I sat in my partially reclining chair (which gave me some lingering back pain as a souvenir) under my scratchy bleached blanket through the night while time inched along at a snail’s pace. In the rare moments of quiet that I was able to doze off, I’d startle awake and hope that at least an hour had passed. But alas, the big digital clock on the wall above my chair broke my heart by only moving forward 9-15 minutes without my notice. I was also clearly able to see the patient board in the nurses station in front of my chair, and I could watch the check marks appear by patients names after they got to meet with the doctor. My name was at the very bottom of the list, and it seemed to be taking about 45 minutes per patient. My brain did the math automatically, but I lost whatever hope I had of speeding along the process.
Ten hours crawled by before they called my name to see the doctor. I was having such a severe panic attack that I went to the emergency room for help, and they “helped” me by booting me to the psychiatric hospital for “specialized care.” At the psychiatric hospital, I found my special care in the form of a panic attack extension while I listened to the soothing soundtrack of psychosis. I’ll play one of the tracks for you here:
S (hovering in my personal space while I pretended to be asleep): Hey. Hey! HEY you! Let’s go! Getcho ass up, he comin’ ta get us, we gotta get outta here!
Anita: S, don’t talk to anyone. Sit back down and try to get some sleep.
S: I ain’t gotta sleep in no CHAIR, I ain’t HOMELESS. I paid my rent this month! I don’t care what he say, he ain’t puttin’ his hands on me again, no sir.
Me (in my head): I’m sorry, S.
From one of the padded isolation cells: WHY DIDN’T YOU LET ME DIE?! WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!! (sounds of a human bone and tissue banging itself into the metal door begin, a thin stream of blood seeps from under the door)
Intercom: Code Purple in Isolation 1, Code Purple in Isolation 1 (promptly all available large male employees run to the room and apply a straight jacket to the screaming patient, then administer sedation.
P (wandering in front of Isolation 1’s door): He’s not struggling, why can’t you take that jacket off? This is cruelty! You are being CRUEL! I would hate it if I had that jacket on, and you know what else? God hates it. God hates you! Can I have a cigarette?
Anita: P, shhhh. You don’t have any cigarettes, please go back to your chair.
P: I do have cigarettes! God wants me to have cigarettes, just ask him.
Anita: I just did, and he said you’re gonna have to get your own. He’s not bringing them to you today. Please go sit down.
P (starts pacing): God, I don’t know what to do with these people. I’m not allowed to hurt them, I can’t even touch them. I am so angry right now, and you said in your good book that I should love and not fight, but I need to fight, God, you see how they treat people here, and I can hear you telling me that I need to do your work here…
S (to P): Can you shut the fuck up!”
P: No, I don’t have to shut the fuck up, I can talk as much as I want to, God gave me the power of my voice and I can talk to and fight a (racist epithets that I’m not even going to repeat begin spewing forth with increased volume and hostility)
Anita: P you need to shut your mouth right now and sit your ass down in your chair unless you want a shot.
P: FINE I’ll sit down when this (racist comments abound)…
(P goes to her chair and begins trying to seduce one of the male technicians.)
The man a couple seats down from me: Starts having a loud lengthy orgasm in his sleep.
I doze off for about 6 minutes before the girl in the chair next to me scares the shit out of me (figuratively) and herself (literally) by standing on her chair, pissing and shitting herself: I’m being harrassed! Muh-fugguhs out to get me, yo! I’m bein’ harrassed and none a y’all gonna get off your asses to do SHIT!
Me (in my head): Please force her to shower. (They don’t. They ignore her and she lies down in her soiled clothes and goes back to sleep.)(But not before she hawks up the largest, juiciest loogie I’ve ever seen and spits it on the nurse’s station window.)
Me (in my head): This is fun! I’m so glad I don’t have any medication to help me deal with this!
Someone in the bathroom: (screaming unintelligibly; the only words I understand are her multiple, “You fucking cunt!”s)
A woman behind me started singing You Are My Sunshine in her sleep, sounding as peaceful as a safe child, which was one of a few shards of unexpected beauty I encountered during my stay.
While this soundtrack played, calming my nerves and lowering my blood pressure as well as heat-seeking missiles being fired at my head would, I realized two things: 1. I am not nearly as sick as most of the people in here. In fact, I don’t even rank anywhere on the same scale as most of these patients. Yes, I cut myself on purpose as a coping mechanism (not an endorsement for cutting), and I have had suicidal thoughts, but for the most part I am in control of myself and I am able to make rational, responsible decisions. Something I thought I was doing when I checked myself in to the ER earlier in the night. I second guessed that decision more with each passing minute. The second thing I realized was that I hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours, and I was hungry to the point of thinking I would throw up. A type-1 diabetic can’t go 24 hours without eating; the consequences are too steep. So even though I thought I might vomit at any second, I told the nurses I needed to eat something immediately or my blood sugar was going to get low.
Side note: Diabetics and others with chronic conditions who find themselves hospitalized for any reason: Do not assume that the medical professionals at the hospital know enough about your condition to treat you properly. Yes, they should, but don’t ever assume they do. Question everything they tell you. You have the right to refuse treatment and demand correct medications if they try to give you or do anything that you do not agree with. We must always advocate for ourselves!
The nurses brought me a sandwich that was stale and smelled like feet, and I choked down about a third of it to get the nausea to subside. Eventually breakfast came, and we were served potatoes, powdered eggs, milk, and 1/2 an orange. The staff run this unit like the military, which makes sense as there are about 1 staff member to every 10 mentally ill patients. It was so strict that many patients called the technicians “Mr. C.O. sir!” I ate all of my breakfast since I wasn’t sure when I would get to eat again. After I ate I went to the nurses’ station and told them that I needed my insulin shot since I just ate breakfast. They said they would get me in to see the doctor next since they needed his orders to give me the insulin. I told them that I couldn’t wait more than about 30 minutes to give insulin or my blood sugar will go too high. They said they would look into it.
I went back to sit down, and when 30 minutes passed, then 45 minutes, then an hour, and I still hadn’t seen the doctor or gotten any word about the status of my insulin, I went back to the nurses’ station and asked for her to go get the doctor’s approval for my insulin, even if he can’t see me just yet. (Which is bullshit, since I’m sitting in a panic watching the human circus channel unfold in front of me without getting any actual help or direction.) She said she would look into it. Well, she continued to sit on her ass, and when another 30 minutes passed, a technician came by to test my glucose, temp, and blood pressure. Much to everyone’s apparent shock, my glucose was 377 and I felt like I was going to throw up again. My blood pressure was still off the charts, and I suddenly had a raging fever. The nurse came by my chair and told me that my insulin injection was going to be a little late, which would throw my day off just a little bit, but I’d be back on track by the next injection. I said, “That’s not how it works.” She responded to that by making a lame attempt at a compliment by congratulating me on being so educated about my disease. This woman was really starting to piss me off.
Just then the doctor called my name, ten hours after I had been admitted. I told him I needed my insulin immediately and that the nurses refused to give it to me, and now my blood sugar is high and I could be going to DKA at any second (only true in theory, but I had a point to make). He first apologized that I had to wait so long to see him as they usually try not to keep first timers waiting this long, an apology I only grunted at since it didn’t do me a lick of good at that point. He then said he would order my insulin right away. He then told me that within the next couple hours he was transferring me to another unit with fewer people, and actual beds. It sounded like the Hilton compared to that place. I then begged him for some kind of pharmaceutical help calming down and keeping my blood pressure from hitting stroke level. He agreed to give me a mild anti-anxiety tablet (no idea what it was, didn’t care). The nurse came back to my bed a few minutes later with the tablet and a syringe of insulin. I took the tablet without questions, then asked what kind of insulin was in the syringe. She said she didn’t know.
The nurse didn’t fucking know what kind of insulin she was about to give me.
I told her I was not going to let her inject it until I see the bottle and watch her draw it up. She sighed at this huge inconvenience while I followed her to the window in front of her desk. She held up a bottle of Regular insulin.
“That’s not the kind of insulin I take. I’m not taking that.”
“What kind of insulin are you supposed to take?” she asked. I had handed her a sheet of all my medications, dosages and medical history upon admission.
“Yeah, that’s what this is,” she had the nerve to say to me.
“If that’s true, can you please point to the word Humalog on that label?”
She was getting flustered. I asked to speak with the doctor. I said I didn’t care that he had stepped away, I needed to speak to him immediately.
She went to find the doctor, who listened to me with his “tolerating an agitated mental patient” face but eventually agreed to let me write down my sliding scale and names and instructions of the correct insulin.
When I was finished writing I said, “I need you guys to listen to me, not as a mental patient, but as someone who has had Type 1 Diabetes for almost 30 years. Skipping a shot and making it up later might work for a Type 2, but that can actually kill a Type 1. We have no backup insulin in our bodies, and if we eat something, we need an injection immediately, no exceptions. I can’t help feeling like I am close to being in DKA right now because of a lack of education on your part. Please don’t let this happen to any other diabetics.” Everyone in the nurses’ station was staring at me with an open mouth. I slammed my paper and pencil down on their desk and stomped back to my chair. After that, the nurses called me to the window to watch them draw up the insulin every single time, asking me if the dose they were puling up was okay, and letting me give my own injections.
The high blood sugar, the fever, the anti-anxiety med, and the lack of any sleep all night allowed me to fall asleep in my orthopedically challenged chair among noisy psychoses for a blissful two and a half hours. A nurse woke me up to inform me that it was time to transfer to the new unit. I leapt out of my chair as fast as I could, and walked as fast as my fevered, medicated, hyperglycemic feet would carry me behind the nurse. I followed her in a medicated, fevered daze, not caring what lay in front of me as long as I never had to revisit what lay behind me. The staff, for the most part, in the emergency unit I was leaving, were wonderful. If I had been, or ever will be as sick as the people around me were, I’m glad there would be people like them to take care of me and give me the respect that is my right as a human, no matter what my mental illness was. I still believe that was not the place I needed to be since they didn’t offer the kind of help I very badly needed, but I have great respect for the people who do what they do for a living every day. More stories about the new unit next time. Thank you for reading.