Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 2 - The Admission Process

(This post continues the story from "Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 1 - The A&E Fiasco)

The ward that I was being admitted on to was situated on the first floor of the hospital. The nice man from the ambulance rang the buzzer at the entrance to the ward and because I was expected it took only a moment for a nurse to come and open the door. I said goodbye to the man from the ambulance, the door click closed and I found myself in a short corridor between two electronically-controlled doors being shown into a room on the left.

It was at this point that I entered virgin territory. I've been in A&E departments before, I've ridden in an ambulance before, and I've been admitted to hospital before. In fact, I actually managed all three one day in 2005 when I collapsed at work, an ambulance was called to transport me to hospital, I spent several hours in A&E writhing in agony while they managed to find painkilling medication strong enough to deal with the pain I was in, and then I was admitted for emergency surgery. However, even though I had been in several different hospitals, I had never been admitted to a mental hospital before.

I am an short (5 feet 3 inches on a good day), middle-aged (well 55 is middle-aged if you intend to live to be 110) lady, who is a bit overweight (it's the tablets that have done it, honestly), who doesn't speak any foreign languages (although I can understand what is written or said in quite a number of them), is white, London born and bred, who has travelled the world extensively but has lived her entire life in this country (always south of the Wash), and who was severely depressed, hadn't had anything to eat or drink for hours, who was emotionally drained and really just wanted to curl up in the corner and die. The nurse who was carrying out the initial admission procedure was male, more than 6 feet tall, built like a brick sh*thouse, black, from Africa and with an accent so strong that it was almost impossible for me to understand what he was saying to me.

I was submitted to an interrogation, the technique of which the KGB would have admired. I should remind you that I was being admitted voluntarily, there was never any suggestion that I needed to be 'sectioned' but you would have thought that I had stolen the Crown Jewels and then run amok slaying the Royal Family to judge by the manner of the nurse admitting me.

All the relevant personal information had been faxed through to the ward so there was no need for me to go through all that again (they also had faxed copies of all the stuff that my GP had given me when he referred me to the first hospital). So the admission process started by me being told to empty the contents of all my pockets onto the table in front of me. This didn't amount to much; just a few screwed up tissues and a safety pin (no, I don't know why I had a safety pin in my pocket either). I was then told that I could put the tissues back into my pocket, but the safety pin was confiscated. Then I had to empty out the contents of my handbag and the other bag that I had with me. I started with the other bag (it's a cloth bag that I bought in the Natural History Museum and which I invariably carry with me all the time) which contained a waterproof jacket (it had looked like rain when I had left home that morning) and a book. these were deemed to be 'safe' objects so I was allowed to put them back into the bag and keep them.

I'm afraid that I am a typical woman and my handbag contained lots of stuff. I should explain that I am a firm fan of Kipling bags, I love the fact that they are so hard wearing and that they have lots of compartments in them so that you don't end up having to rake around in the bottom of your bag looking for whatever it is that you want. I am quite methodical about where I put everything in this bag so I can always find what I want in a matter of seconds, but I was required to take everything out of every compartment and place it all on the table. Then I had to hand over the bag so that it could be inspected to make sure that I wasn't trying to hide anything. This was when I completely lost my sense of humour, which wasn't particularly good anyway. Each item was lifted from the table in turn and I had to explain what it was and why I had it in my handbag. The purse and the credit card wallet were fairly easy to explain, but I was only allowed to retain the purse (with the money that was in it). My tiny filofax with its attached pen was considered safe, so that also went back into my handbag. There followed my two Oyster cards (safe), my house keys (safe), my cigarettes (safe), my lighter (confiscated), a USB stick (safe), my digital camera which I always have in my handbag because you never know when a photo opportunity might arise (confiscated), my mobile phone which like most mobile phones also functions as a camera (safe), some of my daily medication (confiscated), two biros (safe), a lip salve (considered safe after some hesitation), my library card (safe), the tear off parts of two prescriptions which show what repeat medication that I am on (safe), a Waterstone's gift card (a birthday present from Mr Smiley) (safe), The remains of the tickets for Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera (safe), a mini A-Z atlas of London (safe), my driving licence (confiscated), my building society account book (confiscated), and a GTN spray which I have been told that I must always have about my person (confiscated). For those not in the know, the GTN spray is for use when someone has an angina attack and as I have an unusual form of unstable angina that can occur at anytime (even when I am lying down or asleep) it is quite important that the spray is readily to hand. This completed the examination of the contents of my handbag; the safe items I was allowed to put back into the bag, the confiscated items were listed on a form which I then had to sign.

Then next form to be filled in was one listing the clothes that I had with me. Bearing in mind that all I had was what I was actually wearing, this was a little academic. But the form was duly filled in and again I had to sign it. This finished the preliminaries, so picking up my handbag and my other bag containing my jacket and a book, I accompanied the nurse from the room and went out into the short corridor and was then taken through the second electronically controlled door and into the ward proper.

At this point the nurse actually introduced himself (I have to be honest and say that I have no recollection of his name and I can't even read it on the discharge papers that I have which give details of my progress through the hospital. Then he pointed out the TV Room and the dining area before taking me to a room labelled 'clinic'. this turned out to be a room with medicine cabinets along one wall and a variety of medical equipment dotted around. My height was measured, my weight recorded, my blood pressure taken, a test for blood sugar done, and then I was handed one of those grey pressed cardboard receptacles that you get given in hospital and asked to provide a sample. As I hadn't had anything to drink for about nine hours this proved to be a bit of a problem, but with use of a running tap I eventually managed it and somewhat belligerently handed it over.

I was then taken down the corridor and shown to a room that was to be my home for the next eight days.

The whole experience was disturbing and somewhat frightening considering the fragile state that I was in. At no point was anything done to put me at my ease, or to explain what was happening. I don't think I could have been treated more unsympathetically if I had stolen the Crown Jewels and murdered the Royal Family and was going through the detention procedure at a police station with a crusty old custody sergeant.

To be continued.


Anonymous said...

I guess your experience is similar to mine except I was greeted by a female member of staff and showed to my room right away... my bag was checked in my room and I was left alone for around 20 minutes to just get use to it and put things away... I however was not allowed to keep my mobile phone which was annoying but eventually learnt to sneak it in via my socks!

I then had to wait ages for the on call doctor psych to come and see me to do the checks need, take blood, height, weight, blood pressure etc... and although I didn’t remember him he said he was the same SHO who I saw a couple of months earlier in the outpatients the one discharged myself from via letter the next day after my disappointing appointment, it was not him I was disappointed with, it was the system... he was actually a very good doctor & good looking although it took me at least a week to realise this!
Like you I was hitting virgin territory and pretty scared the first few days... I wanted to hide in my room but it was sitting in the day room during the day, staying in our rooms was not allowed and of course I was banned from going out for the first 48 hours, so clock watching it was...

I wanted to ask would you mind if I linked your post direct to a post I am planning to write later in the week about stigma and mental illness and people who blog about their experiences as I feel this post and the others you are doing really helps to break down barriers!

Anonymous said...

This is remarkably reminiscent of my own experiences being admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the US after what we call here an "emergency petition". Basically someone close to me believed I was in danger and signed a form to that effect. It led to all sorts of unanticipated unpleasantness. I wrote it up for my blog was very therapeutic to get it off my chest.

I honestly don't get why people in fragile emotional condition are treated like this. I spent days terrified of my surroundings and in shock, unable to really benefit from any of the therapy, and desperately wanting nothing but to leave. And this was a hospital. They were supposed to help me...

Oh well. I look forward to the rest of your story. :)

madsadgirl said...

Alison I am more than happy for you to link to the post.

Els said...

I had a similar experience going into a Swiss psychiatric clinic, although they were much friendlier. I was only allowed my mobile phone during the day and hand them in when the late shift came in, we weren't allowed the charger though. I found it a bizzare experience to be searched and have my bag rooted through. All I can say is I didn't want to look at a cup of herbal tea for at least six months afterwards (we weren't allowed coffee). I have a blog too if you want to read about it.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't allowed to keep my cell phone. Patient privacy laws here in the States preclude cell phones, cameras, computers--anything that be used to violate confidentiality. Of course the unit had phones. Two of them for 40 people. That could only be used for very brief times during the day. Which could only be accessed (incoming and outgoing calls) via the staff. Who were generally uninterested in helping patients make phone calls. Visiting hours were one hour a day at a fairly inconvenient time for people who work. No access to a phone not only made making arrangements for outside care difficult, it made one feel completely isolated.

It amazes me that the psych hospitals in Great Britain let patients leave. Its not an option AT ALL for short termers like me. We can't even walk too near the door for fear of being manhandled back to a "safe" area.

Anonymous said...

Hi all

I'm so sorry you had such horrible experiences. I'm a nurse in North West England and i wouldn't dream of treating people that way, at the end of the day none of us are too far away from becoming unwell and being in the same position. All i can say is that things are changing here and there isn't room for people behaving in a dismissive undignified way any more. Hope you're all keeping well now.