The Waiting Game

by Whitney Lucas

         “Do you know what today is Miss Lucas?” asked the frumpy old nurse.

“Friday,” I told her in a flat voice

“I mean the date, what is today’s date? Do you know it?”

          She seemed annoyed and just looked at me.  I acted as if I didn’t notice.  “No,” I replied.

“Who is the president?” she said leaning forward, looking hopeful to find something useful from me.  I let her wait in anticipation before I said, “An asshole republican.”

She leaned back in her chair and gave a long slow drawn out sigh that seemed to show her disdain with my answer.

“Do you know how you got here?

          I sat silent for a minute thinking back over everything in my life that had brought me to this place.  She asked a good question.  I knew the event that made me have to come here but how had it come to be that I was in the psych ward?

“My mother drove me here,” I said not letting any emotion show.  “She stopped for gas on the way. “

“Very good dear, do you know why she decided to bring you here?”

I looked down at my toes so she couldn’t see the tear forming in my eyes.  I didn’t want to cry in front of her.  I didn’t feel like crying anymore.  It felt like that’s all I had done my whole life.  “Because I’m hurt and I need help.”

“How are you hurt?  Who hurt you?”

“I took a razor and sliced open my legs.  I did it real slow, so I could watch the blood.  I sat at the edge of the shower and poured a bottle of alcohol all over and sat there ‘til the sting stopped, then I emptied out the medicine cabinet into my shirt and walked to my bed.  Every step I took made a red print in the carpet and I felt bad for the person who would have to clean the stains.  I sat on the edge of my bed and started taking a pill at a time then just gave up and started swallowing them by the handful.  The next thing I knew my mom was in the room shaking me.  She told me if I was not able to get up she was going to call an ambulance.  I sat up and looked down at my body.  I was covered in vomit and blood.  I was hot and sweaty.  I got up and took a shower, got dressed and packed a bag.  Followed her out to the car and here I am.

“What happens next?” I asked.

“Come with me please.”

She stood and walked out of the room.  I rose slowly.  My body ached and my legs were raw and burning. I trudged behind her, my feet dragging across the icy floor.  The walls were stark white and everything was sterile and empty except for the unmistakable hospital smell of bleach and illness.  I entered through a heavy wood door into another white room with a round wooden table and surrounded by ugly plastic chairs, which seemed to belong to another era.  The two furthest from the door were occupied.  The one contained a stout Asian man in what looked to be his early thirties.  He was wearing his clinical blue scrubs and white doctors’ coat.  He had both elbows on the table with his head rested on them looking down at a pile of papers in front of him. Beside him was a petite nurse with a wavy brunette bob and a small mousy face.  I assumed the empty seat was for me and fell into it, glad for a chance to rest my aching legs.  The first lady handed him my chart and he sat quiet for a moment as he scanned it up and down, the little nurse peering over his shoulder curiously trying to catch glimpses.
Finally he spoke.  “Miss Lucas, it is our understanding that you have not been here before.  What I would like to do is give you a brief synopsis of what you may expect during your stay.  First we will leave the room while you undress to your bra and underwear.  When we re-enter, we will note any marks on your body.  This will include tattoos, piercing, scars and cuts.  Then you will redress into scrubs.  When you are finished we will have a hospital bracelet ready for you.  Your bag is as we speak being checked for any harmful items.  Any item you would like from your bag you can ask for at the desk and someone will get it for you.  You will be informed of all your rights as a patient.” 
          Later I was in a stiff chair in the TV room.  The TV was high in the corner mounted to the wall and the cord was out of site.  The walls were lined with stiff chairs.  I had sat for hours. Time moved so slowly.  Everyone just sat staring listlessly at Law and Order on the screen.  No one really talked or moved.  I sat with my teddy bear the man at the desk had graciously given me and watched the people around me.  Many teary eyes did the same.  There were two guys around my age, Jason and Tom. Both were sad and holding onto themselves.  They were anxious and, like me, played with their bracelets.  I chewed on mine. 
Both the boy’s mothers were there sitting next to them.  They looked like large statues sitting next to their sad, sunken sons.  Their faces were like stone looking out towards nothing then to their son’s faces, searching for something, not finding it, then, back to nothing.  Jason first entered the room wearing blue scrubs and ugly olive green socks.  He was wrapped in a blanket, wearing it as if it were a cape around his shoulders.  When he sat down he put it over his head so no one could see his face.  I wished I had a blanket, so I could do the same.  I did not want anyone searching my face as I was doing to the people around me.  Jason was beautiful.  He had a delicate bone structure that was thin and a little long.  His vacant eyes were the most devastating blue and his hair was a soft brown that was dreaded down to his shoulders.  In different circumstances, I would have approached him and started a conversation, but not here.  I wished that I could have given him a hug, held his hand.  He seemed so fragile and so lost.  He looked like I felt inside, cold and lonely, sad and frightened. 
Tom was blond with shaggy hair.   He was angry.  He did not understand what was happening to him.  He kept asking his mother why she had brought him to this place.  That he didn’t need help and could handle it himself.  I believed he could do it.  He seemed so normal, the most normal in the whole room.  He was dressed in his poser punk style and did a little cutting for attention just like a lot of the kids I knew in high school.  He didn’t need this place.  He needed to find out who he was and where he fit into the world.  Suddenly they were both called out at the same time and put in leg chains and handcuffs.  Where were they taking them?  I had no idea.  I was just so afraid that they would do the same thing to me, lead me away like a prisoner just because I wore a bracelet saying I was crazy.  I felt their embarrassment and shame as they were tethered together.  I watched as their heads sank and their hope left them.  They looked so defeated.  I don’t think I could have let myself be taken so easily.  I would like to think that I would have fought had I been in their situation.  It was better that they didn’t fight, there was nowhere to go and it would only keep them away longer.
The rest of us looked down to avoid the tension in the room.  There were a few girls my own age.  Some sat quietly, staring and others were weeping, tears streaked down their cheeks. Still no one talked.  We all sat for hours and not a word was spoken.  One by one someone was called out for a phone call or to speak with their doctor.  It seemed quieter after the boys were led away.  It was like my hope for someone who understood me was gone.
          People came in at a steady pace.  Many brought in by police in handcuffs.  Some of these had been here before, others had not.  Many came in beaten or half unconscious.  Watching so many people was frightening as well as exhausting.  One woman who had been beaten had also not eaten in days.  They gave her a tray full of food.  I could see how grateful she was for a place to go, a place that would take care of her and provide food she was obviously unable to provide herself.  She shook uncontrollably before she could settle enough to eat.  I watched as her hair repeatedly fell into her face.  She would brush it back out of her eyes over and over. This woman could not survive on her own. I wish I could find a way to help her. I reached for a hair tie I had that I was not using and gave it to her so she could eat in peace.   There was nothing else I could do.
  I could no longer have just sat.  I had to do something, but what could I have to get away?  I could sleep.  The nurse put it all together for me.  I was in a bed, trying my hardest to sleep.  Restraints hung off the sides of the bed.  I avoided looking at them.  They were a constant reminder to me of where I was.  If only I couldn’t see them, I could forget.  Directly above my head was a camera, another in front of the door.  I could still hear people talking outside my door but I was so tired it wouldn’t matter soon enough.  I was so scared.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  Tears rolled down my cheek as I drifted off to sleep with frightful thoughts in my head.
          The next morning I awoke with the attendant standing over my bed.  He was holding a breakfast tray and I was very happy for that.  I had only eaten the mashed potatoes from the dinner they had served the previous evening.  With my food he also slipped me paper which had an appointment time and room number, the same room as the initial interview from the day before.  I was nervous; this doctor was there to decide my fate.  He was going to choose whether I stayed in the hospital or went home.  I ate my food slowly as if it were my last meal then stepped lightly towards the room with the round table and old plastic chairs.  I went over to the same chair as the day before and waited. Ten, 20, 90 minutes passed and still no one came. The appointment had been for 11:00 and no one had shown up until 12:30.  It was as if time had reversed and I was in the same position as before.  All I knew was that I wanted to go home.
“Please doctor, I’d really like to go home,” I told him with a pleading look on my face.

“How can I be sure that you will be okay if you leave here Whitney?  I can’t send you home if you’re not safe.  It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“I promise you that if I need help that I will come back.  I will make a support list for myself and call someone.  I really think that I will be okay if you let me leave and I don’t think that the environment here will help me get better.  I want to be able to try surviving on my own and I want to have the freedom of making my own choices.  One choice being that if I feel it is best for me to come back then I can make that choice for myself. ”

“That sounds like an excellent idea. I think I can trust you.  I am very glad that you came in when you needed help.  Remember that we are always here when you need us.”         
          I called my mom right after my long, heartfelt talk with my doctor.  I was going to leave. Not only was I going to leave, I was supposed to leave the same day.  He had said he was going to fill out the paper work right away and I would be out in the next couple of hours.  I felt triumphant.  I was so scared that they were going to keep me locked up forever.  Time flew by as I was given my own clothes back and all my stuff was signed back into my possession.  I walked out the front door and smelled the air.  I loved it.  I loved how it didn’t smell like a hospital.  I loved that I didn’t have to ask to do what I wanted.  My mom wasn’t there yet, but that was no big deal.  I was excited to be outside.  I sat on the bench pleased, watching the birds in the trees and smiled to myself.  I’m not coming back here.  I would work to find my way, but not in this place.  My mom pulled into the parking lot and I walked to her, preparing myself for whatever would happen next.