Featured image by: Lucas Durham
Written by: Chamonix
June 16 – 12:48 am
Woodhull Emergency Room – Brooklyn, New York
They don’t care. They told me I’m too young to be depressed. They told me not to curse cause I’m too pretty. Fuck you. My head hurts and no one is listening to me. I want to leave. The motherfucker next to me won’t stop snoring. I’m supposed to feel safe here but I feel the opposite of that. I feel like an idiot.
When I got myself here, I wasn’t thinking straight. Around 10 pm, I was sitting in Maria Hernandez Park feeling a certain intensity. I was feeling overwhelmed by a sadness that I didn’t quite know how to express. I wanted to feel something else, so I had a moment of impulsive physical expression. I hit my head on a tree. Kind of like someone punching a wall or breaking a glass when they’re frustrated. Except it was me, and a tree. Nothing too unordinary. I wanted to hear a voice, I wanted to talk to someone. I had an appointment with my therapist the next day but she canceled on me last minute. That’s when I started feeling worse. At that point, I probably should have had a smoke to calm me down, but I didn’t have anything with me. I found a rolling papers guide online, as I wanted to see if there was anything else I could use, something that I had to hand, but there wasn’t. Weed, for many people, really helps with depression. I wasn’t feeling suicidal, but I called the suicide hotline because I thought I could find that voice that would just listen. This is where it all goes wrong. When I called I made sure I expressed I wasn’t in any immediate danger. I made sure the guy knew I just wanted someone to talk to. Everything was fine and I felt myself easing out of it, and that’s when I made the mistake of explaining the tree situation. It was moments later that I saw the NYPD and ambulance arriving to come take me. I was sat down in the ambulance by two EMTs that I later learned to really appreciate. Their names were Mike and Juana. They spoke to me and explained that they were going to take me to the hospital. I began to panic when they told me this, I had never been to a hospital and had hoped to keep it that way. I tried to refuse the ambulance, and the hospital as I wasn’t even sure if I had health insurance, and I knew that I couldn’t afford any of it, but they told me I had no choice. I was fine, my head was swollen but I wanted to go home. I vividly remember the feeling of powerlessness I experienced at this moment, and I submitted myself to it. After all, I made the stupid fucking call. Along the ride Juana spoke to me about my art and told me she also likes painting. She was sweet and calm, I liked talking to her. Mike was nice too, and he made me feel like I wasn’t as crazy as I was about to be treated. Though I felt angry at my lack of power in this situation, I understood that they were just doing their jobs and at least they made me feel okay.
I get to the ER and it immediately dawns on me how much I don’t need to be here. There are people wailing in pain, and though most of my damage isn’t physical, and still justified, I know it’s a waste of my time and theirs. A young man in the waiting room looks at me and tells me he’s the leader of the “anonymous” group. I bat my eyes at him and I smile for the first time as I find this claim quite entertaining. A nurse takes me on a stretcher and hands me a yellow gown to change into. She takes away my purse and my clothes and I feel frustrated but I cooperate as I just want to get out. They take me to another room. They have a nurse watching me. At one point she looks at me and says “Next time, call your friends. Not the hotline. You’ll be better off.” She drifts in and out of sleep. I ask for water, and explain that I feel dizzy. No reception. It took hours before I was even given an ice pack for my head. Dr. Miranda fucks around on his cell phone and drinks a Pepsi. I overhear him joking to a patient that he doesn’t even like water. Only soda. He comes up to me and looks at my head and shrugs it off. He tells me its fine. He asks what happened and tells me I’m too young to be depressed. I curse back at him and ask for a doctor with actual medical knowledge. That’s when they tell me I’m too pretty to curse. They go over typical hospital procedures; take my blood, urine, and then my dignity. I ask consistently if I can leave and the nurse explains to me that I have to speak with a psychiatrist to discharge me from the situation. I am patient and overall hopeful, thinking that all I have to do is get a few minutes of time with this psychiatrist and then he will see I am perfectly fine and I can go back home to my bed.
It’s roughly 4 am when finally, the nurse came to get me. I am feeling excited at this point thinking I will be lead to speak with the psychiatrist and this nightmare will be over. I am brought to a little waiting room and a cop takes my things. He asks for me to remove my jewelry and says I can’t have my cell phone. I’m upset that I have to take off my jewelry as it’s a very personal part of me and generally keeps me calm, but I don’t always exist in rebellion, so I cooperate once again. I am handed a set of light blue pajamas and some red socks. I think twice about this and look around. I ask where I am.
“The psychiatric ward, miss. ”
Holy fuck. I think. No. No… No way. Nobody told me about this. They just told me I was going to speak with a psychiatrist. Not put in a ward, to stay. At this point I am so desperate and afraid I just keep cooperating, and staying patient. They search all of my belongings and throw them carelessly into a brown bag. I feel completely violated. I am lead into the ward to go change into my new attire. It’s like prison, except we aren’t criminals we’re just hurt people. I look in the mirror and my face is covered in running mascara, dirt, and a huge swelling bump on my forehead. I laugh crazily at myself and tell myself “fuck you, you got yourself in this mess.” I am handed a blanket and taken into a room where they tell me to lay down. Two other girls are in there and one is twitching crazily in her sleep, mumbling strange things. Though I know it’s unlikely, I ask two of the staff as they pass me by if I can have some paper and something to write with. I explain that it would make me feel calmer. One lady looks at the other man with her eyebrows raised, the man looks at me and says he’ll see what he can do. He comes back ten minutes later with a pink and an orange crayon and some paper. I am relieved and thank him. I tell him he’s an angel and smile wide at him, but he finds my expressive response strange. I realize then that I can’t be my usual self in here. I stay entertained with my new tools, and jot down all of my observations and feelings. I try to keep it appropriate and innocent as I fear they may look at my words and use them against me.
It’s breakfast time now, I look around and catch sight of the boy who claimed his leadership to the anonymous group and I immediately sprint to him. I just want a friend, anyone, and I know he’ll speak to me. He acknowledges me with excitement and we both look at each other with wide eyes. His name is Adam, though I feel uncertain about his claims, I don’t mind. I like him, and he’s smarter than anyone else I’ve met in here. I notice a lounge area with a TV, and I walk over. I speak with a nurse named Tanya who wears a badge that says “I Care” I give her the benefit of the doubt and she starts going on about God and her purpose and how I am young and kindred and I will find God too. I smile and nod even though I don’t respect her beliefs, I don’t mind because at this point I just want anyone to give me attention. She suggests I go join the others for breakfast and the only empty seat is next to Adam. I am happy about this. I am handed a tray of food. Orange juice, Cheerios, milk, coffee, three packets of sugar and an apple cinnamon muffin. Adam is on a hunger strike and doesn’t eat. I tell him this is silly and he should eat or they’ll keep him in here longer. The TV is really static and they have FOX news playing. A nurse comes in and hands two clear cups to a patient. One with assorted pills, and one with water. I feel overwhelmed with distrust and have no appetite. I drink the orange juice for some sustenance, but ignore the rest of the food. This is when I meet Joel. He sits across from me, and has a black eye and a nice wound on his forehead. He asks for my coffee and I see that he’s already had one. I don’t mind giving it to him because I don’t need caffeine and also, I enjoy the interaction.
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After hours of waiting, pacing endlessly, and several attempts to sleep, I am finally told I am to be seen by the psychiatrist. I walk into a small room with the Doctor. In a very dull, uninterested tone he begins to ask me a series of questions. All but a few, I lie to. “Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?” No. “Have you ever tried to hurt yourself before this?” No. “Do you suffer from feelings of anxiety?” No. I lie about it all, because if I admit anything I’m actually feeling, they may keep me in here. This place is making me more ill by the minute, and I am sad to think that I have to hide what I really feel out of fear. I came here looking for help, and I am getting the opposite of that. I am then told to speak with the social worker and she asks me more questions about my life. I tell her about my job, my friends, and my hobbies; all with a smile as wide as can be. I want to show them how full of life I am, how I don’t belong here. I am told I am to be discharged and some papers get signed and taken into the nursing station. They tell me they have to file more paperwork and they will get back to me in a little. They tell me to be patient. I am full of glee and I skip into the patients lounge and do a little dance. Joel and I high five and he’s excited for me too. I try not to rub my nearing freedom in his face because I know it would feel bad. I reassure him that he’ll be out of here soon, but his eyes speak a hopelessness.
This is hell, never ending hell. I keep almost escaping. They told me I am ready to leave, I just need someone to come pick me up and sign me off. There’s a landline in the patient’s lounge where I can make a phone call. My brain is in overdrive and I realize I don’t know anyone’s number. They tell me they can’t retrieve my cell phone for me and say that if I don’t know any phone numbers then I’m just going to have to wait till someone comes to the hospital looking for me. I feel like I have seen the light but only a glimpse. I go back to my seat in the patients lounge and curl up in a ball. I begin to cry and Joel tells me it’s going to be okay. At this point I’m developing real feelings of wanting to die. I’m scared, and tired, and this place is making me sick. I’m in shock, and it feels like I’m stuck in a really bad video game. It’s lunch time now and I’m feeling significantly less alive. I still don’t eat, but Adam hands me a banana and I force myself to consume something. Joel gets called to the psychiatrist’s office finally, and I am crossing my fingers for the both of us. Out of pure despair, I begin to get creative. I think of all the people I know. I think of all the numbers that have ever crossed my brain. Finally, I think of a solution. My friends in the neighborhood work in real estate. If I can get internet access I can easily look up their cell numbers. I pace around the hall looking for a friendly enough face. I see Tanya and another worker playing on their phones, looking at shoes online and sharing opinions. I ask as kindly as I can if they could do that for me. Success. I write down my friend’s number and go back to the landline. As the phone rings I begin to pray to any force in the universe. I feel unfamiliar with myself for a moment but I am holding on to all of my hope. I get an answer. Stumbling over my words, I explain the situation as much as I can to my friend. He says they’ll be there in 20 minutes. “Okay. You’re almost there.” I tell myself. Joel comes back and we exchange news. Looks like we are both almost out. I spend the next hour standing in the hall where I can watch the doorway to await my friends. As time passes I begin to feel worried again. I ask to make one more phone call. My friends explain that they came and were told to leave, as I wasn’t ready to be released. When I hear this, I feel the fear creeping back into my skin. I can’t believe this. I tell them it’s not true, and to come back, and to not leave without me under any circumstances. I’ve already been told I am ready to go, something bizarre is happening and I am starting to think I may never get out of this horrible, horrible place.
Joel has been handed his things and he’s on his way out. We fist bump before he does his walk of freedom. I reach for a hug and bid my farewells. I watch him walk away and I’m happy for my friend. I just hope I’m next. I sit back down in the lounge and I talk to a girl named Olivia. She is sweet and smiles a lot. I like this about her. We chat briefly and she walks away. A boy keeps muttering numbers into the dead landline, I ask him to stop in case a phone call comes in for me. He mutters numbers at me and then asks to have sex with me. I turn and look in the other direction. A man lies in the corner rubbing his belly obsessively, laughing creepily. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. This place is spinning. Moments later I hear doctors shouting and I look in the hall to see what the commotion is about. I see them taking Olivia to a room; they strap her down and do god knows what else to her. Her shrieks echo through the building, and I feel a lump in my throat. What are they doing to her? My heart is hurting for everyone in this place.
After what seems like an eternity of waiting, I finally see my friends have arrived to come get me. This nightmare is almost over. I go to the door and put my hand up to the window, reaching for my friends on the other side. I alert somebody that my people are here for me but they tell me it’s quite obviously a bad time and I should be patient. Olivia’s shrieks still haven’t stopped. I’m sorry Olivia, I’m sorry that they do this to you.
I am given my clothes and go to the bathroom to change. I put on my black pants and my velvet black top. I look in the mirror one last time before I leave this hell hole. “You’re out of here. You did it.” I say to myself. I strut out of the place, feeling almost human again. I say goodbye to the few who helped me. I say goodbye to Adam and wish him my luck. I say goodbye to the part of myself that ever made any of this happen. This has been a reality check to my sanity, but more so than anything, it has shown me that help doesn’t always exist in the places you think you should find it. I got myself in this situation when I was crying for help, and I was given everything but help.
From an article written by Kevin Jay Heldman, a journalist who voluntarily admitted himself to the Woodhull Psychiatric Ward.
“Each day on the ward I was being billed a minimum of $1,400 dollars. In fiscal year 1996, gross charges to Woodhull psychiatric patients amounted to $38.5 million, an increase of almost $3 million from five years ago. The majority of that–$27.5 million–was billed to Medicaid, which reimburses at a flat day rate regardless of an individual’s diagnosis or the treatment he receives.”