When I was first admitted to the psych unit at the hospital, I was in pretty bad shape. I could barely talk, I couldn’t sit still or think straight, and my arms would flail around like they had a mind of their own. I’d rubbed the skin on my knees until it was red and raw.
The first thing that I remember was being introduced to my nurse. In the ward I was at, everyone was assigned a primary and secondary nurse. If my primary was working, then that’s who’d take care of my medications and be available to talk or help me when I was having difficulty. If my primary wasn’t working that day and the secondary was, then that’s who’d take care of me. If neither primary or secondary was working, I’d be assigned one of the other nurses for that shift. At night I think there was a nurse and an aide working. Maybe two nurses, I can’t remember.
Every single one of the nurses I worked with was excellent. They made sure I got my meals, made sure I got my medications, and were always available when I was upset and needed to talk. I can’t say enough good things about them.
There were two aides who worked the day and evening shifts. As with the nurses, they were incredibly helpful and friendly. They’d wander around throughout the day and check in on everyone to make sure they were okay.
Once I was introduced to my nurse I had to change into hospital clothing and give the staff all of my belongings for safekeeping. I stayed in the hospital clothing for several days before they let me change back into my own clothes. Some people didn’t have to change into hospital clothes at all when they arrived, and others had to wear them for weeks. Everyone was different.
There were four doctors who worked in the psych ward. They each had outpatient practices as well. I’m not sure who picks which patient will get which doctor but I was fortunate to end up with Dr W. He introduced himself and put me as close to at ease as I was going to get under the circumstances. He asked me some questions and we talked for a while before he prescribed me some medication to start taking that evening. He also took me off everything that my then-GP had put me on. He would visit every weekday to see how things were going and to adjust my medications.
A day or two later, a medical doctor came by and checked in on me to see if I had any medical issues. Other than some significant heartburn from the sertraline, I was medically fine. She prescribed me some medication that immediately (and to this day) got rid of the heartburn.
The ward also had two therapists who worked during the day. One was an occupational therapist who held groups that helped people work through their illnesses and learn to understand what was happening. She was also available for one-on-one counselling, which I found very helpful. The other was a recreational therapist who would hold groups that varied greatly – sometimes it was yoga, sometimes we’d play board games, sometimes we’d make posters, sometimes we’d have a guest speaker, and sometimes we’d have a cooking group. Both of the therapists were incredible and gave me things to do during the long days on the ward.
There was also a social worker assigned to the ward. She was also very helpful and got me a lot of information on some topics that I was particularly interested in.
All of this is to say that every single one of the staff that I interacted with was amazing. I may have been very lucky but I hope that every psych ward has staff as patient, caring, and helpful as the people I met and worked with.
Mealtimes were 8:30AM, 11:30AM, and 4:30PM. Despite the poor reputation of hospital food, there was a lot of variety and it was quite satisfactory. I don’t like fish so I was miserable for a couple of meals until I finally asked them if I could be put on a no-fish diet. That was no problem, and from that point on I always got stuff I could eat. It was often difficult to get out of bed for breakfast but one of the aides would always come around and in a very pleasant manner round everyone up and sent them to the common area.
There was also a small kitchen that was open 24 hours a day. Milk, fruit juices, and bread were available if anyone wanted a snack between meals.
The common area had enough tables and chairs so that everyone could sit down and eat at the same time. On the wall was a flatscreen television and off to the side was a bookshelf that held books, magazines, board games, and puzzles.
There was another common area behind the main one. Group sessions with the therapists were often held in there. There was another television, a Wii, more board games and magazines, and a lot of DVDs that you could watch whenever you wanted.
As far as I know, there were three different kinds of statuses that people could be. There was the normal status, where I could wander around the ward or – if my doctor, my nurse, and I were all comfortable – I could wander off the ward. There was also a status where the nurses or aides would check in on me every 15 minutes. They’d do that to make sure I was doing okay. The last status was used on me once when I was in real trouble. They assigned an aide to me who would check in on me every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t doing anything suicidal and to be available if I wanted to talk.
I wasn’t allowed off the ward until I was feeling safe and my nurse and Dr W were confident that it was okay if I left the ward for a short time. I was initially allowed 15 minutes but that increased to half an hour, then an hour, 90 minutes, and then finally two hours. The first few times I left the ward were both exhilarating and a little scary. I’d wander around the hospital and if I had some money at the time I may have stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a little bag of candy as a treat.
Eventually, when things were getting better, I got passes where I could go off the hospital grounds. Initially I had to be escorted by family or friends, but later on I could go off the grounds for a walk to one of the local stores if I wanted to. I think passes lasted from an hour to two days, depending on how I was doing. Before getting discharged from the hospital, I had to go home on passes of increasing lengths to make sure I was comfortable at home and not a danger to myself. It took me quite a while before I was ready to do that, though.
Family and friends were allowed to visit during the day. J came by to see me every second day. FA would come by frequently, too. My parents and mother-in-law also came into town to visit me and see how I was doing. If I had permission to leave the ward, we could chat on the comfy couches in the hospital atrium, or take some time in the hospital cafeteria. If I had a pass, I could go out to a restaurant or even go home for a while. It was frightening to go home at first but it was exciting because it meant I was getting better. Plus, the toilet paper in the hospital was awful – the stuff we have at home felt like chinchilla fur compared to what the hospital had.
We would have two groups during the day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Typically, the recreational therapist would do one group and the occupational therapist would do the other. Attendance was encouraged but not mandatory, and people could show up or leave whenever they wanted. I remember having to leave a couple of meditation groups when I was still hearing voices and nobody had any problem with it.
The day and evening shift nurses would always take a few minutes to see how I was doing when they first started their shifts. There were two private rooms where patients and nurses or doctors could sit down and talk. I spent a lot of time in those rooms. Sometimes I was crying my eyes out, while other times I was able to tell my nurse how good I was feeling. The nurses always made time to talk.
People could also go to the common areas and watch television or play games or do their own hobbies. A lot of people (myself included) would spend time colouring or drawing.
A snack was brought out in the evening around 8:30PM. It was usually sandwiches and fruit. Evening medications started to be passed out at around that time, too.
I found nights on the ward could be difficult. I would have nightmares and would wake up with no idea where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I’d walk out and talk to the night nurse just so I could be near a living, breathing human being for a couple of minutes. Sometimes someone would be crying in their room or while they were talking with a nurse and I would feel so bad for them.
Weekends could feel very long. No groups, no doctor visits, and if I wasn’t allowed to go off the ward, I would spend a lot of time colouring, playing with my phone, or pacing.
Another thing that I noticed was that even though I wasn’t well, there were people there who were much sicker than I was. There were also people who weren’t as sick as me, too. I found some of the patients’ behaviour upsetting. For example, there were a couple of people who really didn’t want to be there and would yell a lot about being stuck in the hospital. The nurses were good about helping them out, though. Some patients would be there for only a couple of days, while others were there before I got there and after I left three months later.
There were some people on the ward whom I considered to be friends. I would hang out and play crib with one fellow. Another fellow and I would go off the ward together and sit on a couch in the atrium or stand outside and enjoy the fresh air. A lot of patients seemed to have their own little group of two or three people they were most comfortable with.
I’ve seen patients freak out and have to be locked in the safe room (a room that locks from the outside that has a mattress on the floor) and then heard them banging on the door. I got put in there once when I was having a severe panic attack. Believe it or not, the silence in there helped calm me down. I’ve seen a patient being held by security staff while they got medication. Fortunately, I never needed to go that route. I’ve seen people bolt for the door and try to escape when someone was entering or exiting the ward. There were people throwing food, people yelling at people who weren’t there, and people questioning whether they actually existed or not. None of it was like how the movies portray psych wards, and in every case the staff handled the situation expertly and with compassion.
I sure didn’t enjoy my stays at the hospital but I will say that everyone who works there genuinely wants every patient to get better and be safe. I will never forget some of the staff who helped me out – their help and patience with me will stay with me for as long as I live.