What’s it like to lose everything? [The “room”]


For most people this would be a hard question to answer. But since I have twice lost everything of material value, I think I can add some perspective here. In 1975 I became ill. I was hospitalized for the better part of a year. My doctors never did determine what was wrong with me. So I struggled back from hell on my own, mostly, and with all the support the hospital could provide for me.

The material loss all came later. The real loss was during my hospital stay and the three years that followed. While in the hospital I was given every battery of physical and psychological test available at the time. Diagnosis and treatment varied from one major crisis to the next during my hospitalization. Each new attempt brought a new regimen of medications. Then finally the bottom dropped out of my world.

Visiting hours were always the hardest for me. The staff wouldn’t allow my family to visit me. They felt their visits were detrimental to my health. But every day I would sit in the chair closest to the door and wait for their visits. I also didn’t have any friends visiting, so I felt abandoned by everyone. But I determined I would get better if for no other reason than to show all “those people” I thought had abandoned me. Later I found out that the hospital stopped all visits. But that was ten years later!

Besides the anxiety associated with whether or not this would be the night I finally got a visitor, I suffered with terrible bouts of panic and claustrophobia. I couldn’t stand the crowds during visiting hours. I would be walking down a hall and all of a sudden the hall took on the appearance of tilting sideways and shrinking. I backed around the corner only to find that hall way was OK. But when I stepped around the corner again, the same thing happened again. Other times I went into a room and felt as though I just appeared there. I felt something was wrong, this wasn’t real. As soon as I stepped out of the room I was OK. As soon as I went back into the room, the unreality reappeared again. Other times I would be washing my face or brushing my teeth and I felt like I didn’t know if I was real. I would look into the mirror and study my face to see if I was really looking back into my own face.

One night the panic didn’t subside no matter what I did. It escalated to the point where I felt like my mind was going away and I couldn’t stop it from happening. I went to the nurses station for help. They told me to come back after visiting hours. I tried to tell them I couldn’t wait as I collapsed on the floor. The staff members rushed to my aide and took me to the “quiet” room.

I had never been here before. They emptied my pockets, took my shoes, my belt, and anything else they thought I could hurt myself with. They loaded me with several types of medication. They closed the door. I looked around the room. There was a singe small window with chicken wire in it. There was a small window of the same in the door. On the flow was a single pallet covered with plastic with a thermal blanket.

I felt safer than I had ever felt in my life. But, I was still feeling like my mind was going away. I tried to find ways to get “myself” back. But the loss of my shoes and personal items only enhanced that feeling. I began to pace back and forth and count the tiles on the floor. I counted how many steps it took to walk each direction. I walked out patterns in my head of ways I could walk around every cornered item in the room, the windows, the ceiling, the door, the mattress.

I have always been one of those people who never knew what to do with their hands. So I stuck them in my pockets as I paced. Then as I stuck my hands in my pockets, I found a penny. I knew I couldn’t let the staff know I had a penny or they would take it from me. I couldn’t let my only connection to the “real world” be taken away too! So I kept that penny hidden in my pocket. But, I also knew that as long as I told myself that what I had in my pocket was a penny, I wasn’t crazy. Then I laughed at my private good fortune.

Over and over for the next three days the staff came into the room at several intervals and gave me medications and fed me. Then they left and except for when I slept I paced and counted the tiles on the floor as I held that penny in my hand inside my pocket. Over and over I told myself, “This is a penny. As long as I remember this is a penny, I’m not crazy!”

Three days later the staff took me out of the room. I had noticed the throughout the day they kept watching me through the window in the door. Then a couple of them would stand outside the door, talk for a minute, another would look inside, then they would walk off talking. But I just kept telling myself that I had a penny that they hadn’t taken from me so I knew I wasn’t crazy. I had the last laugh!

As they took me from the room, they stopped just outside the door and asked me some questions. Then one of the nurses said she had a question for me. I thought, this is a test. If I don’t get it right they’ll dope me up with something else and stick me back in the “room!” “Who were you talking to in the room?” That question surprised me. I told her no one. She said we say you talking. I said, “Oh! That! I was talking to myself.” Then I told them about finding the penny and how I kept telling myself that as long as I knew it was a penny, I wasn’t crazy. The nurse looked at me funny. Then as tears came to her eyes, she smiled at me.

[more to come]
[edited to correct the title]

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~ by devildog6771 on October 14, 2005.

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