For those who are just joining us, here’s a recap: After a stressful couple of years, I found myself in a deep pit of depression and suicidal thoughts. Although I have been suicidal basically all my life, this particular incidence was different in that the impulses to kill myself were nearly impossible to fight. I was hospitalized for the week of Thanksgiving of 2012.
So how was I when I was released? A bit better. I was no longer having the nearly physical impulse to kill myself. The thoughts were still there, but I pushed them away with anger. I was angry at myself for my “weakness” and angry at my disease for putting me in the hospital. I thought was I was “less then” for allowing my control to lapse. I despised myself for having let myself to be suicidal to the point where I was “unsafe” with myself (“safe” and “unsafe” are terms the doctors used to determine how bad your suicidal ideation was. If you were “safe” with yourself, you could be trusted not to hurt yourself or others. If you were “unsafe”, you were likely to hurt yourself).
After the hospitalization, I still hated myself. I hated everything about myself from the strand or two of gray in my hair to my toes. I especially despised my need to be seen as special and my desire to be loved. I wanted to be perfect, with no needs, no desires, no emotions. I wanted to be someone, something, anything, other than myself.
At the time, I was finishing my last semester of college (undergrad). The medication I was given at the hospital made it possible for me to graduate. I didn’t graduate the way I wanted to though. I wanted my last semester of college to be like my first semester. I had made great grades and felt hopeful my first semester. In my last semester I failed several classes, was terrified of my future, and felt undeserving of breathing.
After graduation, I waited. I waited to feel better, waited to get a job, waited for an appointment with my local community mental health center. I waited because I knew the medication I was on was not right. It barely helped. The difference between being on that medication and being unmedicated was the difference between taking an hour to get out of bed and taking an hour and five minutes. I was still suicidal, still avoiding life, still terrified.
I finally got in to see a psychiatrist in January of 2013 and my meds were changed. I started seeing a counselor and finally got a job in February. I was doing telemarketing. Not because I enjoyed it, not even because I was good at it (I wasn’t), but because it was the only job I could get at the time. I hated the job, but I took it so I could pay the bills.
Slowly, I started feeling better. The suicidal thoughts became less and less intense until they were more of a soft whisper at the back of my head. I still didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything, especially anything I enjoyed. I still didn’t take good care of myself. But I had found a balance that allowed me to get though the day.
It was on April 29th that that precarious balance was, quite literally, broken. That was the day that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my left arm.
April 29th, 2013, was a Monday. And, in my typical fashion, I was reluctant to go to work, but I was going anyway. I’d waited till the last possible second to get out of bed, but I’d done it. Like any other day, I got dressed and started out the door, a bag of garbage and a tote bag of books to return to the library in my left hand. At the top of the flight of stairs I take to get to the ground floor (it’s about ten stairs) I tripped over my own feet and fell, face first. The strange thing is that the moment before I fell down the stairs, I saw myself in my mind’s eye falling down the stairs. Then I felt the impact. I landed on the (appropriately named) landing right before the stairs turned a corner.
My first thought was for my glasses. They were new and expensive and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Fortunately, they were fine. There was something under my chest. For some reason, I thought it was the stair carpeting. “That’s why I fell,” I thought. “The carpeting came loose.” I tried to push myself up with both hands but flopped right back down. My left arm wasn’t working. The thing under me wasn’t the carpeting, it was my arm.
I managed to push myself up with one arm and sit up. Then I took inventory. My left arm wouldn’t work by itself and I noticed that I was bleeding from some sort of cut right above my inner elbow. I didn’t feel any pain though. After a second or two I realized that my arm was broken and that I probably should do something about it. So I called 911 and waited for help, trying not to cry.
You see, I was afraid that if I started to cry, I’d start to feel the pain. And then I’d never stop crying.
When the EMTs got there, they helped me off the stairs, into a neck brace, and onto a stretcher. Still I felt no pain. I remember being loaded into the ambulance then nothing until I woke up in ICU.
I’m told that I spent the rest of the day in the ER (I fell at around 7:30am) then went into surgery to repair the break at 1am the next day. I had broken my wrist and demolished my elbow. The spot that I thought was just a cut was actually where my bone had poked through the skin. It took six hours of surgery to put the pieces together. I had three pins in my wrist and several plates/pins in my elbow.
It took two days in the ICU for me to wake up. My brother and sister-in-law told me that at one point they weren’t sure that I would live. Apparently every time they tried to take me off the respirator, I wouldn’t breathe on my own. They were terrified and having flashbacks to other times they’d watched loved ones die in the ICU. But eventually I did breathe on my own (when I did, I immediately pulled out the breathing tube myself. Which you’re not supposed to do because if you do it wrong you can rip out your vocal cords), and became coherent.
After another day in the ICU, I was transferred to a regular floor where I had a room to myself. The entire time I was in the hospital I was given really good painkillers and spent a lot of time sleeping. The hospital staff was nice, but very busy, leaving me in pain a time or two, but I thought I was dealing well. I was visited by people I hadn’t seen in years (one in decades) and felt okay. I’d never broken a bone or had a (medical) hospital stay before, so I thought I was doing okay.
My left arm was in what they call a soft cast. The bottom of my arm rested in a cotton covered immovable fiberglass shell that was shaped to my arm in a slightly bent position. The rest of the arm was wrapped in an Ace©-type bandage from just under my armpit to just above my fingertips. After a few days, the hospital wanted to discharge me, but there was a question of where.
At first, they said I shouldn’t be alone upon discharge because I’d need help. And they were right. I’m right handed, and the breaks were in my left arm, but there’s lots of stuff you need your non-dominant arm/hand for that you don’t realize you need it for until you can’t use it. For example, pulling your underwear/pants on. So I asked my brother and sister-in-law if I could stay with them for a few days. They said no, because they had a house full of people and nowhere to put me. Then the hospital tried to get me admitted to a short-term care facility. However, I had no insurance, wasn’t on Medicare, and had no money. To make matters worse, not all facilities were “equipped” to take someone of my size. After a day or so, (when my orthopedic doctor caught me making my own bed because I was sick of waiting for someone else to do it) it was decided that I could go home alone after all, if someone checked on me periodically. So home I went.
The first few days were okay. I slept a lot, had painkillers (not as good as the ones in the hospital, but they did the trick), and my family checked on me once or twice a day. Then I made my first mistake, I started to worry about money. I had no insurance, no savings, and had missed two weeks of work (half a month’s pay). So I got permission to go back to work, mistake number two.
How did I work with only one arm? Easy. I was a telemarketer, most of my job consisted of talking and pressing two or three buttons. If I needed to type more, I could take more time. No problem (or so I thought). What I didn’t think about was how the stress of the job, combined with the trauma of my injury, would affect me. I had to cut back on the painkillers in order to drive to work and be coherent when I was there. The job itself was stressful for me before my injury (because it was such a mismatch to my personality), but after my injury it became impossible for me to deal with. After a couple of days, I started to call in sick, saying I was having a medication interaction.
The truth was, that precarious balance I’d established with my mood had been shattered along with my elbow. While I was in the (medical) hospital I could distract my mood with painkillers, talking with the nurses, watching TV, and sleeping. Now that I was out and trying to work, my family checked on me less and less, I didn’t have as much to distract me, and my mood dived.
Let’s put it this way, in the space of a couple of weeks I went from being functional in every way (all my limbs worked, I was working, I wasn’t happy but I was moving forward) to having trouble pulling on my underwear and crying all day. The suicidal impulses returned with a vengeance. There were times that the only reason I didn’t take all of my painkillers at once was because the bottle was on the other side of the room and I didn’t have the energy to get up to get them. I spent a week lying in my bed, crying, arguing with my brain, calling off work sick, and praying that I’d be brave enough to live so my landlord wouldn’t have a mess to clean up (can you image the bodily fluids a corpse leaves behind?). It happened so fast and went so deep that I was more than terrified. I was “unsafe” with myself and I knew it. Everyday, every minute, every breath, was a fight.
So what got me in the hospital? I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. It took me all day to get myself there. Arguing with myself each step from the bed to the bathroom, putting on clothes, driving; telling myself that I would be fine, that I just need an adjustment of meds, that if I just took the next step, put on the next article of clothing, drove to the next light, that I was closer to an end to the fight. It wasn’t until after I got to the doctor’s office, checked in with the receptionist, and sat down, that I realized that I was lying to myself. I couldn’t do it any longer. I had a plan to kill myself, I had access to materials that would definitely kill me, and I no longer had the energy or will to fight anymore.
Picture your typical doctor’s office. A hugely fat woman is sitting in a chair, left arm in a bulky cast and sling, hopeless tears streaming down her face. Frankly, I scared people. Wide-eyed, the nurses asked me what was wrong. All I could do was shake my head and cry. After a minute or two of letting me cry in the waiting room, one of them lead me to another room where my vitals were taken and I eventually told them what was going on. The nurse immediately got the doctor. He told me that, instead of having our usual 15 minute medication maintenance appointment, he was going to hand me over to a crisis counselor (in the same clinic). The counselor told me that I had two choices, going to a psych ward by ambulance or having a family member drive me there. I chose to call my sister-in-law.
Stay tuned, my next blog post will have the rest of the tale.