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Psych Ward Male Night Nurses January 22, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, Mental Illness and Medication.
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The Psych Ward was in reality a maximum security prison. Nobody left of their own accord.  Every 20 minutes, the nursing staff made their rounds to track down every patient. Whether we were in the shower, asleep or whatever, they always knew where we were.  As we slept, the night nurse came into our dark bedroom with a flashlight and shined it on our face and chest to make sure we were still breathing. If we were in the bathroom, they stood outside the bathroom door calling our name.  If we didn’t open the door to tell them we were there, they assumed that we were either trying to hide,  trying to kill ourselves, or already dead.  So they opened the door and hunted us down. There was no such thing as patient privacy.

A 10 foot barbed wire fence (with razor wire at the very top) surrounded the entire building, including the tiny courtyard attached to the building.  We weren’t allowed outside except for supervised group smoke breaks inside that tiny little courtyard. There was no such thing as structured exercise- or even unstructured exercise. If it happened at all, it happened at 8 pm, provided we could talk a staff member into walking us down the hall and out the steel double doors to a gym. Most days, the nursing staff was too short-staffed for that, but occasionally we got the chance to actually stretch our limbs out and break a sweat.

The hospital was always short-staffed, and the hardest shifts to fill were the night shifts. Nobody wanted to be a nurse on a psych ward at night. Most nights the only people they could get to handle the night shift were male nurses.  So usually there were two male nurses on the night shift overseeing about 25 patients. Sometimes only one male nurse was on the night shift.  Night nurses had unlimited and unsupervised access to all of those drugged up people (everyone was given sleeping meds) lying in their dark bedrooms .  Were there cameras?  In a few rooms.  But not all.

Night nurses were  required to walk into those dark bedrooms and shine a flashlight on the patient’s  face and chest every 20 minutes to make sure we were still alive, so they had every right to be in a patient’s dark bedroom alone. Under those circumstances, it would be child’s play for an unscrupulous  person to take advantage of a patient lying alone in her dark bedroom- a patient who was so full of sedatives  that she  wouldn’t wake up under almost any circumstance.  Even a patient sharing the bedroom with another patient could be a target, since both were heavily medicated. Added to that was the fact that the general reputation of a psychotic patient was that they were unreliable and their memories untrustworthy, and the psych ward was a virtual hunting ground for an unethical night nurse.

The morning following a night with one male night nurse on staff, I  thought I might have been violated by a male nurse. But I couldn’t make my mind up.   Was it my imagination?   I just didn’t know. I admitted to myself that I had been heavily sedated. Even then, I was in a fog. Was it real? Or wasn’t it?

Realizing that I had to let the people in charge know about my suspicions, I complained to the head nurse on duty.   I explained to her what I thought happened and that I couldn’t be sure, since I was sedated during the night. But certain things pointed in that direction.

Although she brushed off my complaint,  I watched as she returned to the nursing station.  A look of shock flash across her face as she read my chart. She immediately sought out the male night nurse on duty, and I overheard her berating him. The head nurse was obviously shaken up by what happened, but nothing further was communicated with me.  I was, after all, just a psychotic mental patient, obviously delusional and unreliable.

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Hearing Voices and Cortisone Shots November 18, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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What do you get when you cross a mentally ill woman with a cortisone shot?  Voices!

Yesterday, I saw a rheumatologist for the first time in my life. Not to bore anyone with the details, but suffice it to say that my arthritis is getting worse. My new doctor recommended trying a cortisone shot in my hip to see if it reduced or eliminated the pain. The pain is in both hips, and sometimes cortisone shots work for people, and sometimes they don’t. So we decided to try a shot in my left hip, never considering for a moment the possible effect of a cortisone shot on my mental health.

I noticed a significant reduction or actually elimination of the pain within a few hours. It felt better than it had in years, in fact. I was thrilled. Until this afternoon, when I started hearing voices again.

At first they sound like an echo of thoughts. I’ll think something, like “I need to take out the garbage”. Normally, that thought would just be a flash, not even verbalized in any way. But that changes when the voices kick in.  I’ll hear a voice in my head say “I need to take out the garbage”, as if I’m talking to myself out loud. But it’s not out loud. Then, about ½ a second later, there will be an echo voice. “I need to take out the garbage”, then a pause, and then “I need to take out the garbage” again. Always in my own voice, and never out loud.   It’s annoying, but not scary.

From there, it escalated to what I like to call “the commentary”.  That’s when the commentator starts.  Say I’m listening to someone talk to me (in real time) about something. Suddenly, a voice (not mine) inside my head talks over the real person sitting in front of me talking. That voice tells me to ask the person sitting in front of me a certain question, or to tell them a certain thing.

For example, today a dear friend took me to lunch. As we sat in the restaurant, she told me about her recent trip on a Mediterranean cruise.  It was fascinating listening to her stories. But every so often a voice(not mine)  popped into my head as she was talking. It talked over her voice (in my mind) as she continued talking, saying “Ask her what the temperature was like, Kathy”, and then a little later in the conversation it said “Kathy, ask her if the desserts were good on the ship”.  A little while later, it told me to tell her something about my son. But the voice telling me what to do isn’t my own. It speaks to me in the 3rd person, as if I”m standing right in front of it or on the phone with it. I have a choice of whether to obey the voice, and sometimes I don’t. But the voice is not my own.  It’s not me.

These voices (the echo is different from the commentator) differ from the voices I heard when I was psychotic (before my hospitalization). First of all, I have no misconception that the voices are somehow coming to me via ESP. Second, there are not a whole bunch of voices. There are only two: the echo and the commentator.  Thirdly, the voices aren’t those of friends, co-workers, and family members like they were when I was psychotic. I know the voices aren’t me, but as bizarre as it sounds,  the voices are never scary.

I waited a few hours before calling my psychiatrist, Dr. K, hoping that they would go away on their own. That’s the mistake I’ve made before.  I kept thinking they’d go away on their own if I waited long enough.  But I’ve learned my lesson there.  So when the voices didn’t go away on their own by 6 pm, I decided that I had to tell Dr. K  about the voices.  I called his office number, but they told me he was gone for the day. So even though I hate bothering him on his emergency phone, I knew he would want to hear about the voices. So I took a deep breath and called  Dr. K on his emergency number, just in case it was an emergency. I didn’t think it was, but you never know with these sort of things. As usual, he answered the phone just like he always does.  For that I am always eternally grateful.

As usual, he was very reassuring. When I explained about hearing the voices today and about having the cortisone shot yesterday afternoon, he told me that steroids are famous for causing voices to return. Surprisingly, he also told me not to adjust my medication at this point. He said to give it three days, including today. So if I’m still hearing the voices on Saturday, I’m supposed to call him.  Of course if they get worse, he wants to know about it right away. But I’m not worried and he’s not worried. At least at this point.

But I must say that the cortisone shot gave me such relief that I wouldn’t hesitate to get another one, even if it means living with the voices for a few days.  Unless the voices get worse or stick around for longer than a few days, that is.  But so far, so good.