Winner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Key Awards for Personal Essay/Memoir 2008
KSPA’s Story of the Month, Column/Review, December 2008
The ER doctors said there was nothing else they could do. I’d already been tested for lyme, mono, drugs, alcohol, had two MRI scans and an EEG test for seizure activity in the brain. I’d seen more than two dozen doctors, been to five hospitals and had eight blood tests but no one knew what was wrong with me. It was all in my head.
How could this be psychological? I’d have daily seizure-like fits, at 11, 3 and 7. I couldn’t walk in a straight line and had extreme behavioral changes for over a month. Did I want to live like this? But they said it was all in my head.
They said I needed to see a psychiatrist, but the next opening was two to three months away at most offices. I needed help immediately. A nearby psychiatric ward had a vacant bed and a psychiatrist would meet with me on a daily basis.
We drove from the ER straight to the ward. My parents filled out the paperwork and admitted me at 2:03 a.m. on Friday morning.
I woke up without a clue. The room was starch white and the sheets were itchy. The bathroom was a small corner with a toilet and shower. Last night was a blur, but I smelled food down the hall. I was hungry for anything.
A man nurse stopped me. “Where are you going?” he asked. “Your bed isn’t made yet.” So much for the welcome wagon.
After I made it he made me straighten the sheets out so that there weren’t any peaks. He checked me off on his clipboard, and I hurried down to breakfast.
The food was gray. I only had a spoon, because forks could be used as weapons with suicidals. We couldn’t have pencils either. Those things were contraband.
But in the middle of breakfast I had a seizure and had to leave my mush. My head lolled and my feet shot out sporadically. My hands flipped lazily on the table. I knew what was happening, but I couldn’t stop myself.
The nurses came after a few minutes and dragged me to the blue room, a musty old padded corner. “Are you pulling one, Timothy?” they asked. “You better stop.” What could I do? I couldn’t control my limbs, let alone talk to an angry nurse.
My head was still twisting side to side and my whole body was fidgety. They threw me on the floor and left. Then a big nurse came by. A really really big nurse, topping out at close to 300-lbs.
“You are too old for this, Timothy! You stop this right now! Stop it!” She left too.
Then a psychiatrist came by. He talked to me, but I really couldn’t say much. After 15 minutes, he left and I never saw him again. He takes the weekends off.
In the end, the seizure lasted about 15 minutes. I got out of the blue room and read my schedule. “Goals Group: 9:45-10:00 p.m.”
For “group,” everyone in the adolescent wing sits around a long table, listens to each other’s problems and talks to a counselor about it. There were kids with anger issues, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and drug abuse at 12 years old.
“Where are the other two?” asked our counselor, referring to the absent girls.
“Sleeping,” a girl with curly hair said. “I think my roommate’s going to kill me. She used to ride my bus in middle school. I called her fish-lips and now she’s suicidal. I had a dream last night that she smothered me with my own pillow. I hope she doesn’t kill me.”
“Oh yeah that girl is psycho!” another girl said. She was in for depression and had started taking the happy pills yesterday. “You’re definitely gonna die,” she laughed. “But the other girl is nice. She’s just a big sleeper during the day.”
“Group” is supposed to be therapeutic, but it just made me angry. I really didn’t belong here. I was sane. I’d kept a decent GPA and was in two honors classes. My college résumé was stuffed with things like SHARE, church activities, soccer, band and newspaper. I didn’t want to kill myself or anybody else, and I didn’t see little green men running around. I was a good kid. I didn’t belong here.
The schedule read “Quiet Time: 12:00-12:30 p.m.” I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Everyone else went to their dark, artificially-lit rooms and lay flat on their beds. I counted 47 dots on the ceiling.
I ate a cold tray lunch when I got back up. It tasted like old cheese, but I was too hungry to care.
I finished what looked like mashed potatoes but smelled like cranberries, with a stagnant after taste.
“Board games: 6:30-7:30 p.m.”
I didn’t know what time it was, but I sure didn’t want to miss free time.
In the dayroom, Carrot-top (suicidal thoughts) drew anime, Hallucinations counted all 49 cards in the room’s only deck and the drug dealer stenciled a caricature of the kid in front of him. The girls were chatting over an old Wiggles coloring book.
“I miss my boyfriend,” Curls said. “I named his penis Freckles. They took my ring when I came in here. We’re engaged.” She was 15.
“I know whatcha mean,” Big-sleeper said. “I luuuuv my fiancé.” She was 16.
Happy-pills ran up to the chalkboard and wrote a poem:
“Sex, drugs & rock n’ roll
Speed, weed & birth control
Life’s a b—- and then you die
So F— the World and let’s get High”
She thumped her chest, threw up the deuce and said, “Peace out ya’ll.” She sat down to finish coloring her page from the Wiggles book, but bounced back up to erase it before 300-lbs. could see.
“So what’s wrong with you?” Curls asked me.
“I have seizure-like fits. Except it’s not a seizure. We don’t know what it is.”
“Oh yeah?” Curls said. “My brother died from a seizure. And he died in a hotel room, which is funny because he was born in a hotel room. I was too. Anyway, my parents didn’t get him his meds because they were on the run from the police.” She finished tracing the rim of the Wiggles’ kick drum.
And suddenly, the psychiatric ward looked a whole lot brighter. My sister was still alive, and my dad is nice enough to put the cap back on the toothpaste. When my family saw me during visiting hour, they brought me cards from friends, family and school groups. I had a good life. I have a good life. I read those cards three times a day.
The cards were a great gift, but nothing beat getting “off unit” status on Sunday, which meant I wasn’t confined to the three-hallwayed adolescent “unit.” I could get my own breakfast and walk down the hall to the gym. But most importantly, I could use a fork and eat lunch with everyone else.
As glamorous as I imagined eating lunch with people was, it really wasn’t that great. They only talked about leaving, which I confess I had been imagining too. The outside world is the equivalent ofporn in a psychiatric ward.
“This is my eighth time. I won’t be here for long,” a younger kid said. He hadn’t changed his clothes once since he arrived.
“I suck up to my nurse. She’s already given my psychiatrist two good reports about me,” Happy-pills said.
“Maybe I can get my mom to transfer me to Two Rivers. It’s nicer there,” the 12-year-old addict said.
“I just want to go to Mickey D’s,” the Dealer said. But the average stay in purgatory is five and a half days.
Later that day my parents “rescued” me. I told them all about the ward during our hour-a-day visits. They probably thought like I did and figured that this place wasn’t going to help me. They brought me home on Sunday to blue streamers, “Hope You’re Feeling Better” balloons and another stack of cards from friends.
I woke up on Dec. 5, 42 days, two hours and one minute after my first episode, and I could walk in a straight line. I didn’t have an episode all day, only a massive headache. And the next day the headache was gone. After the five hospitals, two dozen doctors, medication experiments and long nights, my body is fixing itself. We may never know what came over me. I have this story and a DVD my parents filmed to document a seizure to remember the past two months, but I’ll never watch it.