I sat there in shock, as a psychiatrist told me I would be admitted to hospital – voluntarily or otherwise. The hospital had a bed for me, and I was to get there as soon as possible.
Sure I’d been down, and sick…but…was I really that bad?
I was told I could choose between the psychiatric ward at my local hospital, or a ward in the states only stand alone public psychiatric facility. The state psychiatric facility houses a forensic unit which probably contributes to it’s bad reputation. Additionally, there had been reports of nurses being stabbed by patients, patients being killed by staff, successful suicides on site.
“Bedlam! Absolute bedlam!” I thought. Did I want to be be admitted to a hospital whose official title used to be the “Insane Asylum”. A hospital that resulted in the neighbouring suburb officially changing it’s name so it wouldn’t be affiliated with the facility. A hospital which, to my uneducated knowledge, only REALLY CRAZY people went to? Hell, no! I wasn’t crazy. I just needed a few days to get my medication sorted out.
So “The Dungeon” it was.
I drove home, called my husband, and started packing. Ironically I already had a suitcase packed, for the national conference I was supposed to be speaking at the following week. I took out my high heels and hairspray and replaced them with pyjamas and a pillow. That cut deep.
Later we arrived at the Emergency Department. I walked up to triage and whispered “I’m here to be admitted to the, um, psychiatric ward.” I felt so ashamed. Such a failure. This was self stigma at its finest. It’s funny how I prided myself in wanting to take action against mental illness stigma – even choosing a PhD in the topic. Yet when I became unwell I immediately stigmatised hospitals, my illness and myself.
I was kept in the emergency department for some hours. I answered question after question, about my oesinophilic gastroentoritis, my bipolar disorder and my state of mind. I was given a white gown and a hospital bracelet. Eventually a bored looking nurse came to transfer me to the ward.
“D’ya want a wheelchair?” She asked, snapping her gum.
“Oh, no thanks.” I answered.
“Ya sure? It’s a long walk.”
“No.” I said firmly. Actually I was sick, tired and weak from the physical illness. But I wasn’t going to let anyone take that last shred of dignity I had.
The nurse wasn’t kidding when she said it was a long walk. We walked and walked in an awkward silence for what seemed like forever. Up and down halls, through corridors. Finally we reached “D” block where the ward was located. But to my surprise we had to walk down a flight of stairs to access it.
THE WARD WAS IN THE HOSPITAL BASEMENT.
It got worse when we arrived. The ward was dark and dingy. The carpet tattered and stained. Walls were peeling and in need of a good lick of paint. There was a concrete courtyard in the middle of the ward, with a few lonely benches. The nurses station looked weather worn, and contained by a large glass window ( presumably to keep us crazies out). No one came to meet us. No one was at the nurses station. We sat on a shabby couch for ten minutes waiting for something to happen.
It took all my self restraint not to run screaming.
To put things in perspective, although the main hospital was old, it was clean, refurbished and friendly. The medical unit next door to the ward boasted leather sofas, plants and stylish decor. It was made abundantly clear the priority did not lie with mental health. (Thankfully, now, a new mental health unit is being built within the hospital – however this does not explain the lack of care The Dungeon was supplied over the past thirty or so years).
When a nurse finally arrived I was given a brief tour of the ward. Bedrooms, a dingy TV room with a plate full of apples individually wrapped in plastic (plan for licking each apple indiviudally: foiled), a locked medication room…and that was about it. I was shown to my room, which I shared with three other women, said my goodbye’s to The Hubster, then got into bed.
This is just for a few days. I told myself. Just to get my medication sorted.
The next morning I overheard a man talking on the phone, trying to describe to his friend how to get to the psychiatric ward.
“You go down the main hallway…it’s like, forever, man. Walk until you reach a dead end. Then take the stairs. Down, not up. We ain’t got no higher ground here. We’re block D. D for Dungeon!” Then he laughed heartily.
D for Dungeon. I liked it.
Little did I know that The Dungeon would be my home for the next nine weeks.