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Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh, The Humanity

I almost threw up at my new job yesterday.

It wasn't because, as a psychiatric technician and allied therapist in a psychiatric hospital, I am exposed to pee-pee and poo-poo, and patients who enjoy creating mayhem and artwork with both. No, I don't especially mind that. It also wasn't because I am exposed to patients who like to... expose.

I... didn't. And, fortunately, she didn't, either.
I almost threw up at my new job yesterday not because of the patients, but because of the staff. My coworkers. My.... peers.
I almost threw up, but I didn't-- because I couldn't even bear the thought of eating after what I saw and heard today at work. Plus the fact that my day started at 7am and my lunch break was at one. What was the point? My appetite was ruined, as was my outlook on mental health as a profession, and my faith in this facility and my zeal for this job.
Gone. Awesome.
Patients were openly ridiculed by staff, openly insulted, openly... threatened.
Staff Member: "How 'bout I come over there and cut you? I'll come over there and cut you so bad your own mother won't recognize you. I'll fuck your motherfuckin' shit up."
Staff Member: "I'm about ready to shove that walker up your ass."
Staff Member: "Hey, did you know that everybody with your last name is a fuckin' queer?"
Staff Member: "Can you say, 'I'm the turtliest turtle in the turtle pond' while wiggling your head around?"
Staff Member: "Do you even know what your name is? Do you know how to tie your shoes or are you still wearing those retard referee sneakers?"
Staff Member: "You're a homo."
These same staff members would then harshly reprimand patients who exhibited sexually inappropriate tendencies-- which isn't hypocritical at all. They fudge paperwork, they slack off on the ward, they're all related or they're all fucking each other-- or both-- and their inattentiveness and inappropriate actions and reactions led to an outburst of violence today that could have been avoided.
They're mostly tattooed college kids-- one has multiple lip-piercings and, really, I wouldn't mind the lip-piercings if they were on the lips of someone who was even mildly appropriate with the patients. They make fun of patients, imitating the noises that the most severely disturbed patients make, right in front of them. To them, in reply.
When a patient approaches a staff member, the default response is invariably,

or "What the hell do you want?"
Or, they're just ignored. A patient can be standing three feet away from a staff member (this is the required distance we're supposed to keep from them) asking a perfectly sane question like, "Do I have courtyard privileges today?" and the patient can be ignored for any number of minutes. But it's the direct verbal abuse that made me want to vomit, and I probably would have had there been anything in my stomach.
Fortunately, there wasn't.
When I took this job, I didn't think it was going to be all peaches and plums, or even apple tart, but I didn't think I would be working with people who exhibit such routine and such open hostility and disdain for the patients supposedly under their care, I didn't think I would be working with the scum of the earth-- disenfranchised people in it for the paycheck and, apparently, the opportunity to fuck with people who have limited cognition, limited coping skills, and unlimited vulnerability.
Yes, the patients are inappropriate-- but they have that excuse of being, you know, crazy. Schizophrenics are supposed to act bonked-up, the psych techs kind of don't really have that excuse. We're not supposed to be the borderlines and the manics and the bipolar.
But, it's not just the patients who get "institutionalized." It's the staff, too.
Management likes to make a bit to-do about the fact that many people who work at this facility have been there for fifteen, eighteen, twenty, even twenty-eight years. And that sounds very nice, but when you see the burn-out, when you see the hostility, when you see brutality-- well, maybe such longevity isn't such a great thing.
It sounds stupid to say this, but I think that the openness of the obscenity-laced, threatening interactions with the patients, which the technicians then tried to manipulate to confuse the patients into forgetting what they had just said, that openness was the most horrifying thing. There are supervisors and nurses and videocameras everywhere-- and, clearly, nobody seems terribly concerned about that. And, clearly, I can't imagine anybody would be terribly concerned or surprised if I reported this to my supervisors.
Hopefully, the state will be both concerned and surprised when I find another job, posthaste, quit this one and report it to the Department of Health and Department of Public Welfare.
Sometimes I joke about being twelve-- when I call my closet's green doorknobs "Elphaba's nipples," I feel twelve. Oftentimes, when I get a new job, I feel twelve, too. I get wooed, positively swept off my feet by lofty mission statements and palaver from VPs and managers about proper protocol and professional conduct and ethical standards, and they pile horsehit lovingly onto my plate until I practically need a bib.
And then.... I actually start the job.
Proverbs 31:10 asks, "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies."
I know it's a rhetorical question. I know it's just supposed to be longing and beautiful. I know it's just a job. But I also know that I cannot permit myself to be counted amongst these people, to wear their I.D. badge, to park in their lot, to swipe at their timeclock, to sign my name on their papers. And maybe that means that I think I'm rubies and they're costume jewelry.
And maybe I don't give a damn if it does.


  1. That is shocking and awful. The facility should be shut down and the staff prosecuted -- the patients (or clients or whatever they are called) need help, but how they are ever going to get better when the staff are abusing them?

    Good for you for planning on reporting it to the Department of Health and Department of Public Welfare. This job has actually given you an incredible opportunity, just in an expected way -- you can help the patients by exposing the abuse they are putting up with. Make sure you get evidence to support your reports, we don't want these people getting away with it.

  2. Sadly, it seems like this kind of behavior happens far too often. Working long hours for years in a place like that would take a toll on anyone, but that's what these people signed up for when they took the job. It's sad that so few people seem to care about what they do anymore and instead just care about the money.

  3. I'm sorry your new job sucks, buddy. I wish you were actually an undercover journalist doing an expose, instead of a regular guy trying to earn a paycheck. The word expose is so sexy!

  4. I had a similar experience, however I was just volunteering at a facility. I wrote a very detailed letter of what I saw to the board that oversaw facility, the state and to my local congressmen. I wrote to the last one b/c much of the funding for this facility was from government grants. I did write one more letter to our local news station.

    It's a sucky position, but I couldn't in good conscience not let people know. The treatment of the patients was absolutely disgusting. so good luck dealing with it all.

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  6. This made me so sad. My heart aches when I hear about people in positions of authority or people in whom great trust in placed (i.e. Doctors, Policemen, Priests, etc.) abusing their power. The young and naive, the old and infirmed, the mentally ill- these are the people that should be given the most care. Yet some breakdown occurs inside certain people, that allows them to be cruel. A person needs to recognize when they’ve had enough of a situation, and remove themselves from it when the stress becomes too much, before they lose their humanity. I applaud your rejection of this environment and treatment and wish you luck in reporting it. I hope things change for the better, there. Thank you for being a good person!

  7. Oh wow. That disgusts me. I actually ran into a similar situation today. I work with autistic students and I was out for a CPI training today. My assistant called me to tell me that the substitute yelled at my students and made fun of them today while I was out. And it wasn't that my student was acting out, she is a slow processor and she was processing the directions. I never have any problems with her. There's no excuse. It takes a certain kind of person to work with people with disabilities, children, animals, or people with mental issues and if you're not that kind of person - get out. It's better for you and everyone else involved!

  8. I know it sounds terrible to say this, but maybe it's a good thing you got this job. You can make these people's lives better. They finally have someone that can help them, that doesn't think the abuse is right. Report it, write about it, tell anyone who will listen, tell anyone who won't listen! I know it's a horrible position for you to be in but because of it you can make a difference.


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