We Don't Use That Word Anymore

Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Start your story in the middle of the action.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Day 1

I arrived by ambulance. Actually, it's Night 1. I don't remember if I was rolled or walked in, or why. Well, maybe why.

I had my own room, complete with a bathroom with a

shower stall that didn't work, no curtain, no curtain rod, and no shower head, so I'm guessing, no way to hang myself.

Someone put me to bed, and I drifted off to sleep. Then, bright lights and loud chatter, and raucous laughter woke me. Sorry to the good third-shift workers, but I believe the worst hospital staff are assigned to the night shift. Loud, rude, and dismissive. They seemed to want to put in their hours and get paid for doing nothing. Mental health babysitters, I guess. No matter what your requested, they'd tell you to ask for it tomorrow.

Angry and frustrated, I slipped out of bed, grateful for the non-skid socks, and padded toward the door.

"Can I help you, Alice?" A staff member stood from her chair just outside my door, blocking my exit. "Hello, I'm Sara. Can I help you, Alice?"

That was the moment the reality of the situation hit me.

"I can't sleep; there's so much noise and light." I gestured across the hall.

"I'm sorry. No other rooms are available now, but you can request another tomorrow when you talk with the psychiatrist. I'll have a word with the staff." She then motioned toward the desk.

I felt every cell in my body and they screamed for sleep, for rest, for relief from this God-awful emotional pain. I hadn't eaten for, I don't remember. Two days, maybe? I stepped back into the room and closed the door, hoping for peace and comforting darkness.

As I crawled back into bed, Sara re-opened the door.

"Alice, please leave your door open."

"Why?" My heart began to race, and a headache crept up my neck and gripped my skull with what felt like strong skeletal hands. The beginnings of a migraine.

"It's for your own protection."

"From who?"

"It's doctor's orders, Alice."

"I have a terrible headache. May I at least have some Excedrine?"

"I'm sorry, you need the doctor's order for that. Ask him tomorrow."

So many, 'wait until tomorrow's" going on, but no help. I went into my bathroom and made earplugs with toilet tissue, then back to bed and pulled the covers over my head. I didn't sleep.


The boisterous celebration of shift change began at daybreak, sounding like a New Year's Eve party at midnight. There was no clock in my room, like in Vegas; who cares about time? I pulled the covers over my head and tried to sleep, then heard footsteps approach.

"Good morning Alice; how are you feeling today?"

"Trying to sleep."

"I'm Doctor Shriver, your psychiatrist." His nauseating cologne, a combo of dead skunk and cat pee, made me want to vomit.

A male voice said, "I'd like to talk to you, Alice. Will you come out of there?"

"Let's negotiate."

Another moment of silence, then, "What do you want, Alice?" He kept repeating my name. I'm unsure if it was a psych technique or if he thought I didn't know it.

"I haven't eaten in two days, I have a killer migraine, and I don't know why I'm here. Oh, and that cologne has to go."

There were a few shocked moments of silence. How dare I speak to the Lord Doc on High like that? I didn't care.

"All right, Alice, I'll work on that."

I removed the covers from my head and would have laughed, but I didn't have it in me. He had curly gray hair that might have been a wig, reminding me of Tyler Perry's character Madea.

"Are you the doctor?"

"Yes, how may I help you?"

"I need some Excedrin Migraine. And maybe some Xanax and a cup of coffee with milk."

He had an annoying chirping chuckle. He probably thought, 'Oh goodie, another soul to patronize. "I can order some Tylenol. No Xanax right now and breakfast is being served shortly."

"Tylenol doesn't help with Migraines, Doc. And I have a script for Xanax twice daily, as needed."

He nodded and said, "Why don't you follow me to the common room? They'll give you coffee and breakfast."

I wanted to say, "Why don't you go fuck yourself and remove that stink and fright wig while you're at it." But I didn't. This guy would control my life for as long as I was here. He was God here.

The common room was large, with a long, white plastic dining table and heavy wooden chairs that made a horrifically loud scraping sound when I pulled one out. Then other patients (inmates) shuffled in quietly, wearing their hospital-issue slipper socks.

There were only ten beds in this wing, and everyone was over fifty-five. The others were mostly late-stage dementia. However, Jane and Sylvia were reasonably coherent.

Jane said she was accused of chasing her daughter from her house carrying a paring knife she'd been using while peeling an apple. Her daughter called the police, who put her here rather than in jail.

Sylvia seemed like a person in a rigid comma. She was very sweet when she talked, which was rare. Her family doctor prescribed massive doses of Xanax for her over many years, which she took early and often due to severe trauma-induced anxiety. They were trying to slowly lower her dosages. Although she was reticent, just staring into space, Sylvia said it felt like 'hell's circus' was going on in her head all day, every day. She'd driven her Honda, at a high rate of speed, into a large tree, hoping to end it all. But the airbag and EMS saved her. She was devastated when she woke up, still alive. I had my own suffering and demons, so I understood why she'd practically run to the nurse when it was time for meds. They were giving her a different medication. She said she didn't help at all. Didn't even take the edge off, but she kept hoping for relief.

We received menus to choose the next day's meals. I had yet to turn one in, so I received a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice which looked pretty good. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to egg whites and wheat and have an ulcer which means no acidic orange juice.

I wanted to die. Again. It's a feeling that tries to squeeze your soul to leave your body but can't. Our staff person asked me why I wasn't eating, and I told her. She returned with a banana, tasty sausage links, and decaf. Bless her. The squeeze relented for now

Eating at the communal table was interesting. Elsie, a very scary, angry woman I once saw smack another patient on the back of the head with an open hand. She kept removing her dentures, scraping the food from them onto her plate. My throbbing headache and nausea rose. 'Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

Another patient kept taking things from other's trays, starting a different commotion at every meal. Another poured her orange juice onto her oatmeal, then added sugar packets until the staff moved the container to the other end of the table. Looking back on it, that might have improved the tasteless white goo.

Some of us had apple juice in clear plastic cups, reminding me of urine samples. I avoided looking at them.

The ten of us did our best to eat our meals because the staff recorded what we ate, how much, and which foods. Consuming calories was deemed important. This explained why my empty plastic salad container was always exchanged for someone else's full one. Or they'd ask for my empty one, making it look like they'd eaten theirs. It made no difference to the staff, who were aware of such shenanigans. They hovered nearby with pen and paper, taking notes.

The other half of the common room contained three comfy recliners and other assorted chairs. Jane, Sylvia, and I took the recliners because no one else seemed to want them. Most of them were in a perpetual state of wandering around.

I found the remote, hidden behind the small flat screen, and gave it to Jane and she took it, giving me thumbs up.

Between lunch and dinner, we had some sort of craft project provided by a very kind and upbeat social worker. I'm a painter, so I was vaguely interested, but concentration was nearly impossible. My first day's project was to draw a picture of my family, which was way too overwhelming, so I drew an androgynous stick figure surrounded by question marks, empty circles, and a few lightning bolts to keep them guessing.

After dinner came visiting hours. My poor husband drove an hour and a half each way. He came in looking worried but tried to be upbeat. He had just found out where I'd been for the past two days when the county sheriff visited and told him. Bob had assumed I'd gone to my friend Shelly's house, which I'd done a time or two.

Fight or flight. I didn't want to fight and usually flew to Shelly. I never knew what I was fleeing from, but it was something horrible gaining on me. When I didn't come home the following day, he called Shelly, who told him to call the hospital.

During that first visit, my husband and I didn't talk much. I was too depressed, confused, and in such emotional and physical pain (aka migraine) to do more than hold his hand. He'd been through this before.

June 20, 2023 17:55

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08:27 Aug 15, 2023

I find this piece of writing visceral, in a very good way. I appreciate the candor with which you confide in us about struggles that a lot of us might be going through in silence. It teaches courage to speak up or about things. And maybe even courage to hope things can get better. On another note, I totally agree that they must be giving the night shifts to the worst employees. They are always rude, dismissive and so darn loud!


16:04 Aug 15, 2023

Thank you so very much. xo


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Sravya Lekha
15:08 Jun 30, 2023

"I never knew what I was fleeing from, but it was something horrible gaining on me." Thank you for so perfectly putting into words what it feels like to battle our own minds. Trying to outrun something that can't be outrun. Your writing is beautiful and I'm wishing you all the best!


22:23 Jun 30, 2023

Thank you so much - I'm trying to make my writing more authentic - I'm so worried about???


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Wally Schmidt
14:33 Jun 26, 2023

So glad you're getting the help you need. It's great that you are able to write about it. One of the great luxuries of writing is being able to work out some of your issues as you write. Keeping my fingers crossed for your steady recovery.


15:26 Jun 26, 2023

Thank you so much. I'm much better thanks to counseling and meds! xo


Wally Schmidt
06:15 Jun 27, 2023

So glad to hear it! Be healthy. Be happy


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Kate Winchester
22:54 Jun 25, 2023

You had me hooked from the beginning. I wish you healing and commend you for sharing your story. ❤️


23:35 Jun 25, 2023

Thank you so much. This story is part of a book I'm working on. I truly appreciate your kind ness. xo


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Ellen Neuborne
18:54 Jun 25, 2023

This is very compelling. I expect there's much more to this story. I'd certainly read the rest of it.


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14:44 Jun 24, 2023

Very good. You had me hooked from the beginning. Writing your experiences is a great therapeutic tool. It would be interesting to develop the story around the other characters POV or even as a staff member. Well done


14:53 Jun 24, 2023

Thank you - yes, this is part of a larger work. I read Red Comet, the bio of Sylvia Plath and now am reading The Bell Jar - it worked for her! I try to work my stories into the prompts for contests, but they'd be way too long, so I have plenty of room to flesh it out. thanks again xo


15:15 Jun 24, 2023

I will look forward to reading more. Thank you


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Karen McDermott
10:38 Jun 24, 2023

Pouring personal experience into creative writing is one of the best therapeutic tricks I've tried. And having visited family in hospital before, you nailed how all the noise exacerbates the trauma. Wishing you all the best.


14:54 Jun 24, 2023

Thank you. This is a tiny part of a much larger project. xo


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Delbert Griffith
15:03 Jun 23, 2023

Clinical depression is horrible, Patricia. I feel for you, deep in my gut. You fight a monster that fights unfairly. All you can do is what you do, right? The writing is terrific, my friend. I hate that it's non-fiction. Cheers, my writing friend!


15:28 Jun 23, 2023

Yep. Your support and kind words are more helpful than you know. xo


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Mary Bendickson
21:52 Jun 20, 2023

And that word we don't use anymore is... That's what I thought it was. Being listed as creative non-fiction I was hoping it was of your work not of you. May you be blessed with whatever you need at this time. xo


22:13 Jun 20, 2023

"Crazy" This is a work in progress. I suffer from severe depression and was hopitalized for 3 weeks - I just read Sylvia Plath's bio and now reading The Bell Jar - so .. . . xo


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23:06 Jun 20, 2023

Thank you so much. I do have a lot of writing material from all of it~


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