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It's All Coming Back Now: the Ranting, the Threats . . .

June 21, 1993|JACK SMITH

Before I leave my misadventures in Huntington Memorial Hospital behind (which I fervently want to do), I am obliged to correct a few errors I made in trying to recall that unfortunate episode.

In describing a paranoid diatribe I delivered against the hospital and its staff, I noted that Allen Mathies, hospital president, was among my auditors but that he never visited me again. I also said Mathies sent me a single rose in a slender vase.

The amiable Mathies has phoned to remind me that he visited me at least four times and that he sent three roses, not one: a pink, a red and a yellow one. My wife verifies this. It was remarkable of me to remember the one rose. It was pink.

That misbehavior such as mine is not uncommon in hospitals, where patients have usually suffered trauma and are under heavy medication, is evident from the numerous letters I have received relating similar experiences.

"I also made a fool of myself," writes Mrs. John H. Williams. "But people understood and forgave me--even the nurse I slapped."

Even in my most delirious moment, as far as I know, I did not slap a nurse, though some of them must have felt like slapping me.

A woman whose name I will withhold, since she says her husband denies everything, writes that his experience during a recent hospital stay was remarkably like mine. As did my wife, she says, she stood by, maintaining a physical watch over her husband. But one day she took a break from duty, and the hospital called to say that her husband had gone berserk.

"He had one nurse in tears and would not comply with doctor's orders. He had removed IVs and other life-preserving paraphernalia and was now resisting the restraint that would tie him down to the bed."

I sympathize with the guy. I hated that.

"In his diatribe against the hospital," she goes on, "he referred to it as an illegal conspiracy and accused the hospital staff of holding him against his will and that it was a scam.

"He promised to report it to the proper authorities. When I tried to persuade him to allow the restraint to be put on him--for his own good--he turned on me and said, 'So you're on their side.' When our daughter intervened, he pointed a finger at her and said, 'You're out of the will.' "

That reminds me of my threat to disinherit my older son unless he got me out of the hospital--which he declined to do.

Pearl Simons, who says she is 74 years old and has all her marbles, describes her hospital behavior as being much like mine. "And like you, I was out of it. I've been told I was an absolute bitch. I threw my food tray at a nurse. They moved my roommate out in the middle of the night."

When it came time to release her, Mrs. Simons refused to sign the papers. She couldn't believe she had been in the hospital that long.

During his nine weeks in Arcadia Methodist Hospital, writes Charles Davis Smith, he also pulled tubes and catheters from his body and demanded paper on which he scribbled "Call 911. . . . Don't tell nurse. . . . Call police. . . ." His demands were no more availing than mine.

Of his recent experience, Roy Churchill writes, "Before the hospital released me, I had terrorized the entire staff. Like you, I was convinced I was being held prisoner.

"My final act of defiance was pulling out all tubes, trying to pull out the catheter, then walking stark naked down the hall."

I don't remember if I ever walked stark naked down the hall. The question is academic anyway. Those hospital gowns must be worn open down the back and are very hard to tie, so that one's fundaments are usually in full view. The first thing you surrender in a hospital is privacy.

Robert F. Pace tells a now-familiar story. Like me, he was dependent on the accounts of witnesses for clues to his behavior during three weeks in an East Coast hospital. "I was appalled at what my wife and nieces told me about my 'hazy' days and nights.

"I broke restraints, used vile language on those taking care of me, threatened to sue, even shoot them. A priest was called in some three times."

I think I did everything these patients confess to except threaten to shoot my tormentors. That restraint, I suspect, was only because I did not have access to a gun.

Being a man of no religion, I was not ministered to by a priest. I think the appearance of a priest at my bedside would have killed me.

But it's an ill wind that blows no good. I now have a handicapped parking permit.

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