Wednesday, March 04, 2009

At the supermarket

Odd encounter outside Shoprite, where I'd gone to pick up a few things after leaving the library. As I was about to enter, two women came out & one of them recognized me. She was convinced she knew who I was, remembered me, she said, from "the hospital." She was a nurse there. I didn't recognize her. I was confused. That would be five years ago, the "time out" ward, mostly ordinary depressives & bipolars in for a week or two, a few middle stage Alzheimer elderly waiting for space on the senior unit floors, no violent sociopaths or unpredictable schizophrenics - they were across the hall. It is possible to mistake me for someone else, I am a physical "type." She kindly offered me a ride home, but then I would've had to rush, & I was out & about because it was a nice evening to walk.

All the staffers at the hospital were pleasant & professional. There's emotional fragility in psych wards, in patients who look quite healthy. Takes a certain kind of personality to work well in one. I was a low-maintenance patient (clinics & social workers call us "clients"), mainly concerned with finding reading material & squirreling away cereal & fruit in my room for snacks, so I didn't interact closely with the staff; they had plenty else to do. It's unlikely I had revealed much personal information to the nurse at the supermarket. I wasn't able to sort out any of the problems that had put me in there until I was released, & I didn't discuss them. My assignment in the hospital was to eat, shower, shave, sleep on a routine schedule, I had a therapist waiting for me in the real world, but hardly anyone else knew where I was. I had no visitors. The staff didn't even make me do art therapy, & I was permitted to stay up past bedtime & watch Letterman in the darkened social room as long as I kept the volume down.

The details of my brief stay are fuzzy. I wasn't heavily medicated, just Zoloft & an Ambien if I asked for one. It was December, they tried clearing as many patients as they could by Christmas. I was trying not to make an impression on anyone, & I wanted it to be as unmemorable as possible for myself. Two weeks later I was back doing fill ins at WFMU, sent a few e mails about the stay to writer friends - they're never shocked to hear a fellow writer is depressed.

I did make impressions. One cantankerous woman, I think she had advanced M.S., refused to be transferred out to another hospital via gurney until I had kissed her goodbye. A few days earlier, she had knocked over the Christmas Tree with the handmade decorations, everyone had freaked, but I calmly said, "Why did you have to do that?" like a big brother. I stood the tree back up, asked her if she wanted to go her room, she nodded, & I rolled her home, & within minutes she was asleep in her wheelchair. Another patient remembered my name, found my address & sent me a Christmas card with the note, "I never forgot you & thank you for being a friend & making me laugh." I barely recall her, except that she was white & lived in one of Newark's oldest public housing projects. So maybe I am who the friendly nurse outside the supermarket thinks I am. But there's only so much she could possibly know.

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