It was a 5 hour wait before I was seen by the doctor…and as I waited I couldn’t help but wonder and was curious about the circumstances that led the others, in the waiting room, to this point in their lives where they had to seek emergency treatment for their mental health. We all have our stories to tell...and I wondered if the others in the waiting room were entertaining the same thoughts and questions…and specifically, I wondered what they were thinking about me and my “circumstances.” Could they have ever guessed the irony of the situation in that I had planned to be a doctor and, in fact, had even made it into medical school…I mean everyone thinks doctors are somehow “immune” to all the afflictions of us mere mortals…right? So, how was it possible?
I suppose that if you were stuck somewhere for several hours and had to do some people watching, the waiting room of a Psychiatric Emergency Department is the place to do it. There were a lot of interesting characters, but a few in particular that caught my attention. The first being, whom I shall call the Gay Redneck Couple…this was an ambiguous situation…at first these two guy came across and the “red-blooded, blue-collared proud to be an American”…you know the type. They dressed the part in their baseball caps, blue jeans and work boots (with one of them even wearing a camouflaged pair)…coming from a blue-collared/hunting family I knew it was not uncommon for one to wear their hunting clothes interchanged with their work clothes as their occupation and outdoor sport of choice both required clothing that would protect one against the elements. It became clear to me after watching their body language and affection for one another that they were more than close friends…all I needed for confirmation was for one to turn to the other and say “I wish I knew how to quit you.” (A Brokeback Mountain reference for those of you who haven’t seen it yet). That’s not what really made these guys interesting to watch though, it was that they appeared to be happily intoxicated and were commenting on every other person in the room…thinking they were just whispering to each other. I was sitting right across from them and could here most every comment. They even commented on me and how sad I looked…which made the one guy start to cry...I was touched. I was at least spared comments about my attire…others weren’t so lucky as I heard various comments such as “Those jeans make her look like she doesn’t have an ass.” The person who they were talking about was perhaps the only other person in the room who looked more depressed than me...so caring about how her ass looked in her jeans was probably not that high on her list of concerns.
Then there was this girl who had to be no more than 14 years old that came in with her mother. It was a surreal experience seeing her, because she was this attractive young girl, with an angelic face, who was wearing a large studded black belt (think Billy Idol), a pair of jeans, a black t-shirt (with a long sleeve white shirt underneath), and a pair of black and white checkered Vans shoes…for a moment it took me back to 7th grade…as this is exactly what someone would have worn at my suburban junior high school (I guess it is true what they say…fashion is cyclical). It was almost as if I was starring at my past…I could have easily stepped out of the moment, walked up to her and said, “Hey, Jen, did you finish you algebra homework because I had a few problems that I couldn’t figure out?” as we walked to English class together. It made me question how 20 plus years of my life have passed and this is where I am at this point in time…how is possible!?! How did it happen?!?
Well, I finally saw a doctor…and within the first minute I was disenchanted...this doctor showed absolutely no compassion for my situation what-so-ever. I don’t want to sound racist or anything but my experience has been that Asian and Middle Eastern doctors tend to be the least outwardly companionate…and at that moment I needed some compassion. I spoke with her for several minutes and then she asked me, point blank…"Why did you come here today?" I was a little taken aback as I said “I am so depressed that I am not functioning on a daily basis.” That was followed up by “Are you thinking of harming yourself or anyone else?” And my response was “well, not really, I am not actively suicidal (which may not have been entirely true), but I fantasize all the time about being dead or just simply not existing.” After a few more questions she left and came back with the same doctor that I had seen when I was there back in August. I really connected with him and I immediately felt better. We talked, and he told me that unfortunately, unless I was at risk of harming myself or someone else that I wouldn’t be admitted and that the next best thing that they could do was set me up with out-patient care. I even asked him what would really happen therapeutically if I did say I was suicidal...and his response was that being admitted is more for safety rather than therapeutic purposes. Sensing my frustration, he openly expressed his own frustration with the standards of practice with mental health care in the country. Surprisingly, he also remembered speaking to me before and remembered specific parts of our conversation. He pretty much told me that I was stuck in the stages of grieving and needed to work with a therapist to get through it…and he is right…I often use the analogy of losing a spouse to try and express the magnitude of my own personal loss.
So, my ER visit concluded with me leaving with no more than I arrived, except for a piece of paper that had the date and time of a therapist appointment on it, and was trust back out into the cold (both figuratively and literally) real world. As I walked to my car in the subfreezing temperatures I stopped and pondered how, perhaps, I have never felt more alone and helpless as I did standing there at that very moment.