Cayuga Medical Center

Name of Hospital: Cayuga Medical Center

City, State/Province, Country: Ithaca, New York

Number of Stars: 1

Comment: This was my second time having stayed in a psychiatric ward at a hospital. I was rushed to their emergency room for stitching on minor lacerations on my arm (self-inflicted) and dangerously high blood-alcohol levels. I didn’t understand why the ER felt the need to stitch me up — 27 stitches total — it wasn’t my first time in a situation of self-harm and I hadn’t cut any deeper than the primary epidermis.

After that was said and done and I finally began to sober up, the ER attendant who stitched my arm (seemed like a nice guy) brought up the topic of having me admitted to their psychiatric care unit at the hospital. My now ex-boyfriend was the only one with me at the time. I wasn’t sober enough to even remember consenting and signing myself over, but I doubt it would matter to anyone. I slept off the alcohol and was brought to the psych ward. It was the most useless way to spend 3-4 days of my life ever.

The unit was extremely underfunded and understaffed, and what staff they had was untrained and unequipped to handle the level of psychiatric care I needed. They did nothing for me. My regular medication was whisked away to be given out at a certain time each morning, and the nurses didn’t understand that I needed a ton of water and solid food to take with my anti-depressants — as with every manufactured anti-depressant, the capsule gets lodged in your throat and dissolves there, leaving you with painful, nausea-inducing acid reflux for hours. So yeah, I needed more than a 3/4 full dixie cup to wash down all of my meds.

I also needed attention for my stitched up arm. The bandages were caked in old dried blood and needed to be changed. I requested this at least once a day, the first day the nurse’s station had no idea what to do with me. They had no gauze or medical tape — I think they actually tried to see if they had a band-aid big enough. They had to go to another unit and take from other stock in order to accommodate me.

Their issue with staffing went beyond nurses to the doctors as well. The psych ward was far from full, as it took no time for a bed to open up for me, but they didn’t have enough psychiatric doctors working at the hospital to manage the number of inpatients they had. The doctor I saw (who I actually liked) was actually from my home town, and not from the Finger Lakes region at all. They had at least 2 or 3 doctors subbing in temporarily to cover their needs. That’s one thing you should know about Ithaca, Lansing, Cortland, even as far as Homer — there are over 100,000 residents, plus over 20,000 students, all of various different regional and ethnic backgrounds, and only ONE source of medical care. It’s a complete monopoly on the system. ONE hospital. And they didn’t have enough doctors.

The psychiatric doctors basically identified that one of the medications I was given by a (horrible) local psychiatrist was part of the problem for my sudden depressive episode and suicidal ideation. So they removed the medication from my pharmacy sheet and got me an appointment with a LCSW therapist in town. Other than that, we were fed horrible food, were left with zero personal belongings, and everything from cotton balls to shampoo bottles had to be locked up. We had zero stimulation in the unit. Plain grey and white walls. Stiff furniture. A TV that didn’t work. I’ll mention the food again only because it was so terrible I could barely eat, and I’m someone coming from a background with an eating disorder and severe malnourishment problems.

The window views were just of the surrounding building rooftops puddled with grey snow. My anxiety was skyrocketing from how caged I felt. Visiting hours were no more than two short, separate 2-hour intervals a day. I just wanted to be held by my loved ones for some comfort, but that wasn’t allowed in the unit.

I mostly kept myself occupied with a much out of date library of books. Your other choices were jigsaw puzzles with about twenty pieces missing or children’s coloring book pages with crayons and colored pencils that made RoseArt brand look good. We had something called “group time”, I think it was held in the morning after breakfast and again at night after dinner.

The night nurses were the worst. They were really young girls who clearly could NOT have cared less about the patients they were caring for and looked annoyed to have to be there. They sort of just made up the discussion as they went along in a very unenthusiastic manner, just going around the circle and asking us what our goals for the day were in the morning and if we achieved those goals by the night. Once the meetings started to dwindle in constructive conversation the nurses would start talking about their own lives and just joke around with each other.

It was winter in upstate New York, so I was also FREEZING, especially at night. One nurse was kind enough to supply my bed with a second thin, rough blanket and put two or three gel-heating packs under the covers around me. I had to act like I was better in order to shorten what felt like a prison sentencing. The only reason I got out as quickly as I did was because I was good at faking being okay and constantly pushed for a quicker discharge date. I hated it there so much. After leaving I honestly feel much worse off.

I was left with thousands of dollars of medical debt to deal with on my own, and it wasn’t until the following summer that I realized the two similar bills I was receiving in the mail were TWO separate bills, doubling what I thought I owed, because I owed to two different Cayuga medical offices. No one explained the billing process to me before I left. I’ll owe them that money for a few years. I can’t pay my bills currently and my biggest stressor and anxiety inducer is money issues at the moment. I can’t afford food and I have debt collectors calling me. I basically paid a couple grand to be put in a detention center.

The team at Cayuga taught me that psychiatric wards are completely useless in their current state. I don’t care how bad my depression gets again; if anyone ever tries to send me to another psych hall I will run screaming.

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Inpatient

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?: None

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