Please be aware, that if you have a trigger for suicide do not read further.
This piece is written in the hopes that someone who feels the same way might think twice and realize that they are not alone. I’m not looking for sympathy or pity.
I’ve declared this day one because it’s the first day of the rest of my life. Of course, that goes for every day but this day is special. It’s the day after when I thought I would no longer be breathing.
The hospital assigned me to a unit on the second floor called Koi. I was brought up at 10:00 in the morning after an uncomfortable night in the admitting area. More questions, “What’s your stress level, one to ten, do you feel like you want to hurt yourself, do you feel like you want to hurt anyone else, what is your depression level, one to ten.”
I was asked these questions twice daily. Then they took vitals which was also a twice-daily occurrence.
My bed wasn’t ready yet when I got there. They were still waiting on housekeeping. For the first 24 hours, you have to stay in your gown. I’m not sure why. Partially because they wash your clothes to make sure you’re not bringing in bed bugs or worse. I guess partially too so it’s easy to spot new patients.
I quickly discovered there were about 20 people in my wing, men and women, which I found surprising, and later found out they were all there for addiction. I wondered if I was in the wrong place but kept silent because I was still kind of out of it. Lunch was at 11:00, so they had me just sit in the common area and wait. I was glad because I was starving. I hadn’t had a full meal in over 24 hours.
It looked like any other hospital I suppose. There was the nurse’s station and a common area together. The common area had seating and a TV which was currently off. TV hours were an hour in the morning before breakfast and then 4:00 until bed which was 9:00. There was a hall with all the rooms, two beds each. Mine was the first one which was across the hall from the social worker’s office.
A woman in a gown introduced herself as Helen. Because of the gown, I assumed she was new but it turns out most people wore their gowns to bed and breakfast or when their clothes were being washed. We were allowed three sets of clothing.
I introduced myself back and we talked for a few minutes. She was very nice and lucid. I’m not sure what I expected. I later found out she had an oxycodone addiction.
There were still 40 minutes until lunch. I spied a deck of cards and played solitaire until I adjusted to my new temporary environment.
Lunchtime came around and we lined up like children at a summer camp. A nurse (the summer camp counselor) led us to the elevator. But first, she had to communicate via walkie-talkie that we were leaving. The Halls were always clear of any other wings when another wing was in them. I suppose it lessens altercations.
Lunch was in a medium-sized cafeteria and it was just our unit along with two aides. The food was good. For lunch and dinner, you could get a salad and soup along with the main meal. Today’s lunch was tacos with fish or pork and house-made salsa. There was a soda dispenser, juice dispenser, and coffee. They wanted you well fed. For some of these people, it was their only full meal in weeks.
I sat alone and a woman asked if she could sit with me. She had an accent I couldn’t place. During the meal, I found out she was Polish. Again, she was very lucid and talkative. She was married and telling me about her tomato plants in her garden. So far this was nothing like I had imagined it.
We were given a five-minute warning to finish up. We were allowed to bring back one drink which was not enforced and did cause trouble a few days later. Halls cleared again and back upstairs. Turns out the reason there were two aides was that we had two elevator loads of people and they each rode with a group.
Back upstairs I checked the schedule on the wall. There were four group discussion sessions a day. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I had an inkling that going to group meant you got out faster. I was told I was going to be there 7-10 days and I was rooting for 7. Group wasn’t until 1:00 and my bed was ready, so I laid down for a bit.
The next thing I hear is, “Group, time for group.” I had fallen asleep. I got up, went to the bathroom, and found the meeting room.
Group was smaller than I anticipated. A lot of people it turned out slept most of the day except for meals and sometimes then as well. Our group leader was Marcus and he was a lunatic decked out in purple all the way to his socks and shoes. I liked Marcus. He didn’t hold back. He held your attention and was genuinely happy at the smallest accomplishments.
This session was about addiction but I stayed anyway. It was interesting because I could now see what could possibly happen to my students if they did choose a drug path. I mean, I always knew in theory but here I had it right in front of me. They were all nice people who had just taken one misstep. Many of them had a mental illness along with their addiction which makes it that much harder.
Phone time was after group for an hour, 3:00-4:00. Snacks were also at 3:00. I wasn’t kidding about the summer camp feel. I got my phone, then a snack, and then called my wife. I told her everything that had happened thus far and I didn’t know yet when I’d be out. I fear I hurt her way more than she’ll ever tell me.
It’s hard for the people closest to you to understand that it has nothing to do with them. It has nothing to do with, in my case at least, how many people love you or how much you are loved. The black cloud above the abyss you have fallen into doesn’t care or recognize love.
I was going to call my kids but I just wasn’t up to it. I texted my boss whom I had texted from the ER. She was very supportive as I gave her an update. I was comforted by her words and was assured I’d still have a job. She even asked me the following week if I planned on coming back. I felt wanted, which was nice.
Dinner was at 5:00 after the second group which was on stress reduction. Most of what they talked about while I was there were things I teach my students. It was just written for adults. I saved most of it to go over with my boss to see if it would be useful.
Dinner was uneventful. I was still in my gowns. Second phone time was 6:00-7:00 and the TV was now on and tuned to Jackass and second snack time was coming up. The smokers went out several times a day. I went out with them at 7:30 just to walk a bit and get some fresh air.
I had met several people who introduced themselves. No one asked why I was there, which I found interesting. I expected, “Whatcha in for,” but it didn’t happen. The aide who took us out in the evenings was Vlad. He was my favorite and I think I was his because I didn’t cause any trouble. He was half German and half Chekslovakian with a strong accent. He called me prince Vinnie and always held his hands out and together, like praying, and would bow. I would reciprocate. He made me smile.
All the staff down to kitchen and cleaning were really amazing. Always a smile and a good word.
After phone time I found some games and played some Scrabble with Jay. Jay was an addict with several mental health issues. He was homeless by choice. He had several home-built shelters in a couple of the state forests and he had a van. He was bright and lucid but told some whopper stories of his past. He hadn’t seen any of his family, including kids, in years. He said they could never really understand his illnesses and since they couldn’t see it they didn’t really believe him. I wondered how often that happened and how many of the folks on my floor had that experience.
My clothes were ready after didner and my nurse let me change even though it was before 24 hours and they were the only clothes I had, what I had worn to the ER. 9:00 betime was loose, the TV stayed on until about 10:30 but I was in bed by 9:00 anyway. I was offered a sleeping pill but I was exhausted and didn’t think I’d need it.
I was wrong.
End day 1
Dena Kanner said:
Riveting story, Vinnie. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this.
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