“I promise I won’t leave here without you,” I said to my brother, whose eyes were pleading with me to help him escape the psych ward of a Veterans’ Affairs hospital, tonight.
I explained to him I couldn’t spend the night, but that I was just a half mile down the road, and wouldn’t leave Long Beach until it was with him. I told him I’d be back in the morning, and the next morning and the next, until his brain chemistry was balanced enough for the doctors to release him.
“I’ll be here as long as you’re here,” I repeated.
He teared up and smiled. “That’s really good to know,” he said.
He kept his cool for most of the two hours we were there, before they drugged him to sleep, but I could tell it was taking all the will power he had left.
At first he seemed to think I was there to pick him up and repeatedly attempted to check himself out. Each refusal further agitated him.
“So I have no rights?” he demanded. “I’m a prisoner?”
Just like when he was in the Army, I thought.
A beautiful young female Navy veteran – sedated herself – calmly explained the ropes to him in the lounge.
“Look… if you resist, they’re only going to keep you in here longer,” she said. “If you want to get out fast, you have to play it cool, lie to the psychiatrist tomorrow, tell him you feel fine… take your meds, eat your food, go to bed and be agreeable.”
Katrina said she’d admitted herself and remained there voluntarily. “Why?” I asked, confused. “It was either that or kill myself,” she said.
An older man named Michael said he was in the Marines during Vietnam, but never went to combat. He felt awful that so many of his friends died and guilty that he lived. He alternated between speculating as to whether God was real, whether psychiatrists were imperfect, and breaking into unrelated song.
Another man named Tom didn’t remember whether he was there voluntarily or involuntarily, but didn’t seem to think it mattered.
At one point, someone said something about fear. It agitated my brother until he worked himself up into a frenzy. He grabbed my arm and dragged me down the hall.
“You want to see fear, Sara? You want to see what fear is?”
I followed him willingly and eagerly – the journalist in me dying to know – but one of the male nurses blocked our path just as I caught a glimpse – through an open door – of a small, darkened room labeled “seclusion.”
“That’s fear,” Bob said. “That’s where you scream for help and no one comes.”
It was a brief glimpse, but it looked like it had a bed-table with straps, with a large lamp hanging over it.
Anyone who knows me, knows what subconscious memory I believe this room triggered for him.
“Did they put you in there?” I asked him.
“They put everyone in there,” he said.
He called my parents yesterday after waking up from being tackled, tied down and tranquilized, saying that he’d been put on “lock down,” because the police were trying to take my sister and he was just trying to protect her.
After we got back to the lounge/waiting area, a nurse came in with his meds. Within 3 minutes, he couldn’t keep his head up. He was so tired, but so torn. He could barely keep his eyes open, but he didn’t want us to leave. Going to bed, in a room with half a dozen other “crazy” people, meant my sister and I would have to go.
He revived himself for a moment when a nurse called “snack time” over the intercom. “I have to eat,” he said. “Or they won’t let me out.” Luckily, he opted for an apple sauce cup over the pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich pockets. He chugged it and then stumbled down the hall toward bed, disgusted with me that I’d failed him, just like all the rest.
My sister and I exited through the secured doors, waved through the window and told him we loved him in sign language. We hesitated for a moment as he wandered back and forth, up and down the hall, still undecided about whether to go to bed or come try to talk to us more.
“Can I go back and say goodnight?” I asked the nurse. But she thought it was best to call it a night. So I blew a kiss and left.
I didn’t want to abandon him, but I had no choice. I’d have to summon super human powers and take out security guards to stay by his side.
I tried to send him healing energy as I rubbed his back and shoulders earlier in the evening and watched him perk up and look hopeful when I said maybe he could come work on my boyfriend’s food truck for a while when he gets out.
I wanted so badly to be able to rescue him, but my hands were tied. I told him he was the only one who could save himself now – by eating, sleeping and staying calm. But how can he stay calm when he’s a caged animal? How can his brain chemistry be re-balanced when he’s eating garbage, drugged and denied vitamins, minerals and probiotics? How can he stay sane when every time he tries to express his righteous anger someone sedates him?
I have to keep my cool so I don’t end up in there with him.
Please consider donating to a fundraiser to enable his family to stay with him until his release, to transition him into better quality rehab/therapy, and to provide him high-quality, natural food and medicine.