I love when it rains. The random drips of water that hits the window, coupled with the slight howl of the wind that rustles the trees outside and occasionally whips the loose leaf against the window always soothes my spirit and clears my mind. Whenever it rains, no matter the time of day, I grab my blanket and sit in the chair facing the window in my room. I always rock slowly back and forth and enjoy the quiet comfort of the sounds of nature replenishing the earth outside with the water it needs to continue supporting all the life happening outside.
I usually just close my eyes. My mind… it races all day long with a thousand different thoughts. Most of them are random quips about things I see or hear, some of them are a running list of things I have to do, would like to do, things I would like to avoid, things I like, things I hate, things I would like to see… you get the idea. The never ending rampage of thoughts wear on me quick and usually by noon I have a killer headache and look forward to nothing more than a dark room with a loud stereo blaring some form of chaotic music that will drown out my random thoughts and allow me to fully concentrate on one thing at a time.
Here in the mental health ward, where I have been for the past six weeks; I am without my usual comforts. In an effort to reduce outside influence on people with fragile mental conditions they do not allow music of any kind. Although many people find it relaxing, the constant quiet is quite troublesome for me. With nothing to catch my attention, I find that my mind wanders and races more than usual and it simply makes my condition that much worse to contend with. The only time I find any solace is when it rains. The sound of the rain blasting the roof and windows of the building sound a little like white noise coming from an old out of tune analog television; it is just loud enough to tune most of my thought garble out and allow me to find a moment of peace.
My doctor here wants me to take my medication with some adjustments but so far I have refused. He finds my refusal confusing because he feels that my condition would be much easier to handle with the assistance of these drugs. The nurse always comes by at least twice every four hours and encourages me to take the mind altering cocktail to help alleviate my suffering. I always have the same response, which is to tell them no thank you and they wanders off to tell the in house psychiatrist that I still refuse to take my medication. I am sure that in a few minutes when my daily meeting with Dr. Keinly comes around he will make a note of it and give me yet another speech to persuade me that medication is the answer to my problems.
I believe medication is what caused this mess to begin with, but try convincing a man of science with an advanced degree you are correct. I just tried to commit suicide two months ago. To him, I am out of my mind and my opinion hardly matters. It is usually fruitless to resist their wishes. If I ever desire to be free from this place and to see Chloe again, I will have to bow to their desire and start taking the meds again. However, they have not broken my spirit yet. Not as long as it still rains.
"Mr. Donnie… I am here to take you to your evaluation. Can you walk to the wheel chair?” The afternoon nurse asked softly in an attempt not to startle me.
I made a small prayer under my breath that the rain would continue through this inconveniently scheduled distraction. "Mind if I walk?" I asked as I acknowledged her presence.
She smiled and set the chair to the side. "No I don't. If you would like, I will escort you to the doctor's office." I wrapped my blanket around my body and walked slowly alongside the nurse to the dreaded visit I must endure every single day at 3pm.
As I entered the office there was a panel of people sitting across the chair from me. Usually it was just Dr. Keinly and his assistant. I sat down at the chair facing the panel of people in front of me and waited for Dr. Keinly to start his evaluation.
"John. How are you feeling today?" He asked.
"It's raining outside. I am feeling rather peaceful." I replied.
The annoying doctor looked up from his notes and took notice of the sounds of rain echoing through the room. "Well yes… it certainly is. How perceptive of you. Do you enjoy when it rains? What about the image of rain makes you feel peaceful?" He asked.
"It's not the image." I said bluntly. I figured he was trying to associate my finding rain peaceful with the bleak image that rain usually presents with. The dark grays, the bitter cold, the fact that rain usually bring discontent to normal people's lives. I was not going to let him associate me with the type of people that are only happy when it rains. "It's the sound. I have no music here, nothing to distract my racing thoughts. The random noise is enough to clear my head and allow me to find a moment of clear thinking I usually find difficult to obtain."
Dr. Keinly jotted some notes down in his pad and then set his glasses down on the table. The panel of people, some of whom I have never met, glanced back and forth at each other and waited for Dr. Keinly to continue.
"Well John, I'm happy to see that you utilized the sound of the rain to help you concentrate. Have you had any time to reflect on your life today? Do you have anything you would like to share with me and this panel… any realizations, epiphanies, or desires?"
I adjusted my blanket a bit and sat a little straighter. "I would like to know what all these people are here for. This is not like my usual eval."
Dr. Keinly sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Well you have been here for six weeks. Usually, at this time we hold a meeting with the head nurse practitioner of the unit, myself, a social worker, a psychologist and an outside mediator to judge whether you should be given additional privileges, such as time outside the clinic, visitors, phone calls and the like. Were you not aware that your evaluation was today?"
Damn him. I am sure somewhere in my orientation to this place they probably mentioned this evaluation and due to my condition I am sure he is trying to establish that I was not keeping track of time properly. Talking to this man is like a game of mental wits and I hate the fact that he considers it a game. At least, I perceive that he treats this as a game. A game that I am sure he feels that he wins most of the time.
"I was aware that I have been here for six weeks. I had figured that I would have been given some formal heads up that this was such an evaluation. Since this meeting was scheduled during my usual eval, and I was not told otherwise, I just assumed that this was a usual meeting."
I hoped that was good enough for him, but I have a funny feeling that he viewed my response as hostile or some other negative effect. There is no winning with this man.
"It is quite all right that you were not aware this panel was meeting today. I do not have patients informed simply because I do not want them to have any false preconceptions before coming in here. I just wanted to see your reaction. I must say that I am quite pleased with your reasoning skills and your composure."
That is a first. I took a mental note that was the first time I ever heard anything positive come out of his mouth in reference to my stay here.
Dr. Keinly continued… "So, since you know this panel is meeting to discuss your progress thus far and whether to reward you with some new privileges, it is imperative that we talk about your continued refusal to take the prescribed medication. Care to elaborate your reasoning on this?"
The panel lifted their pens and readied themselves to jot down my response and their subsequent thoughts. I did not like being put on the spot, but I suppose he was testing my ability to function under pressure and if I snapped or otherwise lost control I would just reinforce his notion that the medications were required for me to have any sort of balance. I swallowed hard as I worked up a calm response.
"I had faithfully taken the medications as prescribed for two years. In that time, I had little control over my emotions and moods… I was constantly unable to sleep with any consistency, I could not function well enough to hold a viable job and I tried to commit suicide twice. This time around, I thought I would try to go without medications for awhile. I do not think that it could get worse. Do you?"
The panel reacted with discreet laughter as they quickly scribbled notes. Dr. Keinly smiled and sat back a little further in his chair. "It is your belief then, that the medications prescribed were more of a detriment to your condition then helpful?" He said with a smirk in his voice.
"I do. So if my continued existence in this place is tied to whether or not I take my medication, then I will simply return to my room because this meeting will certainly come to a quick end. Will it not?"
Dr. Keinly unfolded his arms and picked up his glasses. He was about to speak when the psychologist spoke up and asked his first question.
"Excuse me Dr. Keinly, if I may ask the patient a question." The unnamed man gestured. Dr. Keinly quietly motioned that the psychologist can indeed ask his question.
"John is it?" The man asked.
"Yes. Who may you be?" I retorted.
"My name is Dr. Ortez. I am a resident psychologist here at the hospital. Do you assume that your refusal to take medications is viewed as a bad or otherwise incorrect behavior?"
I had never spoken to Dr. Ortez before so I had no idea how to size him up. I was rather shy to answer as boldly as I did with Dr. Keinly. I had not had a chance to read this man yet. However, since I had already taken a hard stance against the medications I figured it would hurt my chances if I suddenly flip-flopped.
"Taking the medications is only an educated recommendation from the doctor assigned to my care. I was informed of their actions and possible side-effects and after taking them for a number of years and knowing full well how awesomely these medications failed to help me with my condition I see no reason to continue taking them. To me, it is an action in futility and frankly I would like the doctor assigned to my care to try a little harder. So no, I do not feel that my actions are incorrect."
"Very good then," Dr. Ortez responded.
Dr. Keinly continued to flip through my records as Dr. Ortez continued his questions.
"John…" Dr. Ortez let his voice trail a second before he continued… "You stated that you wanted the doctors assigned to your care to try a little harder. Let me ask you then, if you were the doctor assigned to care for yourself, how would you proceed?"
"I would listen to me for one." I stated bluntly.
Dr. Keinly dropped the page he was flipping and stared intently at me. Dr. Ortez glanced over at Dr. Keinly then turned his attention back toward me to continue his interrogation.
"Listen?" Dr. Ortez asked quizzically.
"With no disrespect to Dr. Keinly, I have stated on more than one occasion there are two things I require for stability and balance. I have asked for access to music via a personal player and I have asked for some sort of contact with my friend Chloe. None of which Dr. Keinly has granted. I understand there are protocols to follow and I have waited patiently for those protocols to play out. However, my condition will not improve simply by keeping me isolated in this place with no contact with the people who care about me and keeping me in solitude. It's enough to drive a crazy person insane. Am I wrong?"
Dr. Ortez gaffed at my response. It appeared that I humored the man. Dr. Keinly was visibly agitated; he spoke up in defense to his treatment plan.
"You are aware that music, especially the type you generally listen to is known precursors to unstable people doing irrational things often leading them to hurt themselves or others?" Dr. Keinly quickly asked. I had no real time to answer him because Dr. Ortez cut me off and responded to the question himself.
"Surely, Dr. Keinly, you understand that people with Bipolar I Disorder, such as John here, find loud obtrusive music comforting because it pacifies their often chaotic thought processes?"
I could have easily responded to the question, but having it come from a trained psychologist probably would carry more weight to the biased psychiatrist then if it came from me. Suddenly, I liked Dr. Ortez. Dr. Keinly puffed, which I assume meant he had no real comeback to the jab the good psychologist just delivered.
Dr. Ortez turned back toward me. He flipped through his notes for a second and then asked me another question. "You mentioned Chloe. This is a friend of yours?" He asked calmly.
"Yes. She is a good friend of mine." I said.
"Why do you choose this person in particular? You have parents who are alive I see in your file, a sister who is married with two boys. You had a job before your admittance to the ward. Do you not have co-workers, old-high school buddies or ex-military comrades you would like to visit?”
"Chloe is someone who understands me and doesn't judge." I answered quickly.
"So you feel that you can communicate with greater ease and fewer restrictions to her versus say any of the other family mentioned here in your file?" He closed the file and crossed his hands on the desk awaiting my response.
"My family is not equipped to handle me. They feel it best to treat me like a child. Their responses are always tip-toed. They ignore any topics that they feel will cause me harm. They would probably think it best to keep me locked up in a padded room with nothing but flute music playing all day long. Chloe is brash; she tells it like it is. Her bluntness is often refreshing because it makes me think about my actions. She challenges me, which I need because otherwise my mind would become useless and frayed. She allows me to be open and honest and yes I find it easier to talk to her than anyone else. She hardly criticizes me for something I say, and when she does… she would clearly tell me why it’s wrong and it always makes sense to me."
I felt like I was defending my choice of friends, but I also felt that if I was getting through to anyone at this panel it was most likely Dr. Ortez.
"That's enough." Dr. Keinly popped back into the conversation. "John, are you harboring any thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else right now?" He asked.
"No. I'm rather thrilled right now actually." I said jokingly.
"Why is that?" He asked puzzled.
"The look on your face is priceless. I do not believe I have ever seen you so frazzled." I replied, barely able to contain my laughter.
He scoffed but otherwise failed to respond to my jest. He turned his attention back to my file and then back to the task at hand. "Would you like to take a moment, and in your own words explain to the panel why you felt the need to end your life six weeks ago?"
Bastard… What a way to kill the fun I was having.
"Basically, I have been taking these handfuls of pills twice a day for the better part of two years. These pills were supposed to help stabilize my condition. They obviously clouded my judgment, for I thought that if a few of them could stabilize my condition, the entire bottle might actually cure it then, *poof* All my problems would suddenly go away." I said playfully.
"Really," He asked.
"Sure." I answered.
"If I may quote you…" He said as he scanned the sheet he was looking at. "In your own words I believe you said… ' I know I am crazy, I know I am not in my right mind… however, where is my savior? Who is here to stop me from swallowing these wretched pills and tell me life is worth living? I look around and I see no one, my phone lies dormant and does not ring. My most meaningful conversation takes place only when I speak through a microphone at a drive thru restaurant. My days are filled with the mind numbing flashes of old sitcoms I have watched a hundred times over and my ears are constantly plugged with music to drown the rest of the world out. Like an old dog that has had its day, I am ready to venture out into the forest and die quietly.' You did write this in your suicide note correct?"
Motherfucker…. I hate that word, but there is not a better way to describe this waste of human flesh.
"Actually… now that I hear it out loud… I'm clearly crazy. I believe I wrote that about forty-five minutes after my evening dose. I suppose if I skipped the dose, I might have actually enjoyed an evening of The Simpsons, followed by some light sexual activity once my favorite skin flicks on Cinemax came on. What do you think doc?" I quipped sarcastically.
"Making light of this evaluation and of your attempted suicide will certainly not help your case." He sternly warned.
Dr. Ortez popped in quickly… "Dr. Keinly, I find John's humorous remarks quite a useful coping mechanism. I believe he is handling this situation rather well. Panel members agree?" Dr. Ortez looked around at the other panel members, some of whom nodded in agreement. I was quite surprised at his contrasting views. I felt like I had an unlikely ally in this place.
"Fine, Dr. Ortez. I will concede to your professional opinion that John is simply coping with his condition and humor might be his medium of choice. If there is any other questions the panel would like to ask, please do so now… otherwise we will conclude and make our final decision." Dr. Keinly instructed the panel members.
The other panel members shifted through their notes and concluded they had seen enough of my behavior and had no further questions for me.
"Since the panel has completed their evaluation, Mr. Donnie I would ask that you step outside and wait in the lobby. We will confer here and discuss your future treatment plan and whether you will be granted any privileges."
"I can't wait…" I said as I stepped out of the room.
The door closed behind me and I took a seat next to the bathroom as close to the door as I could get. I wanted to hear the conversation between the panel members, but sadly I could not make out anything other than random voices. I must have waited for a good fifteen minutes before the door opened and Dr. Ortez asked me to come back into the room.
I took my former seat in front of the panel and Dr. Keinly closed his folder and motioned to Dr. Ortez who spoke up with the panel’s final decision concerning my care in the ward.
"It is the opinion of this panel that Mr. Donnie's condition has improved without the need for psychotropic medication and that he meets all the requirements to be elevated to condition blue, meaning that he now has the ability to make phone calls, have visitors and can leave the ward once a day for an hour to visit either the cafeteria, the gym or the arboretum. He will also be granted supervised sessions with his personal music player once he has a family member or friend bring one to the ward. Since he is not actively taking any medication, it is the opinion of this panel that required daily visits by Dr. Keinly are no longer necessary and the next phase of his treatment will be handled by me and the resident social worker, Regina Chase. Mr. Donnie, I applaud your current progress and look forward to further assisting you in making a full recovery."
I nearly fell out of my chair. The first thing I thought about was calling Chloe. I had missed her so much. I thanked the panel, mostly directed at Dr. Ortez, and quickly left the room. I immediately headed for the nurses’ station.
"Yes?" The nurse asked as I approached the station.
"I would like to make a phone call please." I asked politely.
She glanced up from her workstation and noticed my name tag. My name was still written in red, which indicated that I was still under condition red. Instantly, the nurse rejected my request, directing me to Dr. Keinly for special permission. "But I've been upgraded…" I started to say. Just then, Dr. Ortez placed his hand on my shoulder and directed me to his office.
"Please John, take a seat" He said calmly. I smiled and did as he asked, hoping that he could make me a new name tag with my name in blue. "You would like to call your friend Chloe?" He asked pointedly.
I curtly smiled and replied… "Obviously you know I do. I haven't spoken to her in weeks. I'm sure she is worried about me, and it will be a great relief to speak to her." I replied.
He picked up his handset and started to enter the code required to get an outside line. "You spoke rather fondly of her, not so much in words but in the tone of your voice. She is more than a friend to you?" He asked.
I was not sure how to respond to that question. Surely, she is more than a casual friend, but if he was asking if we were lovers… the answer was clearly no. She was currently dating that drag, Kevin… but I did not really want to divulge too much information too soon. I just got this guy on my side, I was not about to screw the pooch with diarrhea of the mouth. "She means a lot to me yes, however we are not romantically involved." I stated as clearly and without emotion as I could.
"Very good… well here is the phone. Give her a call and schedule a visit. Visiting hours are 10am to 2pm. She can stay and have lunch with you if you'd like, provided you tell the nurse station you expect a guest. Ok?"
I nodded that I understood and dialed her number. The excitement I was feeling was causing my heart to pump wildly and I am sure my face was flustered. It seemed to ring and ring forever, but finally after the third ring…
"Hello?" Her voice was the sweetest thing I have heard in weeks.
"Chloe, its John… Would you like to swing by the ward and pay your old crazy bud a visit?" I said playfully.
"Hot dog!! John! You sound so much better… how are they treating you in the looney bin?" She asked.
"Like a loon of course," I replied. "However, they just gave me a small leash and will let me out of my cage to come out and play. Mind if I borrow you for a little play time?"
I could hear her giggles over the phone. I imagine that if I saw her face to face, she would have a grin that would easily stretch ten feet wide.
"Damn straight you can!! Can I come by tomorrow??" She asked with excitement in her voice.
"10am babe and you’re staying for lunch. Got a problem with that?"
She snorted a little on the phone. "Yeah, hospital food… Can I bring something?" She asked.
I looked up at Dr. Ortez and asked if outside food was ok. He laughed and nodded that outside food was fine.
"I want those buffalo chicken quesadilla's from Uno's, and oh yeah… PLEASE bring my Zune will ya?" I said with total authority.
She responded "At 10am in the morning? How 'bout I just make you a killer sub?? You know I am awesome with cold cuts and mustard!!"
The sound of a Chloe melt was making my mouth water. "HELL YES!!! I'll see you tomorrow." I said as I trailed my voice off with the sound people make when they see something so good they cannot help but gurgle.
"Quit being an ass," She said at my lovely sound effects. "Take care dude. One awesome sub and one Zune will be delivered by yours truly. I'll be there tomorrow at 10am. I gotta run… bye!"
The phone died with a satisfying click and suddenly; I felt better than I had in days.
"Thanks for making that happen. I appreciate the effort against Dr. Keinly today." I said respectfully.
"I wasn't against Dr. Keinly exactly," He said. "I just felt that you needed a different kind of care. Don't make me regret that decision." He said with a serious tone.
"I promise you I won't," I said as I left his office. I walked back to my room with a skip in my step and sat back down in the chair that faced the window. Sadly, the rain had stopped but the view of the sunlight cracking through the ceiling of gray clouds and the warmth of the rays hitting my body was just as comforting as the rain was. I closed my eyes and imagined what seeing Chloe again would feel like after all this time. Tomorrow could not come soon enough.