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Warm Springs

October 20, 2019

Warm Springs State Hospital.

October 19, 2019

Our friend Mark was sent by a judge to Warm Springs State Mental Hospital for “not more than three months.”  The judge oversees Stillwater County matters.  (Mark lives in Missoula, but had been staying lately with his brother Steve near Columbus, Montana.) 

The psychiatric ward in Billings Clinic has a pleasant visiting room, perhaps 20 feet long on each wall.  In one corner sat the judge (wearing a sport coat and tie) and transcriptionist.  A lawyer represented Mark, another, dressed in riding boots, represented Stillwater County.  Mark’s doctor sat next to the riding boots lawyer.  On another wall that had windows sat Mark’s brother and his wife, and Kim Irons, and me.  Neither Kim nor I were asked to speak.  Steve’s wife also did not speak.  The court reporter swore in the witnesses.

Mark’s doctor was the first to testify.  He told about Mark’s history of depression while at Billings Clinic.  I’d been visiting Mark almost every day and his testimony seemed accurate.  Mark told me he disliked the doctor and didn’t trust him to have good intentions towards Mark.  

Then Steve spoke of Mark’s behavior at his house over a nine-week span.  His brother seemed to require intense care and attention.  Steve and the doctor arranged to send Mark to a facility in New Orleans, but Mark declined to go at the last minute.  

Steve and the doctor agreed that Mark was so distraught and anxious he dug deep into his skin with his fingernails.  Mark was deemed by the doctor and the judge to be at risk of neglecting or harming himself.  

I was thinking, yes, perhaps.  But if Mark is at risk, he is barely at risk, not hugely.  

Mark testified last. He told us, with frequent pauses, about his losing struggle with major depression.  He said he wants to live independently again. Said he felt hopeless and he ate little and forgot or didn’t care to take his medicine.  He confessed to having suicidal thoughts, but that he had not, and promised he would never, act on.  Nevertheless, the judge weighed the doctor’s testimony and Steve’s sad experience with Mark at his home.  The judge even asked the question, “if not Warm Springs, where would you go?”  None of us had an answer.

Hence, the judgment for involuntary commitment to Warm Springs.  

All the while the transcriptionist typed in a small white box so she could record the proceedings.  The judge had her note that Kim and I were there in support of Mark.  Kim had flown in from the East Coast to visit Mark.

Two days later an officer shackled and chained Mark and led him from the Billings Clinic psych ward to a van with detainees from Yellowstone County.  Mark said he had never before been in handcuffs and chains.  He said he had been given little time to collect his belongings.   He later said that’s why he forgot to collect a red sports bag with warm clothing Kim had given him.

Main hospital building.

The next day P. drove Kim and me from Billings four hours to Warm Springs to visit Mark.  We visited Mark on Friday, stayed with Gunther at the Quality Inn in Butte, then visited Mark Saturday morning before driving back to Billings.  Kim had booked a plane trip home for Saturday evening.

Anyhow, at the WSSH main nurse’s desk Kim couldn’t find the required photo ID in her wallet, but the nurse at the front desk let her through anyway to visit Mark.  Kim had flown in from Stanton, Virginia.   She said she thought she put her ID in a pocket in Mark’s red sports bag when she went through airport security.

I reflected how all us former hippies are 70 years old now.  Kim looks like a little old lady.  Mark looks like himself, only kind of ancient.  (A nurse said he can get a haircut at no charge there in WSSH.)  

Another nurse took us back through a couple hallways through a well-lit, airy dining area to unit A.  

She noted that Mark was still pacing.  I think that’s what she said.  My own hearing is poor.  Mark, Kim and I met in a room large enough for five or six chairs and an end table.  A couple boxes of tissues were scattered under the table on the floor.  Mark told us that boxes of tissue are securely glued to tables in his wing.  For security, he added.

He said if he has to use the toilet he must ask at the nurse’s desk for someone to unlock the bathroom for him.  Someone must get him a cup of water at the nurse’s station because there are no drinking fountains.

Mark looked down as he told us how his hands were shackled to a chain around his waist when he was put into a van and driven to WS.  They did not stop to eat or use the bathroom for the four-hour trip from Billings.  

Remember how I told you Kim did not have her photo ID?  She thought she might have left it in a red gym bag in Billings?  On the way back to Billings Kim phoned Billings Clinic psych ward.  Yes they had the red bag.  They were looking for large enough box to send it to Mark in Warm Springs.  A nurse promised to look for Kim’s photo ID. Kim got it back that afternoon!

When we left Mark Saturday morning he said he wished we would send him books.  Paperbacks, he said. (Because hardbacks could be thrown like missiles?) Some other thoughts:

  • Mark’s roommate snored loudly.
  • The food offered was unpleasing and scant.  Mark said he doubted a four-year-old could live on such a small amount.
  • Guitars are not allowed on Mark’s wing.  Mark didn’t want us to send him a blues harp.
  • The phone 406-693-7000 rings to an operator who directs the call to Mark’s wing.  Patients answer the phone and summon each other.  This may have unpredictable effects, but I was able to call Mark several times.
  • Mark wants visitors and calls.  The address:  c/o Warm Springs State Hospital is 300 Garnet Way, Warm Springs, MT 59756.
  • You can send food in the manufacturer’s original package only.
  • Mark could find few lucid patients.
  • Kim and I thought the nurses were friendly.
  • The staff handled edibles with their bare hands.  Unappetizing.
  • Therapy mostly centers on pharmacological treatment.
  • We ate at Lydia’s Restaurant in Butte.  Kim’s treat, so I don’t know how big the bill was, but we enjoyed our meal.
  • The Butte Quality Inn advertised a pool and hot tub, but neither was available the night we were there.
  • Fairmont Hot Springs was booked up and sold out.  Teacher’s convention, we thought.
  • We took Gunther. P. took him to Warm Springs Pond fishing access to explore, because they don’t allow dogs on the WSSH campus, even if leashed.

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One Comment
  1. Timothy Joseph Rogers permalink

    Nice read thanks Dan and Dirk and Kim and P and whoever else was in the article thanks

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