By the following morning I’d gone two nights with practically no sleep, but my mind was oddly clear. Perhaps it was realizing that the other patients seemed to know each other quite well, as if they’d spent a lot of time together. A phrase floated to the surface of my thoughts, a phrase I knew well after more than two decades as a hospital nurse, but just hadn’t yet applied to my situation: seventy-two hour hold. It’s what is automatically ordered on every patient that comes into the hospital and is considered a threat to themselves or others. If you end up in the ER after a suicide attempt you’re not going home for at least three days. I started counting on my fingers. It was Friday morning. I wouldn’t get to go home until Saturday. Then I heard another patient (a young man who’d been hospitalized several times) suggest that the weekends didn’t count, and if he wasn’t discharged today he’d end up waiting until Monday. I decided right then I would do whatever it took to get out that day, come hell or high water.
I’d had plenty of time the night before to think about some things said by one of the night nurses when we had our lights-out group session in the dining room with popcorn and other snacks. I didn’t eat any popcorn because of the unavailability of dental floss. I chose a graham cracker instead. Anyway, my memories are kind of vague because the pain was really ramping up since telling my nurse my pain pill was an hour overdue still hadn’t gotten me anywhere. But this nurse had skin so dark it seemed to absorb all the light in the room, a soft, lilting accent, and a name that made me think of Dr. Seuss books. It only had three letters, but it just kept slipping through my memory. But even through the pain I could tell he was so brilliant, so compassionate, truly someone special whose insights I should be remembering. But since I didn’t have anything to write with I can’t recall many of the things he said – just the impression of serenity he left behind.
So that morning, when we were given tiny little pencils to mark our menu choices for the day . . . I kept mine. I know, it was risky, considering I was already sporting a contraband hair clip, but I really needed to write some stuff down. I hoarded all the scraps of paper I could find and camped out in my room, writing down as much as I could remember. If it came down to it I would write on the paper bag in the bathroom trash can. No plastic bags in there – we just might decide to suffocate ourselves.
There were so many things I’d learned that I needed to write down. Don’t ever get a tattoo from someone working out of their house or out of a dorm room. The one snippet I recalled from the night nurse: If you have something positive to say, say it; but if you have something negative to say, say it only to the person it involves. Also, it is possible to have two grandchildren the same age, with the same father, but without them being twins. This happens if your son is “messing with two girls at the same time”. It probably makes for interesting holiday gatherings.
But back to the seventy-two hour hold issue. My nurse friends had already told Michael that I would be in the hospital for three days. So when I called him in between “group” sessions Friday morning and told him to expect to take me home later in the day he suspected I was going to try to leave early. Truth be told, he had reason to expect that from me. After my third neurosurgery my nurse was inexcusably slow getting me discharged and I was afraid I’d miss Home Health, who would be meeting me to teach me how to give my own IV antibiotics. So I left.
But this was a completely different situation, and my nurse had already given me the most important tidbit of information the day I’d been admitted. When she saw the psychiatrist’s name on my wristband she said softly, “Don’t expect him to be much of a talker. He makes rounds very quickly. He’s great with meds, but save the talking for your therapist.” I do love an honest nurse. So I took a quick shower after breakfast and changed into the brightest, perkiest piece of clothing in my “fail” bag. It was a baggy sweatshirt I’d recently bought that said, “Hello There” in bright pink letters. So not-depressed, right? And I’d chatted in every group session like my tongue was loose at both ends, hardly spent any time alone in my room, and smiled until I thought my face would crack.
So when my doctor made rounds I agreed with everything he said, nodded and smiled enthusiastically, and asked meekly, “So what time today should my family come get me?” I don’t know if he’d looked at the calendar wrong, counted wrong, or was just in a hurry that morning, but he discharged me. I sat through my exit session, signed all my papers, and telepathically sent all family members messages to not raise any issues in the family session, and out I ran. A nurse tried to waylay me with a survey form, to which I replied, “I asked for a pain pill an hour and a half ago. I tried to kill myself because of pain and it takes you an hour and a half to bring me a pain pill – do you really want me to fill out that survey?” I was home free – until Intense Outpatient Therapy began Monday morning, that is.
This is the fifth in a series of six posts about my recent attempt to end my life. Here are links to the first, second, third and fourth. I’m sharing details and insights from my inpatient and outpatient experiences as well as my ongoing care. Please feel free to comment, but realize I reserve the right to delete anything malicious. And while Michael and I have chosen to be open about the incident I’d prefer anyone who knows my children “in real life” to respect their privacy and let them process this experience their own way, in their own time. I’ll be linking up each Wednesday to Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can’t Say.