A Thief in the Hospital

Ekaterina Netchitailova, PhD
16
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I ended up in a psychiatric hospital one day. Psychosis was the diagnosis. I wasn’t scared of the psychosis but I got scared of the diagnosis, and when you are proclaimed as “ill,” it leads to certain assumptions and in disbelief in oneself.

I came distressed into the hospital, my stay of rest when things spiral out of control. I like some things in it, such as the fact that in theory, one can let go off things, and stop feeling over-responsible in the daily, “normal” life. They have meals three times a day, a garden, and art therapy. It was a good place, looking at it from outside.

W became my main nurse. She was so kind to me, it was almost beyond belief. W checked on me, took me on walks, closed her eyes when I started buying things in a shop. She was relaxed and non-judgmental, a dream nurse for the psychiatric establishment, where some rules make one scream. One gets a “leave” instead of a walk, and one isn’t allowed to have any fun, such as normal consumer activities in a normal shop.

My creams started to disappear at some point. I use good creams, they aren’t cheap. I like Estée Lauder, which restores my stressed skin. It’s smoothing and calming, and I feel good when I use their creams. I had a face mask of them, a scrub, and some other nice, delicious things, such as a lipstick, a mascara, and a nice perfume. I put it all on my shelf above my bed, because it was a place of rest, and I wanted some pampering.

The face mask was the first good thing that disappeared. I didn’t ring the alarm, simply because psychiatric patients don’t have much voice. We are annihilated to nobody, once we cross that line that separates the normal world from the psychiatric hospital. The attitude is patronising, and one has to take medication and wait for ages before being discharged into the community.

Being distressed, or “confused” is not tolerated, and once you are inside the psychiatric establishment, you know that everything that falls outside the bounds of normality is considered to be a sin. You feel guilty that you dared to be ill. You feel afraid, lost, and discouraged.

W was nice to me. I had a bottle of wine hidden in my cupboard and I knew that W was aware of it. She had seen me buying it in the shop, but said nothing. Wine is not allowed inside the hospital, apparently, but I tried to maintain my sense of dignity by disobeying some of their rules, and by making sure I had some small luxuries. Some chocolate, a small glass of wine before bed, good books to read, and excellent creams to put on my face. It was all brand new: a serum, another face mask, delicious night cleansing balm.

The lipstick disappeared too at some point. I knew by then that there was a thief, but I tried not to rush to conclusions. My room was cleaned every day by a nice good woman, and I knew that it wasn’t her. It was impossible, because she was friendly and cheerful, and her eyes were sincere and kind. I thought that maybe it was one of the patients.

I couldn’t even think of the possibility that it could be one of the staff. They go into the field in order to help people. They are supposed to be people of good moral standing. Otherwise, how could they do a good job when they are responsible for vulnerable people?

I asked for a key for my cupboard and put all my creams there and took the keys with me at all times. My stay in the hospital acquired a sinister taste. It was no longer a place of rest, but a prison, where bad things can happen. A theft in one’s life is a very unpleasant experience. It goes into your core, because it violates your personal space and your belongings.

I was shaking from the violation and I felt distressed. A face mask was gone, two of my lipsticks, and a pair of earrings. Someone was meddling in my stuff when I was gone for walks, and walking stopped being relaxing and calming, because someone was after my possessions, and everything I acquired came from hard work and superhuman efforts in my life. I changed a country for my job. I love working. I deserve every penny I earn. I deserve nice creams and nice perfumes. I bought them with pride. “Look,” I was telling myself, “You have done well in life with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.” Estée Lauder became my price, the present to myself, because I am worth it.

W came into my room right before my walk. She opened the cupboard (the key was in the lock). Out of curiosity, she said. She commented on how many nice things I had inside, and the bottle of my serum looked so appealing. She added that I seemed to like nice things in life. I smiled at her and almost hugged her for her kindness. She was an excellent nurse, I thought. Nice and caring.

She left the room and I put on my coat to go for a walk. But when I approached the cupboard to close it, the key wasn’t there. I panicked and ran to W. She said she would take care of everything. She would close my room and watch it over. I went on a walk with a calm mind. If W was in charge, then nothing bad would happen. No one would invade my privacy under her watch.

I went for a nice, quiet walk. It’s beautiful where I live now, in the north. We have lots of water, and the landscape is amazing. Canals run through parks, and people bike.

When I came back, the door to my room was closed. W was no longer there, as her shift had ended. I asked another nurse to open the room for me.

Once inside, I approached the cupboard with a feeling of trepidation. Surely not, I thought? And back at me, an empty shelf stared. My earrings, my serum, everything was gone.

I collapsed on the bed and I cried. I could run to the nurses and complain, but I knew that no one would take me seriously. I was a patient in the mental institution, I might have hallucinated the entire thing. It would be impossible to prove it in any case. W looked so nice and caring, no one would believe me that she was a thief.

The next day I started to beg for discharge. It was not a place of rest. It wasn’t safe or nice or caring. The abuse of power was so brusque that I almost ended up depressed. The shock of it, its impact, was so big that I can’t stop thinking about it even now. It chases me in my dreams. How is it possible, why? Why would anyone take advantage of a vulnerable human being, of someone in real distress?

I never bought the serum or the mask back. I can’t afford such luxuries that often. I use only cream instead and I think about W. I hope she enjoyed the serum, and my mask, and that she enjoys the earrings. And I hope that she goes to sleep everyday with a calm mind, unlike me. I wish her the best, really, because someone who is capable of stealing like that, is ill in her mind.

If only we could change places. I would be her nurse. I would be nice and caring, and would offer her my creams for free if only she asked.

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I avoid the term “gaslighting” but I think by any definition this would be a prime example. And it should be obvious to anyone that the specific material items stolen are secondary to the sense of violation (and invalidation), no matter who might have turned out to be responsible.

    The face mask was the first good thing that disappeared.

    These days some would consider that a good thing.

    I tried to maintain my sense of dignity by disobeying some of their rules…

    A rebel at heart! Too bad maintaining one’s dignity must require “rebellion,” but there it is. And despite my frequent picking at your semantics (which I’ll forego this time) I always enjoy your spirit of creative resistance. 🙂

  2. I, too, ran into a thief in a hospital. I’m pretty certain it was the hospital psychiatrist. And that psychiatrist was very angry she was unable to hospitalize me forever, the first time I had the misfortune of being medically unnecessarily shipped to her, and her now FBI convicted partner in crime.

    https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/pr/oak-brook-doctor-convicted-kickback-scheme-sacred-heart-hospital

    That hospital psychiatrist then started fraudulently listing me as her “out patient,” which lasted for at least seven years, initially unbeknownst to me. Despite the fact I’d never personally chosen her as my psychiatrist. I eventually learned she was doing this, from a health insurance company. And the only reason she may have stopped fraudulently listing me as her “out patient,” was because I informed her lackeys, who’d called me to see why I didn’t show up for an appointment. That since I’d moved out of state, obviously I didn’t make an appointment with her. And I mentioned the common sense reality, that they’d all been seen as the criminals that they are, if they did not knock it off.

    Plus, it was hospital staff that took my jewelry for “safe keeping,” and hospital staff that returned a fake gold bangle bracelet, in stead of my $5000 antique real gold and garnet bangle bracelet. Thieves in the hospitals, indeed.

    Not to mention the $30,000 they defrauded from my health insurance company, for their medically unnecessary treatment of a non-existent “chronic airway obstruction.” Which they, apparently, had hoped to turn into an unneeded tracheotomy, since that was the scam, for which Kuchipudi was eventually convicted.

  3. Many people subjected to psych hospitalization become paranoid. I can’t imagine why someone who is monitored all day, insulted (all mental illness labels are insults), threatened with forced drugging and jailing (this is always a threat because it can and is done) and lied to over and over by psychiatry would make someone paranoid. Though technically they aren’t paranoid they have insight and recognize people are out to get them. In fact, they already got them.

  4. What a beautifully written story Ekaternia. I also read it allegorically as a story of how “Power” can steal by dint of the sheer opportunity of double binds and the exploitation of the limits of (whatever) organizational discourse available (of which you wonderfully illustrated in your story). Isn’t this dynamic rather ubiquitous in our neoliberal world? But on the issue of dignity, it seems to me all the while you maintained-and strengthened yours, W was throwing hers away. I can’t help but think anyone who would stoop so low be anything but miserable or dead inside. I hope her employer read this! I doubt W’s reading could make a dent in (her) consciousness.

  5. Hmm. Maybe if governments paid all nurses the same wages as top consultants get then nurses would be encrusted in their own expensive jewellery. Not saying that’s any excuse for daylight robbery. But also you do get bent nurses, like bent cops, and bent priests. Dogooder vocations are magnets for people exploiters.

  6. Well, I had very mixed feelings while reading this account. I had a psychotic episode in 2012 and spent more than a month on a locked ward, at a public hospital. I was not even able to go outside for more than a month. It was obvious to me that most of the people on my ward were poor. Many patients were stealing from others and even very basic things like sanitary pads were stolen from me: this shows how desperate many of the patients were at my hospital.

    Most psychiatric survivors in my country are poor. They are happy if they are getting a small disability pension. I am very educated, with a PhD like the author of this account, but I am now poor myself.

    The author claims that she “deserves” expensive cosmetics and keeps mentioning them with relish in her account. Does she actually think that there are women who don’t “deserve” expensive cosmetics and other expensive stuff? Oh, I can understand that it can be upsetting to lose an expensive serum or face mask if one is used to such luxuries, but there are so many people – including psychiatric survivors – who lack basic things. The author also mentions the walks she was able to take, the wine she was able to drink at the hospital etc.

    I feel that the author does not even realize what it means to be on a locked ward at a public hospital and how traumatizing these stays can be for many people who are treated literally like prisoners and forcibly drugged (and sometimes even put in restraints). I feel that the author is completely and shockingly unaware of her own privileged situation. She assumes that she simply “deserves” everything she has because she feels that she has been working hard – but there are so many people on this earth who work very hard for very little money and can’t satisfy even their basic needs.

    Do all these people “deserve” to be poor and oppressed all their life? Do most human beings and most psychiatric survivors in this world “deserve” to live in poverty? And people locked in psychiatric hospitals experience much worse things than what the author has described.

    • I think you’re deflecting the issue. First of all these places shouldn’t even exist so there’s no “correct” solution. But beyond that, being born into privilege (if this is indeed the case) is not a crime, and Ektarina should not be held personally accountable for the sins of capitalism. (Not that it’s a bad thing for people to be aware of their privilege.) If her shit is being stolen by the employees of the operation supposedly in charge of her well-being and security I don’t see why that should be written off based on her class status.

    • For that matter did the nurse–who gets a lot more than the pittance her charges have to survive on–DESERVE those things? Does the nurse deserve to rob much poorer people? Does she deserve to rule the most socially vulnerable. Those with no credibility or hope of redress when wronged?

      If you’re searching for a bad guy to condemn, please consider those running the place and abusing their positions.

  7. Thanks Ekatarina for another read.

    The very first thing that happens within hospital walls is that your freedom is stolen. Fears, sadness, confusion are jailable. When you are looked at as abnormal, there is not a dam thing you can do. And if you are overweight, poor, ugly, homeless, addicted, not educated, old, toothless, grumpy etc, that will count against you too.
    Perhaps when you have facecreams, it also counts against you. In the form of “patient seems to be preoccupied with purchases, made on impulse and seems to be obsessed with her skin”. I mean if I don’t like you, or if I want to make my job look reputable to idiots, then what would the best way be for me to do so? I get to say and write things against a persons character/personality, even if I have to dream it up. After all, it works in the social setting more or less.

    All the patients need is insight.

    Who do we think runs the asylum? There are people who believe that ‘normal’ people run the asylums.

  8. And Jesus beckonned Mary Magdlene to come annoint his feet…but Lo

    She took out an expensive serum.

    I suppose that because I have been living with a roof over my head I am more privaledged than someone who is not. Shame on me. And because I have shoes I am more privaledged than the shoeless. Shame on me. And because I am able to pour my coffee in a cup I am more privaledged than someone who has no cup. Shame on me. But are they more privaledged because they have fine health compared to a person riddled with cancer? Shame on them. They must be privaledged too. And are they more privaledged because they can lift someone elses coffee cup to their lips given that another person may be paraplegic and unable to lift stuff? Shame on the able bodied privaledged cup lifter. And are we more privaledged than some dying baby orphan in sub Saharan Africa who has not eaten for weeks. Shame on us.

    Shaming everyone who seems remotely privaledged is just a bickering form of therapeutic mockery that never takes responsibility for creating a BETTER VISION.

    Joanna, I think you are a wonderful person of vision so please write a long piece on what you would see change about the many systems of oppression you have been subjected to. You deserve nice creams. Lots and lots of nice creams.

    Ekaterina, you also are a fantastic writer and discerner of injustices. You deserve nice creams. Loads of creams. We all need nice creams..Robert Whitaker needs nice creams.

  9. Ekaterina, Your story is very interesting. One of the girls in some group I was in came out of the state hospital and told us all of her clothing she had there was stolen. When, I was in the hospital, all I got stolen was my dignity; but, I think I just think it was reinforced as stolen. As far as face cream, etc. if I had any, I would just give it away and worry not about it being stolen, because my skin is so sensitive, especially that which is on face. Even water from the sink can make it itch, etc. unless I dry it off quickly. Still, I need the water to wash the other irritants off my face that can cause me problems. Did your nice perfume get stolen? I use to be a perfume addict, so that would have upset me dearly if that had happened. Maybe, I still am partially a perfume addict—just not too much or the wrong smells or the wrong price…. As far as what you deserve, whatever it is that gives you joy and happiness is what you deserve. And, please always deserve just a little more than the world can give you. It keeps you just hungry and thirsty enough to stay alive and fight for yourself and your dignity. The psych industry shames us enough by insinuating that we are too ill to deserve anything, sometimes, not even love… The psych industry would prefer if we were not hungry enough or thirsty enough to fight for our dignity. And as far as staying alive, they only keep us alive to get their drugs and their therapies, etc.
    Absolutely no one has the right to judge on what you feel you deserve or not deserve. The main point is that the theft of your face cream, etc. was actually like stealing who you are and being in a psych hospital you are very vulnerable to this type of theft. In fact, you really do not need to even be in psych hospital for this kind of theft to happen. Of course, not just the psych industry does this. Others can do this too; friends, family, employers, supervisors, teachers, professors, etc. can do this to you. All of these betray you by their thievery. But, in the psych industry, it seems more potent and mortifying as they were the ones we expected to “save” and “help” us from these other betrayals. And, when this happens, we learn a betrayal we wish we had not learned. Although, it may not be “sexual” it is nothing less than another form of rape. Ekaterina, Thank you for your honest article and commentary and opening your heart to us. Thank you.

  10. Sorry about your experience Ekaterina.
    It wasn’t just your chocolate or face creams that were taken. It was your peace of mind and security.
    I had a lot of my nicer clothing stolen during a visit years ago. This stuff happens all the time in psych wards.
    Years of these figurative slaps in the face led me to flee the System when an opportunity arose.

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