When I think about involuntary hospitalization, I feel vaguely violated. It was sudden, and it wasn’t my choice. I was deceived before the police showed up and slapped on the handcuffs. It was personal and not. It hurt, bewildered and shocked me. Terrifying? For sure. Transformative? You tell me.
Due to a devastating divorce, I was trying to reshuffle my life. I had been in three states and had three shrinks in two months. Then I moved back home to California. Fourth and fifth shrink. Ouch. Don’t I learn from the past? There was a reason I left there in the first place. (By this point, I was picking and choosing from the prescriptions from the last four doctors like it was an a la carte menu.) I was messed up.
Then the phone rang. Usually it was me calling others, lonely and in need. It was Douglas from Florida, from the 80’s in LA. He invited me to visit. I flew out to Florida and never returned. A month went by. Now I needed a new psychiatrist. I got a referral from a local pharmacy. 300.00 in cash, no insurance accepted. He was supposed to be ‘The Best.’ I choked that down.
On my first visit with this South Florida ‘Supershrink’ I was honest with him. He went: “Get off of everything.” How do I do that? I tried but it was too hard. 2nd visit one week later: The money changed hands first. His nurses tell me up front that they need my keys to move my car. The next thing I knew, the police showed up and hauled me away with no explanation. Ouch! They locked me in a holding cell at the police station. I was handcuffed for two hours on a gleaming steel table. I screamed and yelled that “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom” and finally peed my pants.
At the hospital it was explained to me that I had been “Baker Acted” because I was a danger to myself and/or others. A 72-hour hold or 72-year-old? My three roommates were all shrill, screaming, senior citizens with dementia. I had never seen such fury and disorientation. I wondered, are they incontinent or are they acting out in anger? I never figured it out. The staff would not clean up after them. In addition, there were bugs and cracks in the walls and panels. There were no programs, no central relaxing area, merely a dining room, a hall and our four patient bedrooms. I was frightened beyond words.
The second day a doctor showed up and I saw a famous actor in him (he reminded me of Richard Dreyfuss). I had a feeling about him right away. He was cynical, wise and compassionate. He studied me quite closely. For the first time, I knew my bipolar disorder had met its’ match.
“This is some kind of mistake. You’ve got to get me out of here,” and more rambling. I was still quite manic.
“Allison, relax, stay for a few days. I’ll put you on some medication and you will feel a lot better.” It all came true. I knew that I wanted him to be my psychiatrist and asked him. He wouldn’t agree right off the bat. That made me anxious. I was used to getting my way.
I still see Dr. Rosenthal after fifteen years. Continuity of care comforts me. Others agree that it’s important to have a doctor who ‘gets’ you. He and I collaborate. He shares information on medications and research freely. He doesn’t give orders. Sure, there have been side effects and rough patches. He has fished me out of the canal every time.
This hasn’t been easy but it hasn’t been nearly as disruptive as surrendering most of my individual choices to the one-size-fits-all rules and regulations that institutions need in place for patient safety and licensing.
Over the years I’ve seen ten or so other psychiatrists for second opinions and know who else is out there and how they think. One doctor didn’t allow me to speak. He looked at my paperwork and immediately threw me out of his office because of the meds I’m on. I think that he wanted to assert his authority over me. Ouch! Yes, sometimes I bite back. (But that day I didn’t-He could have Baker acted me if he wanted!)
I met my psychiatrist of 15 years in the ickiest place in the worst situation, or so I thought at that time. It worked out really well for me, though. At the very least, I learned to be extremely watchful over my mental health and careful about who I confide in. I haven’t been hospitalized since. But I would go if my life depended on it. I’ve had some close calls. Knock on wood.