4:1 ~ A Stint At the State Hospital


The Looney Bin

Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California had suddenly become my new home (see 3:3 ~ The Looney Bin). My parents cared for my baby while I was there. They told me, “You need help.” I entered the intake process a little excited about someone taking charge of me so I could quit trying so hard.  I would regret agreeing to this decision.

I sat in what they called the “day room,” drooling and barely able to lift my head. The staff gave me a powerful drug, Thorazine. I weighed around 90 pounds soaking wet and the stuff was potent within my small frame.

I sat in a nearby seat and surveyed my surroundings. The walls were thick plaster, white paint mixed with layers of nicotine. Men and women shuffled by, glancing at me through clouded, distrustful eyes. I felt as if someone had shot me with an elephant tranquilizer gun. Every time I thought I was starting to come out of the fog, a nurse came by made me take more. “Swallow this capsule or we’ll have to inject it,” he said. I felt the need to be compliant in these strange, new surroundings.

I spent the first day sitting in an orange plastic molded chair. All the chairs were bolted to the ground. The inmates couldn’t use them in an attempt at a coup. My cigarette dropped to the floor. I grabbed the arm of the chair to keep from pitching forward to the ground and began searching for it  under the seat. An older male patient in his bathrobe slippered by to help me look. “Oh no, you didn’t drop it, that’s the Thorazine. “You haven’t been smoking, he said.” I didn’t believe him.  I searched under the next row of chairs. All I need is to start a fire and burn down the place.

The medical staff gave physicals the second day I was there. About thirty of us waited in line for a chest x-ray. Thorazine rendered me useless. I couldn’t walk, let alone stand in line. I scooted along the floor next to the wall, watching, and listening to other patients as they chatted amongst themselves. I wondered if Thorazine made crazy people feel more normal. They act like nothing’s wrong. What are they doing here? I  secretly wondered if I was getting overdosed.

I was then sent to a unit for drug-addicted teens. There, they continued to give me Thorazine each day, to make sure I didn’t experience bad withdrawals.

Things were better in the drug rehab unit. At least I was with other “kids.” There were lots of colorful characters like a young man named Wizard. He and other hippies became my lifeline. It was us against the staff. “Poor Wizard,” I thought after talking to him for a few minutes. Nothing he said made sense since he had taken one too many hits of LSD. All the girls loved him and watched over him as if he was a baby  chick. We considered him the mascot of our generation on the ward.

The unit psychologist was our version of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Every day at 4:00 PM we sat in a circle of chairs as he reached into his therapist’s toolkit. He seemed to pick out one of us a night and do everything he could to bring that person to tears.

“Well, Linda, you don’t talk much. I suppose you think you don’t need to be here. You seem to think you are above the others.”

One patient, a young man, tried to step in and distract him. “She’s on Thorazine, leave her alone.” Unfortunately, the tactic didn’t work and seemed to anger him.

“I’m simply asking her what should be a simple question,” he continued. “Well, Linda. What do you think? You think you could make it on the “outs?”

I couldn’t meet his eyes. Blood rushed to my face and I crossed my arms across my chest. I wanted to disappear.

“Yes,” I said. I looked down at the floor. The silence in the circle grew. I wasn’t trying to lie. I didn’t see how anyone there was being helped in any way and I figured we’d all do better on our own.

“If you think that, you’re living in a fantasy world,” he shouted.”You’ll never make it on the outs.” No one responded as they ingested his words. I was sure he thought the same about all of us. He thought he would be our savior.

I wanted to sign myself out of the hospital. I missed my son and wanted to go home. But I was still a teen, after all. There was one thing I wanted to do before heading back to take on adult responsibilities once again. I couldn’t leave before joining my new friends on our planned field trip to Laguna Beach on Friday!

Friday came and we piled into a bus and headed down to Laguna Beach, California. Wizard was in an exceptionally great mood, and soon I found out why. He had gotten ahold of some blotter acid, a relatively mild psychedelic. The staff was oblivious as he passed it out among the ten of us. We ambled down Pacific Coast Highway. Wizard leaned out the bus windows and yelled a “hello!” to everyone we passed. As the drug kicked in, I felt like I was on a carousel ride and the painted pony I was on was about to break from the pole, jump off, and fly away.

We broke into groups as we got off the bus. We spent several hours walking off the effects of the acid. We toured the downtown shops and walked along the shore, gathering shells and talking about what we would make out of them in arts and crafts class.

We all trooped back to the bus around 4:30 PM for our ride back to the hospital. I noticed that Wizard was already on board. His wrists were tied to the metal bar above the seat in front of him. Apparently, he didn’t handle the acid trip as well as the rest of us. We all passed inspection and rode back to the funny farm with our own wrists unfettered.

 I signed myself out of Metropolitan State Hospital “Against Medical Advice.” I can so make it on the outs. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.

Have you ever had a time in your life where you were sure you were capable of something, only to realize later that you were clearly not? Stay tuned. A very short two weeks later, I found that out for myself.

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4 comments on “4:1 ~ A Stint At the State Hospital

  1. Linda, this blog reminded me so much of the movie Girl Interrupted…wow…I know it was a horrible time but it made me laugh because I have known you so long I know it is not who you are today…. ♥

  2. Linda Nelson on said:

    Loved your story. I’m glad you turned out so well. Your writing makes me wonder how Wizards life turned out.

    • Thanks Linda. I often wonder about him too…especially when I write about him. There are so many like that from back in those days who I often wonder if they made it through. Many didn’t, I’m afraid.

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