The first thing I need to do in this post is make my intentions clear.
I learned several valuable things during my six-day stay at Oakwood Springs. I don’t question my family’s decision to take me there. I was in a terrible state of mind and needed help. I believe I’m in a good place now mentally and that’s partially a credit to my time at Oakwood Springs.
However, I do believe that we as a society have a long way to go when it comes to treating mental health issues. We’ve come a long way in the past 10 years or so but there is still a lot of ground to be made up. I believe my stay at Oakwood Springs can spotlight several of these issues, and I don’t mind sharing it. I have never been to any other mental health facilities so I can only speak to my experience at Oakwood Springs. Here goes.
As I shared in the last blog, I started showing signs of major depression/panic attack/anxiety at around 4 a.m. When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep or breathe normally, my brother took me to Oakwood Springs, arriving at about 2 p.m. Missy stayed back to pick the kids up from school and take Addie to her choir practice and Myra to her piano lesson.
By this time, I’m already on a completely sleepless night which was preceded by a night when I hardly slept. I’ve been crying for the better part of 10 hours and can’t get my breathing under control. I was in the waiting area at Oakwood Springs for two hours, then was taken back to a “consultation room.” The room was small, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, with three chairs, bright lights, a hard floor, and a TV turned to the 90s pop music channel.
Upon entering that room, I had to surrender everything on my person, which was my wallet and my cell phone. By this time I’m actually so exhausted that I could have slept. I tried laying down on the floor but it was too hard to get any sleep. So I basically oscillated between trying but failing to fall asleep and crying/panic attacking until I was so tired I thought I might be able to fall asleep.
After a couple of hours, a woman came in and took an assessment. I told her what I was going through and she wrote it down, asked a few questions. Then she left. Another hour or so goes by. By now I am completely exhausted and very confident that I could be asleep in a matter of minutes if I could get an actual bed and some kind of anxiety drug to settle my breathing.
A different woman comes in, says she wants me to go inpatient. I ask if there’s any way I can just get a prescription and go home and sleep. She says no. She repeats that she wants me to go inpatient. She’s saying it in a way that makes me feel like I have some say in the matter, so I repeat my preference to just go home. She says, “If you don’t agree to go inpatient, we’ll have no choice but to get an emergency order of detention which essentially guarantees you’ll stay here at least seven days. If you voluntarily come in, the average stay is three days.”
I was pretty shocked. Like I said, I’ve never been to any place like this but I arrived thinking I might stay one night and then once I got some sleep I’d be able to tackle this thing properly. Every person is different but any time I’ve had depression episodes in the past they’ve become manageable once I got some sleep. This one was worse than any others I’d had, but I still felt like sleep was the main thing I needed. Now I was being given a choice between staying three days and seven days? And this is after coming in completely exhausted and having to wait in a lobby for two hours and then in a small, hard, bright room with no phone for three more hours? I said I would go in voluntarily and she said I’d have to wait in the consultation room awhile longer while my room was prepared.
Now I am way more tired than anything else. I’m also sick of the same 90s pop songs being played on a loop. These weren’t even the good 90s songs. It’s been more than an hour since I talked to the last lady. The only thing I’ve eaten all day is a granola bar. I just found out I’ll be in this place for at least three days. I only thought I was losing my mind when I walked in.
They walked me back to the Meadows unit, which has about 24 beds and is for people like me who are struggling with depression or some other kind of mental issue. However, my actual room/bed still wasn’t ready so I had to wait on a couch in a common area. I was able to grab a ham sandwich from the fridge. Other than that I just stared straight ahead like a zombie until my bed was ready, which was around 10 p.m.
I had a roommate for about 10 seconds. When I walked in and said hi, he said, “Keep to yourself and you’ll be fine.” Ummm, OK. Then he said, “I’m switching rooms. There’s a chick I like a few doors down so I’m gonna go be closer to her.” And then he was gone for good. He spent one night in his other room and then got transferred to a different unit the next day.
As I walked to my room I saw a guy nod in my direction and say, “Looks like he’s coming down off of some really good shit.” I looked in the mirror. My eyes were completely bloodshot. They gave me two pretty potent pills to help me sleep and I was out like a light despite the bed being uncomfortable, having just one small pillow (they didn’t have any more), and being looked in on every 15 minutes. (You aren’t allowed to close the door to your room.)
At 5 a.m., they woke me up to check my vitals. I went back to sleep. At 7:15 they woke me up to see if I wanted breakfast. I said no and went back to sleep. At 8 they woke me up to take my bloodwork. I went back to sleep. At 9:30 they woke me up to see the psychiatrist who would decide what drugs I’d take and when I’d get to go home. She gave me Prozac and I went back to sleep. At 10:30 they woke me up to meet with the business office.
This lady showed me a piece of paper which estimated that my stay would cost about $5000. I have insurance but it would all go towards my deductible. She said they have payment plans if I need them or they could give me a discount if I could pay it all at the time of my discharge. The cynic in me wondered if I’d get to go home earlier if I said I couldn’t afford any of it.
Really, though, this is kind of messed up, right? I’ve been in the facility for 20 hours. Two was spent in the waiting room, 5 was spent in the sleep deprivation station with crappy 90s music, and 11 was spent in a drug-induced coma. Ten minutes was spent with a doctor. I was still pretty groggy and definitely under the influence of the sleeping drugs. I’m here because I wasn’t considered to have the mental wherewithal to take care of myself. And now you’re showing me a $5k bill and asking me how I’m going to pay for it.
I was in a haze the rest of the day but I managed to eat lunch and dinner and attend the group meetings. They drugged me up again Wednesday night and I was asleep by 10 p.m. I was awoken at 2 a.m. not by a sound but by a smell. And then by the sounds. Someone was pooping in my bathroom. At first I was completely freaked out and didn’t know what to do but it turns out I got a new roommate in the middle of the night. We shared the room the rest of my stay and he was cool. But that was a weird way to get woken up.
Thursday was a typical day at Oakwood Springs. Here’s a rough outline of my schedule:
6 a.m. — Wake up and take vitals
7:30 — Breakfast
8 — Get meds
9 — Group therapy (fill out paper saying how you feel)
9: 30 — Group session (topic might be positive thinking, anger, etc.)
10:30 — Activity (art, music, game, etc.)
11:30 — Meet with psychiatrist for 10 mins
Noon — Lunch
1 p.m. — Group session
2 — Activity
3 — Free time
5 — Dinner (Overall, the food was fine. Neither bad nor good).
6 — Gym
7 — Visitation
8 — Vitals/meds
9 — Group session (fill out paper about how day went)
10 — Bed
As you can see, there are a lot of group times and virtually no 1-on-1 times. The group times were certainly valuable, but all of us were going through different things. Many of the women were in abusive relationships, so we talked a lot about that. I have the most supportive family a person could ask for.
Seeing the family was difficult. Kids aren’t allowed at the nightly one-hour visitations. There is a one-hour family visitation time on Saturdays, and the psychiatrist allowed an extra 30-minute kid visit one other day. Keep in mind that we live 30 minutes away from Oakwood so Missy drove the kids an hour so they could see me for 30 minutes.
I understand that some people’s situations might not call for family visits, but in my case I certainly could have used more time with my kids. Feelings of guilt and shame were what overwhelmed me in the first place, and now I was separated from my family for six days, facing a $5000 bill. I am extremely grateful that my mother-in-law was able to drive down from Kansas and help Missy take care of the kids while I was there. Even still, I felt worse about myself because I was racking up a huge expense for our family while not being able to contribute anything.
Another thing in short supply at Oakwood Springs was fresh air. There was a small fenced-in area where they let you go for smoke breaks three times a day. I took all of the smoke breaks even though I don’t smoke just to go outside, because that was usually the only opportunity to do so. On two of the days with nicer weather, we had an activity session in that little yard. Otherwise secondhand smoke was the closest thing to fresh air I got. I’ve never heard of fresh air being bad for anyone so I don’t see why there isn’t more access to it.
On Thursday I begged the psychiatrist to let me go home Friday, but she said I’d have to stay until Monday. Her reasoning was that I’d only been on the Prozac for two days so they wanted to see if I had any negative side effects from it. She said I could have gone home Saturday or Sunday but they don’t release anyone on the weekends so it would have to be Monday. Sure enough, nobody on our unit left on the weekend.
I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if it weren’t so expensive to stay there and if my wife had had any say whatsoever in this whole process. Over the course of six days I met with the psychiatrist four times for a total of 30 minutes. I met with an actual therapist once for 10 minutes. On Saturday and Sunday I met with a nurse practitioner for a total of 10 minutes. On Friday a doctor I didn’t recognize and had never met pulled me aside and asked the same five questions I was asked about 50 times per day by everybody who works there.
- Are you thinking of hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking of hurting others?
- How would you rate your anxiety on a scale of 1-10?
- How would you rate your depression?
- How is your medication working so far?
No big deal, except I later found out that the doctor will be billing me separately for his services, which provided no value whatsoever. That’s the only time I ever saw him, and I never even sat down. The whole encounter lasted 45 seconds. I’ll also be being billed separately from the psychiatrist and I believe the therapist. Not sure about her or the nurse practitioner but you get the point. They run around seeing all 24 people in the unit for five minutes apiece over the course of two hours and then send us a big bill after we’re done paying the big hospital bill.
Not once was Missy ever contacted by any of the doctors, and she had no way to communicate with them. Again, I understand that some people’s home situations aren’t right for a spouse to have a say on when someone goes home, but that’s not the case with me. I get no say in the matter, theoretically because I’m too unstable to make such a decision, and my wife also gets no say. They can keep you two extra days because they don’t want to release anyone on the weekend and I’m forced to just live with that and pay an extra $2000.
Just calling Missy was quite an ordeal. Of course I had no access to my cell phone. There were three land lines in the unit, for the 24 of us to share. One of them was broken about half the time. A couple of the patients were on the phone virtually every waking moment, making it hard for anyone else to make a call. I was able to sneak in short calls to Missy and my mom most every day.
Sleeping was also not ideal. The TVs were turned off at 10 but there were usually people talking or playing cards well into the night. Since you couldn’t close your door the light and the sound came right in, and the PCAs come in to check on you every 15 minutes throughout the night. Then at 5:30 a.m. they wake you up to take your vitals and people start getting up and around.
Sleep, fresh air, exercise, and communication with loved ones seem like good things for everyone, especially those dealing with mental health issues. Communication between a spouse and doctors to formulate the best plan for the patient seems like a good idea. I feel like these are simple yet significant steps that Oakwood Springs (and probably the whole mental health care system) needs to take.
Personally, once I got over the sleep deprivation, I knew I needed to find the right medicine and find a therapist to work through the issues I’ve been letting slide for far too long. Again, I certainly learned valuable things during the group sessions that will help me in the long term. But I didn’t need to be in there for six days. I honestly just didn’t. I recognized what I needed to do, which was the same things the psychiatrist said I needed to do, and I was ready to go home and start doing them. The extra time just cost me and my family money and frustration.
Again, I want to thank the PCAs at Oakwood Springs for being incredible and awesome. They all need a pay raise. I also want to thank my friends and family, who supported me at a level far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. It’s truly humbling.
So far the Prozac is working fine I suppose. Wouldn’t say I’ve noticed much benefit but I’ve only been on it for a couple of weeks and there haven’t been any side effects outside of some fatigue. I’ve also started therapy.
I’m ready to move on and write about more fun things now. Thanks for indulging me on this somber subject, maybe it will make a difference. Love y’all.