2.18.2008

I FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST


I met my mom down in Orange County on Friday to help with a sort of "mercy mission." About a week earlier, my grandmother's neighbors called 911 because my grandmother was roaming her condominium complex screaming and banging on doors. When I finally arrived on Friday, my grandmother had just completed a 72 hour involuntary psychiatric hold in the psych ward at the Huntington Beach Hospital. Our mission: Get her screwed up paperwork (powers of attorney, etc.) to the appropriate people. Ensure that she doesn't get sent home again. (The hospital told us this was very likely despite her confused state and inability to make legal decisions for herself.) Get her into a nursing home.

Before I go any further, I know what you're thinking:

Did all the patients in the psych ward walk around in bathrobes like on Lost?

Unfortunately, no. It was more like the patients were wearing clothing from the hospital's donation bin and/or hospital gowns.

All I know is that if (or when) I lose my mind, the last place I want to be sent is the psych ward of the Huntington Beach Hospital. I can't account for the rest of the hospital, and it really could be a very nice place, however, just visiting the psych ward over a period of two days was enough to make me start going crazy.

The patient's rooms were not much larger than my bedroom closet (maybe 8' x 6') with a small window overlooking a cemetery. The white walls were spotted with cracked paint and holes were everywhere. No t.v.'s in the rooms, only a desk and a single light. The beds were manually operated by a crank system. Every meal appeared to be the same - rice pilaf, steamed carrots and some sort of chopped up meat. Patients ate with plastic cutlery on Styrofoam plates as not to be tempted to injure themselves. Before entering, we were forced to give up any "contraband" items, such as string used to tie a balloon or any sort of plastic bag. Homeless people walked up and down the hall, back and forth. When I would go up to the nurses’ station to ask a question, the other patients would huddle close next to me. (All I could think was, "Please don't touch my belly!" Normal strangers even tend to do that a lot these days, and the last thing I wanted was 5 mental patients doing the same.)

Over the course of our two day visit, my grandmother ranted about how she was given a patch by the nursing staff so that she wouldn't get pregnant (in actuality, it was a patch for her blood pressure), couldn't remember her age or birthday and cried sporadically about how she wanted to stay in the hospital and not be locked up in the nut house.

You know you're crazy when you're in the nut house and you don't realize you're there.

We visited her typically spotless condominium overlooking the ocean to find it trashed out, papers strewn everywhere, a paper cutter propping a bathroom door open, prescription pills out of their bottles and mixed together, and hardly any clothes. All her framed photographs, including any photos of photos, were gone, presumably because she had sent them all to me in that strange package months earlier. She had also started calling and writing people to tell them her husband had died, although she knew very well that he was alive and recovering in a neighboring hospital.

Before you start making comments about how sad it is to have a grandmother in such a desperate mental state - and believe me, I have thought a lot about this over the past few days - I firmly believe that her choices placed her where she is today. My grandmother did not lead an idyllic life, nor did she strive to. She made bad choices (infidelities, problems with substance abuse, hatred towards all her family members at one point or another, etc.). I don't know if any of us will ever have an idyllic life, but my grandmother never resolved her past issues, never apologized for past offenses, never accepted the apologies of others and held grudges for 30+ years. Even if it was in her DNA to go crazy, she would have found herself in a much more pleasant situation and place than the psych ward of the Huntington Beach Hospital had she made better choices, or at the very least, made efforts to fix past offenses. I have never witnessed a truer example of where bad choices will lead you than visiting with my grandma this weekend.

I got home late Saturday night and said to Erik, "Promise me that you will NEVER send me to the psych ward at Huntington Beach Hospital. " He said, "No promises, especially because craziness runs in your family," and smiled. 60-40.


7 comments:

  1. Well, now every one knows how crazy our family is! They probably already knew. (Caitlin)

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  2. I'm a tad bit speechless and brain dead after having had a fever for 4 days, but all I can think of is what a wonderful person you are to be 8 months pregnant (cute pregnant girl, too) and going to help your mom sort through this very difficult situation, and yet I think you have a pretty good perspective on the whole thing. I miss you.

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  3. It makes for a delightful story. I just laugh every time I think of you showing Luke pictures of pictures, and taking a picture of him looking at pictures of pictures. I like the senile lady.

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  4. I'm sorry you had to deal with this. This sounds very draining. Did you get your grandmother into a nursing home?

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  5. I worked in an Eating Disorders Hospital for a few months one summer and have been scared to ever go crazy or have any other mental problems! I hope you got everything straightened out for her.

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  6. Oh my gosh! I am so sorry that your fam has to go through that but i couldnt help but laugh the whole time i was reading it. I called up my brother and read it to him...we've talked about my grandma...she's not quite ready to go to the HB psych ward but shes getting there...it's just funny to see what you're going through and see what we have to look forward to in the next few years! lol

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  7. Crazy people make me really uncomfortable because you never know what they're going to do. I can't imagine having to go to that hospital sounding as bad as you made it out to be. Josh, however, thinks I will go crazy. Probably.

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