

Hardware Sales has computer desks of various styles. I walked out there and bought one. Could have rolled it down the street about 1/2 mile, but such treatment is hard on casters.

Another desk was still in the box. How does one get a large box home from the store without a car?

They let me borrow a dolly and I rolled it all home from the store. Then I rolled the dolly back.

Meanwhile, computer store calls and the verdict is, "no problem with boot sector." Everything on hard drive is fine, but several things on motherboard gave out. They could replace a few chips and get things running again, but it's a "work around" patch at best. A patch to get new technology talking to the old technology inside the motherboard. Technology has advanced so far since I got that computer.

For not that much more money, I could have a brand new computer with 4 times the memory and processor speed of my old system.

The old system did well surviving 4 years in the harsh environment of my room where it often must warm up in 55 degree air. Temp change can be hard on microchips. Also lights can go out when downstairs neighbor plugs toaster into wrong plug.

Time to also get a surge suppressor with storage battery backup. Helps me ride out the few minutes when breakers in this building snap.

Since that year, I've moved into a nicer apartment. Moved as of 2013. Luckily my rent remains reasonable.

The computer store had my old Windows XP back up and running. I brought it home to reinstall my programs from CDs and the net.

I had plenty of time to get this new computer going and assemble my new desk. It really was like a Christmas vacation.

The rest of Christmas "Vacation;" actually sick leave.

Then there were some parties to go to.

Christmas and New Year's Dinners were buffets at Best Western Inn (glad the buffet staff was still working).

There was a Solstice celebration, and a friend's New Year's gathering.

After New Year's, my Christmas vacation was over and I was back to work all refreshed; for a while at least.

Taking time off and getting enough sleep is a good idea. I may have a lower tolerance for not getting enough sleep than most people. We could all use a few breaks at times. Society doesn't have to be a rat race.

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