*Disclaimer: I will not ever be talking about patients, things that happen with patients, etc. Confidentiality is important. My reason for this post is to explain my experience and how it felt in general with being back at the hospital. Also, I know a joke about HIPAA, but I can’t tell you 😉
It was the craziest of days with emotions and everything. I’m not quite sure what all I expected, but my time so far at the hospital has surprised me.
It’s hard to explain, but once I stepped in the hospital and those doors closed behind us, it was like being transported back to 2 years ago. My heart started racing, there was a sinking feeling in my stomach. It felt a little like I was reliving my experience there as a patient. This didn’t last for a long period of time, but also recurred throughout the day. I saw all of these familiar places: the courtyard, patient rooms, dreaded lunch carts, nurses’ station I used to stand by, phones, room where ED met/ate, coloring pages (the SAME ones from before), etc. For many brief moments, it was like I was there again.
Feeling “there” is not a pleasant experience. It brought many panicky moments and racing thoughts. All I could think about was how I would be force-fed, locked out of my own room, and not let out again. It was distracting to the point of zoning out multiple times. I had to keep repeating to myself: “I am a student. I have keys. I am free to leave.”
I only stayed inpatient for a week, plus about a month in partial (although we only went through a small portion of the hospital then). That is only a blink of time, especially compared to residential, but somehow it matters. It gives this place hold on me. I hate it, but I know it is also something I have to work through. I’ll be here the next month or so and I don’t think I will be able to gain as much from it if I’m stuck in a bad place.
There were many opportunities for me to disclose that I’ve been to FV before (not as a patient, we were asked if we have visited too). For whatever reason, I want to scream that I have been here and just let it be known. No clue where that’s coming from. At ALL. I truly don’t want my peers/prof/staff/patients to know that I was once a patient too, but it feels like I have to bottle up this secret and that I am wrong for having been sick. I obviously am not going to say anything. I guess maybe this could be related to wanting to push past stigma/show others mental illness doesn’t stop you/show my classmates they’re just like us?
I have no clue and that paragraph is very embarrassing.
Lunch was a challenge. It probably helps a little that ED never ate in the cafeteria (that would be so much worse as a patient omg), but this was by far the most overwhelming part of my day. I have had the exact meal before and I saw all of the “amazing, lovely, wonderful” desserts displayed for us. Here, I was given the gift of choice: what I wanted on my burger, veggie or beef, vegetables or no, what type of dessert, salad or soup, finish everything or not, etc. Coming from an ED treatment background, this feels empowering. It made me think back to when we were handed these trays and basically forced to eat them or given an Ensure. I am thankful to not be there anymore. The meal was still scary, though. All I wanted was a support person to text during meals like I do normally if needed. There was conversation, but I pretty much made myself eat with little distraction available. This is probably not anything that will change unless I try to make it a point to get others to talk. I’ve never been very good at this, but we shall see. The worst part of the meal was caused by Ed. As per usual, sitting with a group of people led to me “needing” to eat less than everyone else. It gives me this sick satisfaction if I do “better” than others. This ended up causing me to be the only one who didn’t get dessert. Lunch could have gone much worse, of course, but I want to do better next time.
One of the most frustrating aspects of my day came at the end during our debriefing. We all met to go over what happened, get our assignments the next 4 weeks, and ask questions. My professor said this: “I do not want you working with eating disorder patients, especially not one-on-one. You could say one thing and they will crumble, completely unraveling their progress. I would rather have you stay far away, but if you do go to a group do not say anything at all.” The request here bothered me a little, but the way she explained her reasoning was what upset me most. I’m sure she was attempting to protect us from harming a patient, in her mind. I don’t agree with 95% of her statement. I don’t see people with eating disorders as weak to the point that 15 minutes with a nursing student could erase all progress made in treatment. The 5% agreement I have is over what exactly could be said. I’m pretty sure that any of us wouldn’t be oblivious enough to mention the patient’s weight, tell them they don’t seem like they have an eating disorder, or anything of the like. Those topics and others would absolutely have more power to harm. Anything else that would come up in a nursing assessment/general conversation doesn’t have that same potential really. I see those of us with eating disorders as strong, especially when facing your fears in treatment, so I am a little hurt by her insensitivity. I wish that I could let her know some truth of what this is like. I also would like to ask her rational (was it a guideline set by FV, her own feelings, etc). Maybe that will happen before the end of my time here, maybe not.
I’ve focused plenty on the struggles of returning to the hospital, but now I want to highlight some lighter things that came of my time there so far. Probably the biggest thing is that I have keys. I was absolutely shocked when my prof handed them out. It’s kinda crazy, right? Two years ago I was locked in and now I’m able to venture all over the hospital. The freedom is weird but also comforting in a way. After looking at patient charts to see how they lay out diagnoses, meds, group notes, progress reports, and more, I’m so curious about what mine looks like. This past time I had the psych doctor fudge my records somewhat so insurance would cover inpatient (for those who don’t know, I was admitted a week and a half before school started, so time in treatment was a huge priority). I wonder what he actually wrote down and just how nurses, my case manager, therapists, psychiatrist, and MHW’s talked about me. I’ll never get that opportunity, but it’s still entertaining to think about. One of the funniest/almost embarrassing things was when we were on our tour. She said where we were headed next without direction on which way. I remembered exactly which way it was, so I started walking towards it before I realized I’m supposed to act clueless like everyone else. I covered for it but I can imagine my classmate and prof’s faces if I had actually unlocked the door or something.
I head back tomorrow morning (at 7am, wayyyyy too early). Now that I have experienced my first day, I want to set some goals for the next month of clinicals. My hope is that I’ll be able to learn and also decrease the amount of fear and anxiety I relate to this place.
- practice deep breathing, thought stopping, and other DBT skills in the moment when I start to panic
- eat my correct exchanges and a freaking dessert at lunch (thanks to my therapist and dietitian for that one gah)
- give each patient my full attention and take a few steps in their shoes
- remember what it was like for me because it will help me understand patients more
- ask lots of questions
- take away as much as possible