Wendy Bloom’s first-person account shows inadequacy of Oregon’s mental health care

By Wendy Bloom, Medium.com, August 18, 2015

Typical ER accommodations for persons with mental illness

Typical ER accommodations for persons with mental illness

About 20 minutes ago, I was ushered into a small room, with brown walls, and a shiny linoleum floor, with a cushioned bench bolted into it. There is a camera high in the right corner of this room, so my every move can be kept track of. There is no bed, no other places to seat myself, and no windows, aside from the one small square in the doorway, through which my every move can be monitored.

Where do you think I am? I have committed no crime, I am not violent, and I am not psychotic. Did you guess? I am in a holding cell in the Rogue Valley Medical Center, in the ER. I am here, because I admitted myself to stay safe, due to a history of Major Depressive Disorder, and suicidal ideation. Which means, that I was thinking of ways in which I might kill myself.

I am new to the area, and have never experienced anything like this. The hospital is in dire straights. They have no other space for me. I was placed on a 72 hour hold by the Psychiatrist. This means that I cannot leave, even if I want to. The psychiatric nurse is busy calling other hospitals in the state, looking for beds that are available in Psychiatric wards. I could be shipped off to a random facility, anywhere in Oregon, far away from the support that I have in this area. I am really scared.

Remember, I came in voluntarily, have no history of violence, and I am completely coherent, and non combative. I have good medical insurance. The nurses have all, at varying levels, been kind to me. I have not been manhandled. I am not whimpering in a corner without clothing. But I am still having doubts about whether or not my decision to admit myself was a wise one.

I’ve had a five minute question and answer session with the attending Psychiatrist, and I’ve had meals brought to my room. There is no television in this cell. I am basically on my own with my disturbing thoughts, with no assistance, and with nothing to distract myself. The two other psych patients in this section of the hospital, are in the same situation as my own.

I notice a young woman in the cell next to mine, as I am not locked in and can walk through the small, enclosed area where the nurses work. She looks about 30, has a messy mop of auburn hair, and seems very upset and alone. I attempt to make a small supportive gesture, but the nurse will not allow it.

It is traumatizing to be stuck away like a criminal, when what I really need is compassion and help. I have been in the emergency department, without appropriate care, since Wednesday at 1 PM, and it is now Thursday night. The staff tells me that there are ten other patients in need of a bed in the Psychiatric wing of the hospital. Two beds will be opening up tomorrow, and two of the patients have been confined to this dungeon for a longer period of time than I have. Because there is no bed in my room, I am forced to sleep on a pad on the floor, covered by a thin blanket.

So often, this culture speaks about the holistic health approach as it’s medical model, which basically means relating to a patient as a whole being, whose body, mind, and spirit interact in unknown ways to create illness. I am not my brain alone, and my depression is impacted by numerous factors, which include my surroundings, and my physical health. Why are the mentally ill singled out, and treated without the respect and care that is due every human being? I believe that the way in which societies care for their sick reflects strongly on the culture at large. What does my experience here say about our nations values, and about what is of greatest importance to us as a country?