The biggest topic of discussion on the ward among patients was always some aspect of the illness. One girl I’ll call Shaquita asked everyone about side effects of Effexor, the newest medication she was taking. Almost everyone there was new to psychiatry except for one girl I’ll call Tricia and on older lady in her sixties I’ll call Myra. Tricia had been in Whitfield—the state hospital for the mentally ill–at least once that I heard her brag about. She was at St Dominic’s this time for issues related to her father’s recent death, and she was drawing Social Security Disability for depression. Myra was in her early sixties having been treated for bipolar disorder for most of her life. She was loud, laughing, and talking constantly about sex and her five ex-husbands. I prayed that wasn’t seeing my future in her as I listened at a distance.
Craft therapy was intended for us to find new ways to spend our time. We could paint, do bead jewelry, draw, or color t-shirts. The crafts lady remembered me from previous visits, even remembered my name, almost.
This visit, as usual, I made bead bracelets from elastic string and small plastic beads. Sorting through the beads to find the right colors took up all my concentration, allowing me to finally relax from the anxiety about my children, my husband, and what I was doing with my life. I made a pink bead bracelet, alternating a series of round beads with square ones. I made one for my oldest daughter, Terrie, because she had come home from college on her day off to take care of tasks around the house and catch Rachel coming off the bus after school so Bob wouldn’t have to take off. I started another one but didn’t have time to finish it.
We also had the privilege of visitation on Saturday afternoons. Bob came to see me this time right on time, wearing blue jeans and a nice shirt. We talked about the kids, keeping the visit light and cheerful for both our sakes. I made sure I sent my purse and its contents home with him instead of keeping it in the safe at the hospital.
Bob and I were also able to talk to each other every night on the phone for outgoing calls on the ward. Calls were limited to ten minutes, so we couldn’t talk long. But I looked forward to those calls as a lifeline back to my family and to my normal life. I would call him around 6 p.m. and we would talk about the kids, and I would brief him on my progress and how soon I might get to come home.
Mealtime and snack time are a big part of the day, too—smoke breaks used to be until so many hospitals went smoke-free. We used to go to the ward cafeteria for meals; now meals as well as snacks such as ice cream, cake, or pudding were brought to us on the ward. Jackie, who ate more than everyone else because he was six-six, would hide snacks in the pocket of his jean jacket to eat later in his room. Shaquita hoarded sugar packets like they were cocaine. Smokers who used to have the option of smoke breaks at St. Dominic’s now get nicotine patches once admitted to the ward—which didn’t stop Johnny from chewing smuggled nicotine gum as well.