The PICU, or Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, was where I spent most of my time in the state psychiatric facility, and where I had all of my ECT. Because of this, quite honestly, I can’t remember much about this time. Luckily for me I kept a special “Things to Remember” journal, which documented funny or disturbing things that happened, details of my physical health problems including what foods to avoid, reasons why I was in hospital, and other such things that I deemed important to remember.
This post is written in consultation with that journal.
The PICU is a locked 8 bed psychiatric unit where people are detained (that’s right, we were all prisoners of the Mental Health Act) presumably because they had complicated or enduring problems.
I, for example, had the double whammy of physical and mental problems concurrently. I had been diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disease, and had to adhere to a very restrictive diet, and was physically unwell, often needing a nurse escort to nearby hospitals for appointments and surgeries. On top of that, shamefully, I was a major flight risk, having had escape attempts at multiple hospitals, incurring the involvement of Security. I was also a risk to myself, having had a suicide attempt on the open ward, and I was completely psychotic, experiencing hallucinations and delusions. Although I joke that my diet is enough to send anyone mad, it was the most dark and out of control I have ever been. Honestly, I am glad I have forgotten much of the substance of my stay.
The other patients on the ward had similarly complicated issues.
Ann is a 50 something women who would only answer (strangely) to “Isabella” and probably has a diagnosis of mania with delusions of grandeur. She believes herself to be Princess Diana. Unfortunately she believed I was Kate Middleton, and because it was easier than trying to convince her otherwise, I was often employed to participate in her fantasies. She was extremely jealous of anyone I talked to or who visited, particularly my mother. Her sentences often started with: “My Father in law, Prince Charles” (clearly her grasp on the structure of the royal family was somewhat askew) or “When I was at Oxford/Cambridge.” She is very kind though.
Lesley was the only male on the ward and disliked this intensely. (There is too much oestrogen on this ward” he would grumble). He was waiting on transfer to an all male ward that Isabella informed him that all the patients would be criminals (she was probably not far from the truth). Isabella also accused Lesley and I of “sexual misconduct” while we watched TV…A situation very unlikely given that Lesley had confessed to me that he thought he might be gay.
Nicole was pregnant with a blackened front tooth. The baby was clearly unplanned, as she often talked coldly about the foetus, prompting beration from the nurses and Isabella.
Pregnancy did not stop her smoking habit and she chain smoked as much as she could get away with. Her favourite phrase was “I need to get out of this place…I have drugs to pick up and money to count.” She could be kind in the most unexpected ways, though. For example, she bought me chocolate I could eat from the travelling kiosk when I didn’t have access to money.
Dani was a schizophrenic musician. She was slight, strange and spent hours solving complicated algorithms on the whiteboard. We once asked her why she didn’t teach, given how much she knew. “Because I am mad!” she laughed. “Aren’t we all!” Nicole responded. True that.
Louisa was your typical mum. She was Christian, wore courderoys and harboured an intense dislike for Nicole. Overall, she seemed incredibly normal to be detained in a locked ward, and I often wondered what brought her to us. She lived rurally and claimed to be flown to hospital by the Royal Flying Doctors Service. So much cooler than being driven in the back of a Volvo. In any case, her stay in the locked ward was short.
The other inmate has been lost to my ECT memory loss. Perhaps this is due to a short stay. Or perhaps I never interacted with or noticed them. All I know is that try as I might, although my longstanding rule of psychiatric hospitalization was to avoid contact with other patients…in such a small ward, myself and those I have described became a little, strange, family. We knew what it was like to be crazy. We banded together. Us against the nurses. And strangely, (perhaps it was institutionalization), that little family helped me survive the most difficult days of my life.