Name of Hospital: Washington Adventist Hospital
City, State/Province, Country: Takoma Park, MD, USA
Number of Stars: 1
Comments: My time at Adventist was the most dehumanized I have ever felt. I voluntary admitted myself after becoming suicidal when I lost my job and ended up staying for five days. The ER was a normal ER – Doctors were busy and running around, but that’s pretty standard. I waited for a few hours, played with my phone. They let my housemate stay with me until I got admitted to the ward. For some reason, when I got taken up to the ward, it had to be in a wheelchair with two security guards. I can walk just fine. I was pretty out of it but I don’t think anything about me seemed violent? This can be corroborated by my housemate who was with me the whole time. I was mostly just crying a lot. My housemate asked if the guards and wheelchair were necessary, the guards said, “yes” and I went up to the ward with them.
The locked ward is split into two: There’s the “lower security” locked ward where I was. Behind some terrifying metal doors is the “high security” ward. The door was a constant reminder that what few privileges you had could be taken away. There is a hallway where the rooms and the showers are. Two people per room, matched by sex. There is a day room. Off the day room, there is a small concrete rooftop yard surrounded by high barbed wire fences. I had to give up my phone, my meds, my toothbrush and deodorant, and most of the clothes I had brought with me – I didn’t know the draw strings were an issue. They took my shoes and socks and gave me these socks with kind of rubberized bottoms to prevent slips. A nurse had me strip my clothes off and gave me a pat down. She ran her hands under my breasts and between my legs. Since it turned out there were some folks detoxing from drugs on the ward, it makes sense in retrospect, but at the time I was numb and mortified. I don’t like being touched when I’m anxious. Everyone on the ward had very different needs, but they treated us all the same way – Poorly.
Any legal rights were really just suggestions. In Maryland, voluntary admits can sign themselves out after 72 hours. Except actually, it apparently means, “after you sign this form we didn’t tell you about and if we feel like it.” There was the constant implication that I had to be “compliant” to be let out. I did literally everything they told me to the entire time I was there, but somehow that wasn’t enough for them to decide I wasn’t a risk to myself or others anymore until my mom flew in from out of state and got involved. Phone calls could only be made to local numbers during certain times of day, so I had to ask for special permission whenever I wanted to call my mom or my psychiatrist, as they both had out of state numbers at the time. The staff would turn off the TV’s and phones during group, or at least the hours group was supposed to happen.
I brought my medications with me when I checked myself in. I was not allowed to take them for 3 days – Until my mother flew in from out of state and demanded they give me my normal meds. Instead of my usual SSRI’s and birth control pills, I only had access to Ativan (for anxiety/agitation, and which I’d never taken before) and Trazadone (for sleep? Also never taken it before). I didn’t actually know the psychiatrist was a psychiatrist the first time she met with me – She didn’t introduce or identify herself, so I figured she was just more intake. It took me a couple days to even know who she was. We met for less than 5 minutes every other day. Her communication with the social worker, who I met slightly more often with, was poor.
I had to stay an entire extra day because the psychiatrist decided that I wasn’t allowed to take a cab home; My housemate at the time couldn’t drive, so they couldn’t come pick me up at the hospital. I liked the social worker – She’s one of the few staff members who treated me like I was a person. Psych patients are supposed to be allowed to have conversations with visitors in private, according to a publicly posted bill of rights in the visitor’s waiting area. Instead, we had to meet visitors in the day room under staff supervision for one hour a day. I felt like I couldn’t really tell my mom some of the worst of what was going on because someone was always watching.
The ward was scary. Mostly confused old people without families or family supports, but also a few people coming off of hard drugs. One man intimidated the old people into giving him their desserts. The staff didn’t do anything, even when told about the situation. In another instance, a woman fell (or threw herself?) out of her bed repeatedly. She was clearly in withdrawal and quite ill. She was bleeding all over the place. Staff stopped coming to help her because she was, “doing it for attention,” as overheard by her roommate. So her roommate just had to be in a room with a screaming woman who was bleeding all over the floor until staff changed their minds and decided to actually pick her back up and mop up. I caught a peek of the blood puddle when I went to the nurse’s station to get something to help me sleep. It’s hard to sleep when someone is continuously screaming.
The staff was negligent and fundamentally lacked compassion, for the most part. We were supposed to have fresh fruit for a snack once a day. It was the only fresh fruit/veg we had while I was there. Everything else was cooked within an inch of its life or canned, except for some pale looking lettuce. The staff often forgot to go pick it up, which meant nothing to eat if you happened to have slept through breakfast. Which was easy to do because it happened early in the morning. No outside food was allowed. The folks staffing the nurse’s station would do things like order Chinese takeout or pizza within earshot of us. They never ate it in front of us, but it still felt like being taunted. There were group sessions scheduled all day, but the schedule was really a suggestion. More than once, group didn’t happen because the staffmember in charge didn’t show up. In the morning, we were encouraged to talk about “what we wanted for our community.” This was a hollow sort of empowerment, as people always complained about the same things (bad food, rude staff) but nothing changed. I’m not sure what the point of it was.
On the second day, I requested that the staff put out markers and writing material, like they were supposed to, as the marker bin only had two yellow markers in it. The staff response was to search everyone’s rooms and possessions for markers like we were marker thieving criminals who didn’t deserve even the remotest amount of privacy or respect. I didn’t ask for anything again during the morning sessions.
On another day, instead of letting us outside in the fenced off rooftop yard for an hour like they were supposed to, they went to a staff party. I think someone was retiring or something? It was on the schedule that we were supposed to go out, but the therapists weren’t there so the other staff wouldn’t let us outside. Being in the sun was the only part of the day I remotely enjoyed. When I complained that we were supposed to be let outside, the staff person I was talking to said to another staff person, “the patient is getting agitated” like I wasn’t even there or like I didn’t understand English. Group also didn’t happen that day, but they still had the TV’s and phones off, so we all just sat around and did nothing, since there was no writing material and the only entertainment provided was a puzzle that was missing more than a couple pieces and a couple of romance novels that were stained and missing covers and pages. The hospital is religious, and it shows.
Bible verses were read over the intercom every night, and one day a pastor came in and told us all that we needed to accept Jesus into our hearts to heal. At another group, the therapist said, matter of fact, that evolution doesn’t exist as part of our session/instruction. I’m Jewish so this was all very, very uncomfortable. I went to every group except AA/NA (I don’t have dual diagnosis so not really any point), because my social worker told me that I had to prove I was compliant before they’d let me out. While not “required,” she was pretty clear about the fact that I was being watched and I had to show that I was socializing and participating. Even if socializing and participating meant doing activities that were essentially for children. Group involved things like circling what symptoms we had on a sheet of paper or being read to out loud from a children’s picture book. It was generally dehumanizing, useless, and pointless.
The sole exception was when the dance therapist came. Being able to move around and listen to music was such an important reprieve from the complete and utter boredom. There was a guy on the ward who only knew sign language. He was admitted the day after I was. The hospital didn’t get an interpreter for him for the first two days he was there, but they made him go to group anyway. He couldn’t lip read and didn’t know what anyone was saying, but they made him sit there anyway. It was grotesque. We passed notes back and forth a bit, and it was clear that he was terrified and paranoid. But he couldn’t even talk to anyone else about how he was feeling, really, because he had no way to really speak to anyone else. I am pretty sure this is illegal? Another place where rights are really just suggestions for psych patients.
Everything, even the tea and coffee, was decaf, so I had a headache the whole time I was in the ward. Not sure what those things were restricted for everyone. I’m not sure if that’s common or a particularly unfortunate quirk. The only time I was treated like a person or talked to like an adult by any of the general staff was when I wore a t-shirt with the name of my college on it. People shouldn’t need to demonstrate that I’m college educated to be treated with dignity and respect.
If I ever have a psychiatric crisis again, I am going to a secular university hospital. I might still be treated like an unperson, but at least I won’t be proselytized at.
Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Inpatient
Any other identities/marginalizations i.e. race/gender/sexuality that could have influenced your stay?: Being Jewish and queer made the Jesus talk extra terrifying.