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Adult psychiatric inpatient

September 2, 2019

September 2, 2019

My close friend was admitted last week to Billings Clinic psychiatric unit with severe depression.  We have been pals for at least 50 years, so I’ve been visiting him daily, sometimes twice daily.  I think he is improving, but I doubt if he thinks so.

He had been taking an antidepressant medicine prescribed by his doctor in his home town, but only for a couple of weeks.  Well, at least three weeks, now.  He was troubled by persistent suicidal thoughts, anxiety,. and loss of appetite, inability to sleep.  He was staying with a relative, but he became exhausted by his depressed mood.  He finally went to the emergency department. 

Visiting hours are short.  You check in at the desk and you have to leave your cell phone in a locker.  Then they buzz you in through a couple sets of doors.  “Elopement Risk” reads the sign on the inner door.

The adult inpatient area has a central nurse’s station with three hallways that radiate, maybe 100 feet.  A couple of other short hallways go to doors.  One is an exit. I don’t know where the other goes. There are also three visiting rooms at the apices of the hallways, close to the station.  The decor is austere.  Windows have metal frames, studded with screws.  Beds are fastened to the floor.  The door to the bathroom is cut so the room camera can see in.  

Several patients, including my friend and his roommate, pad in stocking feet or slippers up and down the three halls.  Oh yes, an outdoor playground and exercise area is visible through one of the windows, but my friend tells me hospital staffing is inadequate, so they are not allowed outdoors.  Anyway, it’s been beastly hot these days.

Usually, when visiting my friend, it’s impossible to find a private place to talk, so I’ve gotten to know a number of the other adult patients by name. 

Sunday my friend phoned me, then handed the phone to “Rhoda” (not her real name.)  She told me in a hushed tone the staff had refused to bring in a minister to conduct a worship service, even though a number of them had requested one.  I told her I would ask my friend Cheryl Stewart, an ordained minister who lives nearby.  Cheryl readily agreed to meet me at the psych ward.  

That’s when a hospital chaplain also showed up.  Turns out the hospital staff didn’t refuse “Rhoda” at all.  

Graciously, Cheryl invited the chaplain in to take charge.  We sat around a table, 8 or 9 of us.  The chaplain invited each of us to say something about ourselves.  I was impressed at their honesty and humility.  To respect their privacy I changed their names.

  • One, I’ll call “Janice.”  She had a sad-looking face that made her look like she was scowling.  She was pleasant and spoke softly.  She was slightly built and used a walker.  She said she will be discharged tomorrow.  Unfortunately, she normally lives in a nursing facility on the high line where she has “nothing to do.”  Also, her friends there have died.  She said she likes being in Billings Clinic lots better.  She said she is grateful to be humble.  I didn’t know what she meant by that.  The chaplain asked each of us to say something we were grateful for, and that’s what she said:  “Humble.”
  • Another, I’ll call “Rhoda” is a garrulous woman who sort of corralled the rest of us, including my friend Rev. Cheryl Stewart, a minister in the United Church of Christ, for the Sunday service.  Rhoda set the agenda, pretty much, and I didn’t learn much about her, except people seem to enjoy her company.
  • “Jebadiah” wore a Donald Duck sweatshirt.  He looked like he was almost too young to be in the adult inpatient area.  I can’t remember much about what he said, except he had a charming smile and beautiful voice. He looked African American.
  • “Suzette” is a Native American woman.  She didn’t share much about herself.  Saturday she had at least three visitors who obviously care for her.  One of them was tearful at first, but brought her in some Reece’s peanut butter cups and a Pepsi.  (No salty snack, though.  My friend doubts there is a salt shaker in the building, it being a hospital.)
  • I didn’t get the name of a 20-something-year-old man with a blanket around his shoulders and with suicidal thoughts.  He said he is a poet and musician. With a great beard and long hair.  He went to his room and returned with a poem, in which he explained why he would never commit suicide.  The room heaved a relieved breath.  
  • Rev. Cheryl Stewart led us in a song she wrote.  She distributed copies for us to share.  It was a long song, maybe 8 verses, with a refrain that was easy to remember, a tune that was catchy.   Toward the end the room was filled with spirited singing and laughter.
  • My friend told the group about being a member of a Buddhist Church in Missoula.  Rituals, music, quiet meditation.  Also outreach to the Buddhist prisoners at the state prison in Deer Lodge, who appreciate the visits.  
  • A 42-year-old man sitting next to me was bedeviled with grand mal seizures.  These left him in worse and worse mental condition and he struggles to regain his faculties.  He said he plays guitar and sings, as does my friend.  As does Rev. Stewart.  However, none of them were allowed to bring in their guitars.
  • “Leonard” is Mark’s roommate.  Friendly and polite.  He said he spent two years in prison for something he didn’t do.  
  • “Bud” is a middle-age man who mumbles that he is a licensed practical nurse, speaking to no one in particular.  He doesn’t engage people, as far as I could tell. He didn’t attend the service.
  • “Hank” looks to be about 80.  He said he needs to go feed the cows outdoors.  He looks like an old rancher, and when I agreed with him that he needs to feed his cattle, his female companion, his wife, I thought, whispered “thank you” to me.
  • “Oliver” seemed like a friendly sort, but he was not often up and about, so I never spoke with him.
  • Another young woman — perhaps 20 years old— seemed to spend most of her time on the phone crying while a nurse chaperone stood by.  As she sobbed she complained that she couldn’t even use the bathroom without being constantly watched.
  • Several others were in and out of the rooms.  Everyone was lucid except for the crying woman, “Bud,” and “Hank.”

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