Me and Keaton were visiting our friend Travis in the psych ward at Huntington Hospital a few days after Christmas. It wasn’t long after we got there that there was this big ruckus in the hallway outside the dining room where we were sitting.
“You guys stay in here,” said the latino dude who’d brought us in, implying what was happening was none of our business (I reckon he was right), but also kinda suggesting that we might watch from where we were.
What happened was that the black girl with the braids who was walking back and forth had fainted or something, and was laying on the floor. What I took to be the nurses were taking her pulse and blood pressure and trying to revive her, while the patient care partner we didn’t like was yelling at the other people in the unit to stay in their rooms. (She came back to the dining room to make sure we were staying put too.) The latino guy went over to the black girl on the floor and, as the biggest and strongest person around, helped her to sit up. So I guess she was starting to come around.
Then the really scary thing happened: the girl started to scream. I mean an all-out totally scary blood-curdling kind of scream.
“Fuck,” Keaton whispered to me.
We looked at Travis, who probably knew something about the girl.
“She’s tried something like this before,” he said, not looking especially excited. “She faked a seizure yesterday. There’s something seriously wrong with her. They had to put her in the Quiet Room yesterday.”
“The Quiet Room?,” me and Keaton asked at the same time.
“Yeah. It’s where they seclude people who are being overly loud and aggressive mostly until they calm down.”
“Does it have padded walls?,” I couldn’t help but ask.
“No. It’s just a regular room with a bed, from what I can tell. I’ve only looked in the window.”
“Sounds like being thrown in fuckin solitary,” said Keaton.
“That’s basically what it is.”
The girl screamed again, long and loud, and then started in with a string of shorter screams, less loud than the ones before. It was still pretty scary, but Travis did have me thinking that she was faking. I looked at Keaton: he was sure she was. I guess we gravitated outside into the hall, and the nasty patient care partner came and chased us back into the dining room.
“I’m closing the door if you don’t stay inside,” she threatened. I didn’t need to look at Keaton to know which look he had on his face.
We backed into the doorway.
“You can’t stand in the door,” she then told us. “Go sit down. That ain’t none of your business. Tell your friend to eat some of what you brought him.”
I’m glad Keaton didn’t say anything and probably get us thrown out. He knew we were there for Travis, and so he let himself get pushed around some. It went against his grain, of course, but he was willing to put up with the meanass patient care partner for our buddy’s sake.
Travis was right about one thing: we could hear the door close when they put the girl with the braids in the Quiet Room. I looked at him for confirmation.
“Yep. She got herself 20 minutes in there at least.”
“20 minutes? You make it sound like a time out.”
“That’s exactly what it is.”
“What I don’t get – aside from why she’s faking – is how they let her keep her hair extensions,” Keaton said. “Fuck, they don’t allow staples in magazines and they let her have those? You can fuckin strangle someone with extensions that long.”
“You know you’re right,” Travis said. “I never thought about it, but, yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.”
I was totally lost. Hair extensions? I mean, I heard of them before, but I was never sure what they actually are, let alone being able to tell if a chick was wearing any.
“Y’all know those are extensions?,” I asked. “I thought Adam was the only gay dude on the Parrots.”
“Dude,” said Travis, “you mean you can’t tell?”
“Nobody has hair that long, bubba.”
Maybe I was too busy looking down at the slipper socks all the patients had on to notice their hair lol.
I reckon her hair didn’t matter too much when the black girl started being anything but quiet in the Quiet Room: she started beating on the door. By this time the latino dude was back keeping an eye on the dining room. I jumped and turned around when I first heard the noise and he just shrugged at me. He obviously thought the girl was faking too.
“She’d better quiet down,” Travis said. “Otherwise she’s in for a shot.”
“You heard me: a big shot of Halidol to quiet her down. It’s what they give the people who won’t cooperate and do shit like refusing to take their meds. I’m not sure how they administer the shots, but there are a few people in here who do nothing but sleep all day. Like my roommate. I haven’t seen him awake since I got here except when he told the psychiatrist to go fuck himself and the doctor told him he’d have to give him another shot. I know: it’s pretty fuckin scary.”
Oh yeah…in the meantime they’d gotten the other guy who was walking up and down the hallway into the dining room, where he kept up his pacing and muttering to himself. I caught something about “NHL standings” and thought maybe he was gonna start talking about sports, but that turned off into something I couldn’t understand again.
“So how’s it been?”
“Not too bad. Much better than the last time. I knew what I was in for this time…and I’m here because I want to be.”
“Second time’s always easier in the hoosegow,” Keaton said. “You know what the rules are. And, yeah, bubba, since you’ve been dying to ask, I’ve been in jail a couple times. Not for anything too bad…but it taught me how to handle bigass dudes named Bubba.”
He laughed. So did Travis. And I started to reconsider Keaton’s nickname for me lol.
“It feels a lot less like jail too,” Travis said.
“So you’re not on a hold?” I was learning the lingo they talk in the hoosegow lol.
“No…I’m still here on a 5150. They haven’t told me what they’re going to do with me afterwards. Remember they do have the authority to hold me after the first 72 hours are over. In case you guys have lost track, that’s super early Sunday morning. I was in the ER for hours before I got officially processed as a nut case.”
“You’re not a fuckin nut case.” Y’all know who said that. “And you don’t want me beatin that idea outta you. The more you say it, the more I think I may have to do it.”
“That’ll be way more therapeutic than the therapy they have to offer here.”
“Do they have it now?” I was remembering back to the last time.
“Nope,” said Travis. “Just OT. Occupational therapy. I colored earlier on. And before you say anything, let me say it was strangely soothing. I think I’m going to get one of those big boxes of Crayolas and one of those adult coloring books when I get out.”
“I’m surprised they let y’all have crayons,” said Keaton.
“I guess no one’s tried to eat one yet,” said Travis. “Last time there were some other patients I could talk to, and I think we helped each other some. But, this time…” Travis extended a hand to indicate the Asian guy pacing and the girl who was in the Quiet Room, although she’d at least quieted down. He lowered his voice so the pacing Asian dude wouldn’t hear, not that he looked like he could hear anything anyway. “Pretty much everyone is like that. You may have noticed this isn’t the same unit I was in the last time. This is the more…acute unit. Where they put the more aggressive cases.”
He still had his voice on low as he continued. “There are basically two conditions that’ll get you into this place: bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The census” that’s a word I remembered from my hospital volunteer days “here is mostly schizophrenics. Some of them you can talk to – like this one dude, only he’s totally paranoid, and there’s a nice black girl…”
“Not the one in the Quiet Room with the hair extensions, I hope,” Keaton interrupted.
“No…another one. And there’s the girl we saw when you brought me in…the one who was in handcuffs with the cop watching her. She’s bipolar like me and got stuck here for the same reason I did, I think: because there were beds here and there weren’t over in the other unit.”
“It sucks that they put you here then,” I said.
“It could be better. But there are always the PCAs to talk to if you need to…and sometimes the nurses, although they tend to hide out in their station behind a locked door.”
I didn’t ask, but I reckoned that PCA was the equivalent of Patient Care Partner back home. I even reckoned that P and C stood for the same thing. A was probably ‘aide’ or ‘assistant’. I liked our ‘partner’ better.
“And what do you do with the loudass bitch PCAs?,” Keaton asked, still keeping the volume down on our conversation.
“Oh…you mean her?”
“Fuck yeah. I’d have punched her if she was a dude, although it was fuckin stupid of me to take out my penknife in front of her.”
“Um…yeah,” said Travis. “Why the fuck did you do that?”
“To get the staples out of your magazine,” said I, sliding the mutilated SI across the table to him. “Be careful: there’s nothing holding it together.”
“Thanks,” said Travis. “I’ve been dying for something to read. The book cart hasn’t been around since I got here.”
“Any kind of a book you want us to bring?”
“Bubba’s got Shakespeare and a shitload of books about baseball. Mine are still packed in fuckin boxes.”
“A baseball book would be good,” Travis said. “Thanks.” I thought I might bring him Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting. It sounds like it’s a dry read, but it’s actually pretty entertaining.
We had a whole 90 minutes to visit with Travis, so we got to talk with him a lot more.