The impatient inpatient

For the benefit of those who aren’t on Twitter, I’m currently a patient on a psychiatric ward for the first time in my life. Although it feels like I’ve been here for years it’s actually only been a week. After the events of my last post Tom and I had a couple of conversations with the Home Treatment nurses and I did a lot of agonising. In the end figured that  even though part of me felt that I wasn’t sick enough to justify hospital, if things continued as they were I was likely to find myself compelled to go in. And so here I am as an informal (not detained) patient, a choice that at the time felt that it wasn’t really a choice.

Initially I experienced a huge wave of relief. My mood shifts kind of went on the back burner and I felt that surrendering the burden of keeping myself alive to the professionals had been absolutely the right choice. This was reinforced by the ward environment, which is far, far more pleasant than I expected. It’s pretty much like a budget hotel, including en suite bathroom facilities with a shower that’s hot and powerful, just the way I like it, and even a safe, although the bed is small and rubbish. There’s a pin board but of course we’re not allowed pins, so I have to beg Blu Tack from the nurses.

That’s the hardest part about being here really, the incessant need to ask for or queue for stuff. Phone need charging? You’ll have to ask the nurses. Got a headache? Have to see if the nurses have time to give you some paracetamol. You must plead your case to take your meds at the usual time; you’ve managed them yourself for five years but now they want you to take to ward schedule. You must ask if you have various doors unlocked so you can wash your clothes, have a bath, have somewhere to sit with your visitors (there’s no dedicated room).

Some of you may know that I worked in criminal justice for about eight years until I lost my job to this current epic breakdown. Despite the modern surroundings, when I first arrived on the ward it immediately reminded me of a prison. I’m not in any way blaming the unit or its staff. There’s no way of occupying a ward full of patients all day. There’s just not, and from friends I know that units up and day have the same problem. So there were people wandering aimlessly up and down the corridor in tracksuit bottoms, or queuing for meds, or queuing for for food that smells like school dinners only not so appealing. And of course the locked ward door. I’m an informal patient, but having come in with the kind of suicide plans I had, no one is going to just let me walk back out on to the street and down to the tube station. Then there are the unannounced searches for “contraband”.  The logic’s sound, I get that people can and do harm themselves with dressing gown belts and plastic bags and headphones and razor blades,  but it still feels infantilising and infuriating.

I’ve seen a psychiatrist once, a experienced doctor who I think of as Hipster Doc on account of his beard. He seems decent and interested. I told him that part of what got me here was a feeling that my treatment plan was not working, causing me to lose hope that I could be helped, that my existence was just not liveable. He latched onto the idea of a new treatment plan, his mind almost visibly working as he threw out ideas. I said I was open to any and all suggestions but that if I was going to come off some meds I’d rather face the withdrawal as an inpatient, something he agreed made sense.

This is a triage ward, something I’d expected to be a kind of clinical sorting hat, deciding who needed a longer admission than one or two weeks and who could be discharged. I guess I kind of thought I’d only be here a few days. But this (Sunday) is my seventh night and I don’t get to have my treatment plan reviewed until Thursday.

I’ve never been a patient person but the tempo of the ward is frustrating the hell out of me. For all I know this ward moves more quickly than longer start wards, but to me progress seems glacial. There’s also a vagueness about what will happen, something I struggle to cope with.

Yesterday my friend Michael surprised me with a visit and a lovely bunch of flowers. I started off by griping about the pace of the ward to him as I have been to Tom and other visitors, until he asked me why I was still here. Aside from personal safety, what was keeping me here? I was an informal patient; I could just pack my bags and leave. So why didn’t I? What was my objective?

He reminded me that we had last met face to fact in September and even then I was talking about the bed for a complete medication revamp. And if that was what I really wanted I had to stick around, and sticking around meant accepting that for now, and maybe for the next few weeks, this ward is my home. And as it’s my temporary home, I need to make it as pleasant as possible, both physically and in terms of my interactions with staff. Regarding my room flowers and cards of course help, but I’ve also been displaying my completed colouring book pages and results of art therapy. Weirdly for such an untidy person I keep my room very tidy, bed made, towels folded, a place for everything and everything in its place. I guess that as my control is so limited I need to control my space.

In terms of ward culture, I have to learn to go with the flow. This means trying to learn the names of the ever changing nursing staff and working constructively with them, even the ones I find difficult. It means accepting seemingly random blood treats and physical health checks (it seems implausible that my height really needs measuring every few days, but if that’s what they want). It means accepting that most requests I make, like asking whether I get to go out, or asking if I can come off intermittent obs (being checked on every 15 minutes) so I can use the gym or go to tai chi class, will be met with, “We’ll have to see what the doctor says.” I need to accept that I can’t use many of my home coping mechanisms, like headphones or aromatherapy oils, and that my legs will get very hairy.

I need to become a more patient patient.


About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Crisis care, Hospital, Inpatient care, Mental health, Mental health services, Mood disorder, NHS services, Psychiatry, Suicidal thought, Suicide, Treatment planning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The impatient inpatient

  1. BrizzleLass says:

    I’m really thinking of you so much. I have very little patience so I feel your pain. I hope that you are able to adjust to life on the ward at least temporarily so that they can get your meds re-evaluated because that really is such a ball-ache! Big big hugs from here and hang in there and remind yourself of the long term gain!

    P.S. It doesn’t matter how long your leg hairs get, you can still shave them off once you get home and nobody will be any wiser!! 😉

  2. This sounds so different from my experience, starting from the fact that you have internet access to be posting this! I wish you well, and hope that this experience turns out to be beneficial for you.

  3. Leslie says:

    I was never allowed internet access either. No phone no jewelry….I wasn’t even allowed to have my hairbrush without asking. But, I’m an excellent patient. The crappier I feel the more patient I become with medical people. I don’t know why, my family feels the brunt of it. I guess I feel like my family is stuck with me but the medical staff can ignore me.

  4. Charlotte, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that you are able to get good treatment while you are there. At least you can enjoy a long, hot shower (even if you can’t shave).

  5. Michael Schwaabe says:

    Hang in there Charlotte! Won’t be long now and the doctors will work out a new programme for you.

  6. mercyjm says:

    I feel for you, I am a staggeringly impatient person.

  7. M.J.Neely says:

    I”m sorry you’ve found yourself in this situation, but the longer you deal with it the easier ti gets. I think hospital takes an adjustment phase to deal with the shock and reality of the environment because it’s a strange environment at first but you’ve described it so well. I hope that you get the help you need and deserve and feel better soon. xx

  8. Chris says:

    Hi, been following your posts for a while and really glad you’re in hospital now. I had my first inpatient stay this year albeit police sectioned rather than voluntary. The insight I would give you is that although at first the change of pace and lack of access to phones and the outside world are frustrating, at the end of it you’ll realise that it’s actually of therapeutic benefit. Before you came in your mind in constantly racing and conflicted, one half planning suicide, the other desperately trying to hold everything together and keep you safe.

    As you say, when you come in, your safety and mental health suddenly becomes someone elses problem. You don’t even have to cook or clean. Your mind – probably for the first time in your life – can take a holiday, and it’s a well needed one. You will get better, and when you’re back out and up to speed with life you’ll miss the glacial ward pace!

    Get well soon and really glad you are somewhere safe.

  9. Cinnamon says:

    *Here’s the biggest, most gorgeously purple bunch of flowers to brighten up your stay*

  10. Phil. says:

    My main memory of being an inpatient is how bored I was. You do have to ease into the flow of life on-ward. I completely recognise the relief you describe – and I remember thinking how, even though the lack of autonomy was frustrating, it was also strangely soothing, and how I could get used to it.

    I also COMPLETELY recognise the ‘choice but not a choice’. There’s a lot of soft pressure applied. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s curious to be on the receiving end. I particularly remember having a protracted discussion with the ward staff about wanting to go out for a walk (I’d been in for a week by this point). The response was very much ‘Of course, you’re free to do so… but we’d rather you didn’t’, with the door remaining resolutely locked. Again, I’m not at all saying this is a bad thing – had I insisted, they would have relented – but it is very striking to see from ‘the other side of the glass’, as it were.

    Anyhow. Hope you ease into things OK (I’ve not been keeping on top of Twitter). Much love x

  11. PaintSplashes says:

    Charlotte, I haven’t been on WordPress for months and months so haven’t been reading your blog. I follow it because I once made a comment ages ago.

    I’m truly sorry that you’ve hit such a low point. I can’t imagine how horrific it’s been for you and so very difficult for your family. I’m having a bit of a mini-blip of my own but (luckily?) it’s just idealization and unwelcome thoughts as opposed to something concrete.

    I am so very glad for you that you were able to grab on to the help at hand and seek help. And that you’re now safe and steps can be taken to help you get to a better place (physically and mentally).

    I’ll be following your blog properly from now on. Take care and know that there’s lots of people you don’t know who are rooting for you 🙂

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