They Should Do This at the Psych Ward!


Today is a sunny Saturday, and my morning consisted of two important medical appointments.  I had scheduled a mammogram and a lithium blood level/fasting glucose test far in advance so that I’d have my husband available to care for our children – and Lucy puppy!  I dreaded going to both appointments for different reasons. The lithium blood level wasn’t that big a deal and it was an old hat procedure.  But I hated the fasting with a passion!  

Last year my psychiatrist suggested checking my glucose level regularly, which was something I’d never done in the past.  When I first started seeing him he ordered a baseline glucose level and my result was pre-diabetic.  Scary stuff.  We did another check and it was much lower, thank God.

I showed up at the lab bright and early.  After I sat down, ready to be stuck by the needle, the phlebotomist said she couldn’t find my doctor’s fax request so she couldn’t test me.  It wasn’t end-of-the-world stuff by any means, but it was totally frustrating all the same. I went in search of a gallon of coffee so I could become human once more.  

Fortunately my beloved, dog-friendly Surf City Coffee shop was just down the road. I had fun buying a sample pack of locally made, organic “Lucky Dog” cookies for Lucy!  I showed the barista my puppy pictures, acting as if I had given birth to her myself!

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After mainlining Surf City’s delicious caffeine, I checked email on my Kindle and then set out for my local hospital’s breast center.  This place held very bad memories for me.  Several years ago I had an abnormal mammogram that resulted in my need to get a lumpectomy.  I had already been in the throes of a deep bipolar depression, and when I was told that there was a chance I had breast cancer and that I needed surgery, I plunged further down into that morass.  At the same time, a friend and neighbor who had been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer was rapidly declining. Despite the fact she had a double mastectomy and she fought the cancer with an extraordinary strength, her two small children and husband lost her to the evil disease.  I was terrified that I would face the same fate.

I had the lumpectomy done, and I waited over seven days for the results. That was excruciating – I have never been a patient gal.  During the waiting period we went to snowy Lake Tahoe for a few days, as Craig wanted to cheer me up and give our girls a break.  I felt incredibly anxious about my lumpectomy findings. The radiologist himself was going to call me about my results, but he hadn’t promised exactly what day that would be, which drove me nuts.  

When he called me with good news about my lump being benign, I was profoundly relieved.  I was still depressed, but I felt grateful all the same.  I hoped never to repeat that experience again! Boob treatsBoob goodiesSo, when I walked into the breast center this morning, I was welcomed warmly by the staff.  I spotted several tables in the waiting area that were filled with yummy-looking fruit, dessert breads, a coffee/tea/cocoa bar (!!!) and best of all: BOOBY COOKIES! Yes, booby cookies.  A baker had handcrafted graham crackers stuffed with marshmallow filling and they were topped with a candy “nipple”.  I don’t know if she put anything else in them but they were super-good!

There were also goody bags filled with cute pink trinkets like pens, keychains, a stuffed animal, pamphlets on breast health, etc.  A OB/GYN doctor was hanging out in the lobby available to answer any health-related questions that we had.  To top it off, there was free massage offered by a certified massage therapist.  All the staff wore pink outfits and flowers, and they were really cool and friendly.  It was clear they were having fun watching the incoming patients’ surprise at such a festive atmosphere.

I later learned that one of the longtime staffers, a beautiful blonde woman named “Charlie” who I recognized from my past visits, created this biannual event.  She wanted to add cheer and education to the gloomy, often stressful mammogram procedure.

 As I waited for my turn, I made myself a coffee (like I needed more, but hey, it was good!), ate strawberries and pineapple, and I chatted with the doctor.  I couldn’t think of a good question to ask her, so she shared with me about caring for a group of women who were disabled during the previous day.  It was a sobering conversation, but I appreciated her insights.

In retrospect, I realized I could have asked her if she ever had a patient like me: a mother diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. I’d love to know what her perspectives were about postpartum mental illness in our community.  Damn!  I missed a great opportunity!  BIG DUH! I had noticed her name, however, and I knew I could call her.  I liked her attitude and I had a feeling she would be a valuable contact.

I didn’t have time to get a massage, as Craig needed me back home.  I told Charlie it was the first time in my life I ever turned down a free massage.  She encouraged me to return to their office in October for the next special event. I could have my massage then, even though I wouldn’t need a mammogram in six months.  I was so stoked!

As I drove away it occurred to me how wonderful it would be if there was something like that event taking place at psych wards.  Really.  The ubiquitous community rooms found in psych units could occasionally be turned into a warm, welcoming place on a weekend afternoon.  Extra-special treats could be brought out for patients and their visitors to enjoy, an “Ask-the-Doctor” volunteer could casually hang out for patient/visitor questions, there could be free massage (!), maybe soft classical live music, and this would be the best part: animal therapy.  

As far as the liability issues and high-risk patients go…well, during all the times I hung out in mental hospital community rooms, I barely saw any patient totally freak out and seem harmful.  If the staff are doing their job properly, then if a patient has a psychotic break, the appropriate staff will be take action right away. If a high-risk patient wants to interact with a therapy animal, I’m not sure how that would roll, but the concept is worth exploring regardless. It took just one breast center staffer, Charlie, to dream up such a beautiful event all on her own.  

I guarantee that she helped make every woman’s experience at the center a special one today.  I know that because as I helped myself to the fruit, coffee and cookies, I watched the other patients’ reactions and I heard their enthusiastic feedback. Maybe there are other “Charlies” who work in mental hospital settings who would like to create a special event in their milieu.

Someday after I’ve finished my book, I can imagine exploring to see if it’s possible to create special events in the psychiatric unit setting.  I have a background in special event production after all.

I could check in with my friend who I’ve known for twenty-five years, an extremely experienced charge nurse who worked in the behavioral health unit where I first admitted myself.  He would tell me if such an event in the mental hospital setting would be viable.  For all I know, this concept is already happening in hospitals, but I have no idea.  It doesn’t hurt to do a little research.  We’ll see!

7 thoughts on “They Should Do This at the Psych Ward!

  1. Oh I think that is a revolutionary idea! Massages and animal therapy in the psych wards… I love it! That would be too much. That is scary about the blood sugar levels, I hope mine are okay – good chance they aren’t. I’m so glad the tumor was benign. Boobs are fantastic – I’m glad they made boobie cookies to brighten your day!

    • I love it!!! That is the best idea. I can not tell you the times my dog has gotten me through whatever I’m going through. Massages, heck who wouldn’t feel better after that.

  2. Doesn’t all that sound just divine, Doreen & kdbug12?

    In the psych ward people are so isolated, lonely, and in despair. There have been countless studies that show how human touch and contact with gentle, trained animals help people with mood disorders. It’s a big, old no brainer.

    I also left out that it would be nice to take patients out of the unit for a nature walk. One of the units I stayed in the most times didn’t do that, and it was located in Monterey, CA of all places where there’s an abundant amount of grounds around the hospital for such a thing, so I was literally cooped up like one of my chickens. No sunlight, no fresh air = Nightmare on Elm Street!

    I called them after I had been released to essentially say “WTF?” and find out what their official policy was about outdoor walks, w/supervision obviously. The staffer told me that a patient needed a “doctor’s note” for an excursion, but get this – NO one had ever informed me of that policy in writing or verbally. I was there five separate times, so I really do remember that I was never informed and no one thought to ask on my behalf, which I understand now….

    Despite all of that, I get so f*cking mad when I think about their policy. I So, I’m still working on my recovery and there will never be a finish line. Even if I’m cured of bipolar I will still harbor resentment regarding that policy. If, at some point in my life, I can help other patients have even slightly better experiences in such inhospitable places than I did, then I’ll be proud of myself! :))))

    p.s. thanks to both of you for your comments – I appreciate them SO much!

  3. You are such a beautiful soul. I enjoyed seeing everything from your mind’s eye 🙂 A big hug for all your support. I feel more love here than I ever had. Wish I didn’t have so much work, I’d just stay here. Keep being awesome, and thank you for your support. HUG!

    • You are the incredible one – I read all your posts on your terrific blog, and the only reason I don’t write anything is that I am working out on my elliptical when I read ’em, and it’s hard to type on my Kindle without killing myself!

      Anyway, your soul shines through your words. I’m so damn happy you find joy and solace in the blogging community – I do too. I wish I started doing it a long time ago. I had a bad day today, but it got better after I worked out and read this lovely comment.

      I’m praying for you to find your heart’s desire your neck of the woods. I really am. It’s gonna happen!!!!!! (Probably when you least expect it!)

      HUGS back to you, my friend. And tomorrow morning’s three giant cups of Rwandan coffee I’m going to savor will be dedicated to you. :)))))

  4. You awe AND inspire me. I love this idea and I think it would be so good for people. I’ve never had a massage cause of my anxiety it would be something to try 😀 BTW you are a remarkable woman. Thank you for being who you are.

    • I meant to reply to your incredible comment right away because it made me SO happy and appreciated. Then life distracted me – how dare that happen! 😉 Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      I totally can relate to not wanting a massage because of anxiety!! :))))) I —could— have gotten that freebie massage if I really wanted to, but I was secretly too stressed out for it and used my excuse of needing to get back home. What a shame for both of us to not be able to enjoy something that can be so healing….and hopefully someday things will be better in that area for both of us.

      Thank you also for your fabulous blog which I am glued to; I am rooting for you always, beautiful writer! xoxoxoxooxo Dyane

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