#2 The Hammer Comes Down
-The Absolutely Unofficial Underground Newspaper of Metropolitan State Hospital -
Yes, faithful fiends, there is no rest for the Doomed; the Dogs have been released, and if you stay in one place for too long, they'll rip your ass off. Their pursuit is relentless, and the evil is clearly spreading. Everyday, we come into work at the Met and are immediately hit by another wave of Weirdness. Someone else announces their imminent departure, or someone is heard whispering furtively about having heard from a "reliable source" that Weld is hell-bent on closing us down. Every scrap of hope you muster is soon stomped on, and if you relax for instant, WHAM! you get socked with another brutal dose of the reality that those in high places want our hides nailed to a tree for reasons which remain unclear. Hearing the plans for "downsizing" was an experience ugly enough to strike fear and loathing in the stoutest hearts. Seeing the plans take root and become reality is nothing short of major trauma. The hog is out of the tunnel, running free and the dogs are closing in.
Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample then under foot and turn to attack you.... Matthew 7:6
Old proverbs just get proven over and over again, eh? Truth has a way of rearing its ugly head and laughing in your face at the worst goddam moments. When we last spoke, we were attempting to come to grips with the nightmares which lay before us. I wont even attempt to explain that last column (" To Live and Die in MA"), mostly because I still don't know exactly what happened. I started to write this analysis of our situation with an eye toward saying what everyone was feeling as a way of boosting morale, and then found myself in the grips of some horrible manic depressive psychosis from which I barely escaped with remnants of sanity. But that probably says a lot about the mood of the staff right there. So let it stand, for good or ill, and let there be no guarantees. I feel myself getting a little frayed around the edges even now, and who knows where this path will lead...
Since we last spoke, the hammer has come down almost everywhere in the hospital. The once thriving Admissions unit has now been reduced to a single ward of dazed and confused clinicians who stagger about, wondering how many more hits they can take. The Burke unit has been shelled in their first round of Westborough transfers, and huge black clouds of smoke have been seen curling up from the CTG building, signaling the slow death of the Semrad Unit. Damage Assessment?
I spoke with an informant from the Burke ward, and the scene is not pretty. She could speak very little at first, muttering the usual pleasantries of hello. Then, as we talked, her eyes began to glaze over and she wrung her hands and clenched her teeth. "It's unbelievable" she said, looking past me into nothing, "they're taking all our patients. Just like that. They're gone, and we're not doing treatment any more. We're just going day by day and looking around each morning to see who's left" She was talking faster and faster in loose, rambling fashion until foam began to appear in the corners of her mouth and I was forced to sedate her by ramming a handful of Seconal down her throat with a glass of gin. I removed all the sharps from her office and left her in a deep, fitful sleep.
I told this story to my contact on the Semrad unit, who snickered and said "Yeah, those poor bastards are going through what we went through back in December. I've seen the whole syndrome, shock, denial, and then anger, unless of course they have a total psychotic breakdown." I laughed uneasily at this last remark, but I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was dead serious. We had arranged to meet in the Crest after work one day, and he was already there when I arrived. I ordered a beer and he ordered another vodka tonic. His eyes shifted constantly throughout the interview, and his hands were noticeably trembling. He had obviously been drinking heavily for days which made him look even more haggard and haunted. "I've never seen anything like it." he mumbled into his drink. "It's a war zone. We all know we're going to die, we just don't know when or how. We were in this system treating these patients before most of the Cambridge Somerville staff were out of rompers." He finished his drink in one long gulp and looked straight at me. "They're screwing us every way they can. You work your ass off to move patients, and what do you get? Thirty days’ notice, that's what." At this point big tears began welling up in his eyes, and the waitress who had been approaching the table backed off with a look of fear on her face. My contact began to sob, pound the table, and scream "The fuckers won't get me! I'll gnaw on their goddam skulls!" and I was forced to mace him right there in the bar before he lost control. he went screaming to his knees and clutching his eyes and I was able to slip out in the confusion. The horror in his voice had been almost too much for me.
Worse and worse...Can't you stand it? Are you retreating? Is this hour with the living too dead for you? But there is one thing that belongs here...Shall I tell you what it is, gentlemen of Boston? -Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass
Such is the angst and anger that has gripped the front-line clinicians in the throes of downsizing. In every war there are casualties, eh? It's weird how even the lifers who have way too much seniority to worry about being bumped in the night are getting jumpy, never mind the new kids on the block. Let's face it. On this Valentine's Day, 1991 we find ourselves lined up on the razors edge. To stay or to go? For those who have an option elsewhere, they must choose between their loyalty to Met and getting out before the ship goes down. They have to either stay in the war zone and risk being left high and dry when the ship finally sinks, or leave friends and the cause behind, lying awake with traces of survivors guilt. of course it's easy to say that anyone should take any reasonable option, in part because it's true, but what of the guilt? Try and remember that your loyalty is to a set of principles about using your skill and training (whatever it may be) to do the right thing clinically, and not to the stone and mortar making up the Met. Always carry the Met with you in your heart, and it will always live.
And what of those that, for at least the time being, have no option? Will you be taken care of? Dream fucking on brother. The reality is quite grim, and the reaper's scythe is sharp as a motherfucker. Gut check time, people. Dig deep and don't forget why you're here. The game isn't over yet, and we truly don't know what the future holds. So stick to your guns, work your ass off for your patients, but take a little time to get on the phone and GET A JOB!!!! And of course keep smiling. As best as I can tell, we're supposed to be bustin' ass to close down the met for the pure satisfaction of it. We're talking total denial.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine- R.E.M
But then we must admit to our part of the whole scene, mustn't we? I mean, what possesses an otherwise rational and intelligent individual to dedicate their livelihood to working with people who are sick? Obviously a big soft heart which automatically aches at the sight of the doomed attempting to make their way in the world with a brain ravaged by major mental illness. The other quality is that taste for the edge. Come on , people. Ninety percent of the population goes through their day with no awareness that there are (were) four hundred people out in Waltham who experienced some of their feelings as audible voices driving them to do things like attempt to slice their dick off with a kitchen knife. And YOU deal with them each and every day.
So any claim you have to being a totally normal and well balanced person is right out the window. In fact, you are probably a very special person who has some sense that there are things more important than what kind of clothes you wear, what kind of car you drive or whether you have your own parking place. But there is (probably) also this very wide subversive streak in you which prefers the edge to any sort of safe middle-class life. Fuck beaver cleaver and the horse he rode in on. Give me real life. Give me someone who needs a self-inflicted cigarette burn to feel alive, and let me talk them out of it. Let me deal with someone who was found in a fetal position in the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink with piles of feces here and there throughout the apartment who is now in an argument with me about the rights of an individual to not to be fucked with by psychiatry ( arguing but alive) and I'm happier than a pig in shit. The edge. Only those who know it can really talk about it. And there are many ways to experience the edge. Any sort of suffering, really will do the trick. So here we are. All of us packed into one building, staff and patients, the only thing really separating us being the luck of the deal. We got good cards, they got shitty cards. And our job is to help them play their shitty cards the best as they can. We are a new school of thought. Gonzo Therapy! We are the new breed.
We are the children of concrete and steel.. Everything is possible, but nothing is real -Living Colour.
True enough, fellahs, but where will this dedication get us? Certainly not to a new life for the Met. This poor bastard has been hit as hard and directly by DMH as an Iraqi bunker by a laser-guided missile. But the spirit lives on eh? Spirit is something one cannot destroy. And if it is carried in the hearts of many, it will never die.