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!

Not Crazy, Just Mad

bIt’s a Sunday mid-morning on Mother’s Day, and I’m in our front yard sitting in a patch of sun.  The inside of our home is much colder than the outside temperature, and I just want to warm up a little bit.   Our three chickens Hazel, Malena and Emily cluck soothingly beside me in their coop.  My husband Craig is in the living room supervising our girls playing with Lucy the feisty puppy.

We just had an argument.

I blame Mother’s Day for it.

Over the past few days, I prepped Craig about Mother’s Day, saying I would like to “do my own thing”, within reason.  I didn’t require gifts, flowers or  fancy dinner.  I thought that he’d consider himself lucky to have such a low-maintenance wife!  Then I clarified my request and said I wanted to have a lot of writing time.  I didn’t think I was being unreasonable, and he didn’t say that was unacceptable.

But just now, after I had been glued to my laptop for a few hours, my husband just told me that I had a “dysfunctional” relationship with our computer.  That was a low blow.  I’ve freely admitted I’m online too much as a rule, both to him and to pretty much everyone on the planet, but to throw a nasty label like that at me really hurt.  Plus, it’s Mother’s Day.  Shouldn’t I be treated like the Queen that I am?

Now I sit in a puddle of sunlight feeling like I’m in an icy bath.

How dare you say that to me on holy Mother’s Day!!!  I wanted to scream at him.  It would have felt soooo good to yell.  But I won’t do it because I stopped my rage-fests a long time ago.  Making a complete spectacle of myself is the last thing I want to do in front of my girls, our puppy, and our new neighbors who moved in yesterday next door.

So I’m taking a deep breath.  I’m taking another one.  I’m going to keep away from my innocent computer for a while.  Our relationship is not dysfunctional.  I have a life outside of being online, albeit more narrow than I’d like it to be.

My MacBookPro and I are just friends!  We have a healthy relationship consisting of mutual admiration and respect.  I’m reminded of a great 1984 sci-fi, romantic drama called “Electric Dreams” that depicts a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a home computer.  It really was a charming film, and I loved it so much that I bought the Giorgio Moroder-composed soundtrack.  


I digress.  I need to shake off my anger and do it as swiftly as I can.  I hate feeling this way.  I know what I’ll do!!!

It’s puppy therapy time!

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I shall take a few private minutes with my furball, tell her of my woes, and hold her gently in my arms.  I will let her lick my face even though her breath is pretty iffy – I’ve seen what else she licks and it ain’t pretty, or hygienic for that matter.  I don’t care.  I’m upset and I need comfort.  It’s refreshing to realize I can give myself a time-out with my canine.  Wow.  This is so cool!

As I embrace this coping strategy I can already feel a shift in my rage.  I’m still quite upset by what happened, but I’ll discuss my hurt feelings with Craig after I’ve had my Lucy time.  It might not be such a bad idea to suggest to Craig to have a few minutes alone with Lucy before we work things out.

Suggesting to hang out with one’s pet to overcome a nasty spat may sound simplistic.  I don’t think it is.  The feedback I’ve gotten from my pet-owning friends is that their “fur children” have helped them with emotions such as anger, sadness and loneliness immeasurably.  I remember the comfort I felt as a little girl laying by my Irish Setter’s warm side, hearing her gentle
breathing and watching her chest rise and fall.  It has been a long time since I’ve had my own dog comfort me, and the gift of Lucy’s unconditional love is a Mother’s Day gift of the highest degree.