Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Story #5 - National Suicide Prevention Week - #StopSuicide - by Kelly Aiello (Trigger Warning)
The first time I stayed in a psychiatric hospital I was twenty years old. Almost twenty-one. I’d overdosed on about sixty pills of ibuprofen, my whole bottle of Celexa, and twenty tablets of Seroquel. For good measure. And then I chickened out and called 911. I really didn’t want to die – I just didn’t want to – what…to be me anymore? To be in my own skin, my own mind. It was like a war zone in there. No man’s land. Don’t even think of crossing.
Parts of that night come back to me, like frames on an old movie reel. They are mostly silent and they flicker with each frame. I remember bright lights. I remember feeling cold. Cold right through my entire body. I could smell vomit, iodine, hospital smells of both sterilization and sickness. I felt the stiffness of the pillow under my head. I felt week in the bed, could see a silver bedpan filled to the brim with thick, black muck. I felt nausea. Not able to control my muscles. I tried to raise my arm. I could see Mom in the corner of the room, Dad just outside, and I tried to signal to them. But my muscles wouldn’t obey my command. My arm trembled, the muscles twitched. Help, where am I? I felt more vomit rising. More black mess into another silver bedpan which was suddenly thrust under my heaving mouth. A thick, soft hand held the bedpan. I vomited more, the taste metallic and gritty in my mouth. My teeth.
“Get it out.” The voice was not kind. Almost a bark. “Get it out girl. You have to drink more charcoal.”
I shook my head – more of a swivel on my neck. Looked up to the nurse, the woman holding the bedpan I rapidly filled with my black barf. Her eyes were blank. No compassion or empathy on her face. She didn’t like me. Didn’t like what I’d done. She placed the bedpan on the table beside her. Passed me a cup filled with more black goo. I could hear Mom off in the corner – does she really need to drink more? She’s vomited so much already. The cup was trust into my mouth.
“If you don’t drink this, I’ll have no choice but to get the doctor to shove a tube down your throat. Do you want that?”
I felt the tears sliding down my cheeks. They dropped into the cup. The doctor emerged behind the nurse. He was tall. Wore glasses.
“We need to take your arterial blood. What you ingested has a dangerous effect on blood pH.” I know. I’m not stupid. “This will hurt.”
I have a name.
My mouth gurgled words perfectly formed in my head. I felt the nurse’s hand grab mine from under the sheets. She pulled it out, hard. I felt a prick in my wrist. A tugging sensation up my arm. Then, like a thousand spikes being shoved up my arm and into my heart.
I screamed. It came out more as a choking moan as more vomit piled into the back of my throat. I heard Mom crying in the corner. Could hear Dad’s voice. I kept thinking this was going to rip my arteries out through my wrist, all the way up to my heart. Then rip my heart out too. My arm burned, every bone felt like it was breaking. I pleaded, pleaded, stop, stop, please stop. I could see the nurse behind him. She looked at me, disappointment masking any kindness she may have had.
Then she shoved the covers back, ripped my nightgown down, exposing my bare chest unceremoniously. I didn’t care. She placed patches, stickers with cords attached, on my bare chest. Beeping machines were pulled up to my bed. Worried about your heart – the doctor mumbled.
My heart is dead – why do you think I’m here, you dick. I could hear Dad asking for specifics about my heart condition. The doctor’s hushed reply. Then everything went dark.
When I woke again, I was in a different room. A brightly lit room. It smelled different, the sounds were different. Not the hurried noises of the ER. No overhead speakers, no announcements paging doctors. I couldn’t hear the rhythmic beeping of the machines anymore. My belly hurt but I no longer felt the urgency to barf although my mouth tasted like I’d been sucking on a rusted tail pipe for the better part of a week. The sense of panic, of franticness around me was gone.
I turned my head to look to the side, down to the floor. I could see sunlight spreading its fingers across the linoleum floor. I looked to my feet and saw I was covered in a blue blanket. Felt the hospital gown around my body. I pressed my hands to my chest, sore, but no stickers, no wires. I looked at my arm. Bruises upon bruises all the way to my wrist which had the worst bruise. Deep shades of blue and purple. Pretty colours if they weren’t covering my skin.
I opened my mouth – hello? – a croak comes out and pain radiates through my throat, my mouth gritty. I looked up again to the source of the sunlight, the window. I was horrified to see bars, two-inch squares of wire, covering the entire small window.
No, no, no, no.
“Hello, sleepy-head,” a voice came from the doorway with no door. I turned and saw a small, dark-haired woman. “May I come in?” Her face was kind. Wrinkles creased her eyes as she smiled at me. She’s spent her life smiling. Calming troubled minds. Which made sense to me as I realized roughly where I was.
I looked back up at the window, the bars, and nodded.
“I need to take more blood, sweetie.” She started to unearth my arm again from the gown. I looked down and watched her small fingers work as she slapped on latex gloves. I saw a splotch of dried blood at the crux of my elbow layering over the pretty purple colour.
“From where?” I mumbled. Swallowed. Another shot of pain.
“Oh honey, I’m really good at this.” She smiled at me again. Skin pulled up to her brown eyes. I wanted to like her, like her smile, but I felt like she was smiling at a child. But maybe that was okay. Maybe she would take care of me. Maybe she would make all the pain go away.
“How are you feeling this afternoon?” Afternoon? I just looked at her. “Pretty rotten no doubt,” she answered for me. She undid the rubber tourniquet and it sprang back with a slap, the needle still in my arm guzzling my polluted blood.
I shake my head at her, no. No, I don’t fucking know, although I can make a pretty good guess. And why are there goddamn bars on my window?
“Honey, you tried to hurt yourself. Do you remember that?”
I turned my head away from her face, the pillow sheet rustling under my greasy hair. Looked up to the ceiling.
“You’re in Homewood. You’ll be spending a few days here, honey.”
That’s when I heard the girl in the room next to me, shouting. I looked through the doorless doorway and see the uniformed men rushing into the room. The small woman beside me smiled, but she shook her head, back and forth. No crinkles around her eyes.
Another nurse came to the doorway, leaned against it. Gestured to the small woman who was finishing up with my blood, replaced caps and dropped the labelled tubes in her little cart. She removed her gloves as she walked over to the other nurse who said something to her. The small woman nodded, looked back to me. “Kelly, you have some visitors. Your parents want to see you. Are you feeling up to company right now?” I nodded, feeling my hair scratch on the pillow. The small woman turned to nod to the other nurse, who gestured to someone out of my line of view. I heard footsteps then saw Mom’s face, then Dad’s in the doorway. They both looked a little pale. Mom had a shopping bag in one hand.
“I’ll have to look after that for you,” the small woman said to Mom, reaching out for the shopping bag. Mom looked at her, concern flickered over her face.
“Okay. It’s just some overnight things for her. We also bought some nice body wash – Stress Relief – we thought she might like that,” Mom’s face turns to me as she says that, a question in her eyes. “And a paperback novel. She likes to read.”
The small woman smiled at Mom, pulling the shopping bag out of her hands. “That’s really nice of you. I’m sure she will enjoy that.” She turned to me. “I’ll just keep this for you at the Nurse’s Pod.” I looked out of my room to a reinforced glass enclosure with a door locked by a keypad. I saw two other nurses sitting in there, leaning back in their chairs. One laughed at something the other said. I couldn’t hear the laugh but I saw the gesture.
“Okay,” I said quietly. The small woman left with my shopping bag of things. Mom took one step into the room. Dad still stayed hovering in the doorway. I shuffled my bum back into the bed, sitting up and leaning back on the metal railing. My body ached all over and stabbing pains shot through my belly. Mom took another step into the room.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can come in.” Mom stepped up to my bed, looked down at me, and lowered herself onto the bed beside me, looking at me. Dad came in to stand behind her. Both looking at me. Waiting. “I’m okay guys.” Liar. “It’s okay, don’t look so worried.” I laughed an uncomfortable laugh. I saw Dad purse his lips. I could see he was angry. Mom’s face was set into a perpetual wide-eyed stare. I could understand. They’d just watched their daughter almost die. I got that.
“So,” Mom smiled. “This seems like an okay place.” Her eyes roved to the barred window then back to me. “You can get some well-needed rest.”
“I’ve been in bed for three weeks,” I said but immediately regretted it.
“Oh,” she said. Pause. “Well, you must have been tired.” She reached out her hand, brushed it along my cheek. Like she did when I was a little girl. My little Ducky. My girl, all pink and golden sunshine. I liked the gesture. Her hand withdrew. “We don’t have to talk about it.” Dad nodded behind her. He still looked angry.
“Okay,” I wanted to change the subject. Whatever subject we were talking about. Talking to avoid awkwardness but way past that point. “You brought me a book?”
Mom nodded. “Yeah, one by Pauline Gedge. Ancient Egypt story. You like those.” A statement.
“You always liked to read when you were little,” Dad said.
I nodded, “Yeah, that’s really nice. I’m sure I’ll need it in here. Saves me having to make small talk with the psychopaths and schizophrenics.” I laughed nervously. Mom just smiled. Dad continued to look at me, his face was impassive though. The anger gone. Mom placed her hands flat on the bed, each hand on either side of her wide bottom. She took a deep breath, sighed.
“Well, I guess we should probably be going. You need your rest,” she patted my foot under the covers. I could feel the warmth of her hand on my feet. “Do let the nurses take care of you, Ducky.”
“Sure Mom, yeah I will,” I smiled weakly at her. Dad smiled as well. Mom heaved her weight off the bed and I felt the thin mattress spring back, free of her weight. She walked over to the doorway.
Dad remained at the foot of the bed, looking at me. Then he turned his head to Mom, “Give us a sec will you, honey?” Mom just nodded then shuffled out of the room. Dad came over to the side of the bed Mom had just occupied, the sheets still warm from her body. He sat down, hands clasped in his lap. Dad never did this. He’d never really spent time, real time with me, like he needed to say something important to me. Have a real conversation with me. Dad didn’t have many conversations outside of the ones he had with Mom. He looked directly at me and I watched his face soften a bit. He looked tired, worn out. He looked much older than my Dad, barely fifty years old. He looked like an old man.
“Your Mom,” he started. “This has been really hard on your Mom. You know she’s not really equipped to deal with this kind of stress.”
I tilted my head. “Yeah, I know. She goes all weird.”
He nodded. “But, listen, Kid, this really has to stop. This behaviour. Sleeping all day, moody, angry outbursts, cries for attention, all of this,” he raised his hand, scanned it down my body, “This has to stop. Last night can’t happen again, okay? Your Mom can’t handle it.” He smiled at me. Warmly. But his words snaked into me, more poisonous than the pills the doctors had worked so hard to save me from. Dad’s eyes squinted. “Think about your Mother.”
I think I should have felt boiling rage, absolute fury at his myopic sight of me. At his singlemindedness. I should have leaped from that bed, placed both my hands squarely on his chest and shoved him with all my strength. I should have punched him, slapped his face, scratched at his eyes. Ripped his hair, his ears, his shirt. I should have told him over and over, See me! See me! Hear me! Believe me you son of a bitch! Look what is happening to me! I should have. I really, really should have. But what would have come from that?
So, I didn’t. I just nodded. “Okay Dad. I will.” He patted my feet buried under the covers, just as Mom had done. Stood. Then he leaned over, his face close to mine. And in an uncharacteristic moment I will never forget, he bent down and kissed me on the forehead. Slow, soft. When he raised his head back up, I could see tears rimmed in his blue eyes.
“I love you, kid.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
He left, quietly and without looking back.
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