Flying In the Cuckoo's Nest - Career...a SelectSmart.com Flowchart
Flying In the Cuckoo's Nest
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This SelectSmart.com Career. flowchart, a free online decision tool is a creation of Kupo and for amusement purposes only. The implicit and explicit opinions expressed here are the author's. SelectSmart.com does not necessarily agree.
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I have recently started working in a field that is completely out of my element.
Most people, when they're looking for a job, will find something that fits their interests. Maybe something that they've done before - but with a different company. Possibly one might want to try something different - but HOW different are we talking here? How about going from theme park customer service to psychiatric health care. Did I mention my degree was in English Literature?
What made me take this position: the economy. Who needs an English teacher right now? No one. Sucks, but that's basically all that I'm qualified to do. Oh, I'm qualified to read. That's right, almost forgot about that one.
But why psychiatric health care? Well, I knew someone who knew someone - and they needed bodies. Bodies of people who didn't have disorders. Trust me they had plenty people with disorders (and we're talking about the staff as well... I'll get to that at a later time).
When you walk onto a locked psych facility with no experience, the one feeling that comes across quite clearly is fear. Just during my orientation process alone, I was told stories of a patient tearing doors off a closet to throw at her roommate - or ripping a piece of metal off an air conditioning vent to slice an artery and bleed all over the staff as they tried to save her from dying of blood loss. The orientation/training process consisted of two days of the normal videos about sexual harassment and inappropriate relations with patients. The third day was dedicated to learning how to "take down" a hostile and violent patient - and how to defend yourself without hurting a patient - even if they had been choking you...
Needless to say, I was frightened. What the hell should I have expected?
First Day On the Job
After the initial shock of going into a position that I had no background in, I became painfully if not fearfully aware that I would be in a place where I was a minority. My first day on the ward that I would be working on, I found that there are very few people who spoke my language fluently on staff. This made it quite hard to communicate with the people who were showing me around. Not to mention, the other staff members were not nearly as friendly as the people I had been used to working with.
To reiterate, my background is in customer service. We are notoriously friendly, helpful people. We have to be. Working on a nursing staff, I found that not everyone shared my values of friendly interaction. It was, to say the least, cold in that small nurses station.
I also found that I was the only person on staff who was not a certified nurses assistant or in nursing school... I had nothing in common with these people, but I knew that this was probably the only job that I'd be getting anytime soon, so I had to stick it out.
When I walked onto the ward, I was accosted with the smell of stale urine and body odor. I have a feeling that a great many facilities of this nature have a similar aroma. I was told, by the hiring nurse who met me in the lobby to direct me where my ward would be, to keep my purse close.
The nurse politely unlocked the door to the ward and held it open for me. There was a long hallway in front of us with a hallway in the center that lead to a patio and a door at the other end that lead to the dining room. I held my purse as though I was riding the subway in New York after dark. I soon found out why she gave me that advice.
As she guided me to the center of the ward where the nurses station was, I was stared at by the fifteen or so patients that were loitering in the hallway. They were as intent in observing me as I was in observing them. I saw two or three who were just pacing. With nothing better to do at 9am on a Monday, they kept themselves busy by getting some exercise. One would almost think this was normal - except one of them was laughing to himself while the other one had the look of someone on a very bad drug trip, his head cocked to one side, mouth agape. I walked past two open rooms and saw three beds to a room, all neat little hospital beds. Some with patients sleeping in them, some with the blankets neatly placed on the bed. In the doorway of a room I saw a man standing and staring at me as I walked by, the look on his face completely unreadable.
None of this put me at ease at all.
Nervous though I was, I made it to the nurses station and met one of the people who would show me around. I received the guided tour of the ward which consisted of, "Here's the dining room, there's the activity room, over there's the patio, and here's the nurses station." Gee, thanks...
That first day I was walked through the general routine that the patients followed each day. They had four "classes" each day: three with therapists and social workers and then one for activity time. They also had smoke breaks every hour on the half hour. Lunch at noon, dinner at 5:30, meds at 8, noon, and 8. Breakfast was 7 - but I'd never have to worry about that, it was before I got there.
After the first week, learning the names of all the patients, of which there were twenty five, I began to settle into a routine. I also began to watch the patients in their routines. I watched as they went to their smoke breaks and classes and meals. I watched, with hesitation as some of the more friendly patients would approach me at try to start a conversation.
"It takes a lot of kisses to change a tire," one woman told me matter-of-factly. I nodded and said that I would think of that the next time I called Triple A...
I soon came to the realization that my fear of these people was slightly ridiculous. That is, until I saw one of the male patients swing at a male staff member. The staff member had been accused of, "F***ing my wife!"
This was the first time I was introduced to emergency medications. It's a shot or pill that will basically render the taker comatose for the remainder of the day - or at least until they cool down. This patient was then put on a twenty-four hour watch to make sure that he would not have any other violent activity.
My fear and apprehension was peaked a bit that day. Two days later, the patient was smiling and joking with the staff member he almost hit - as though nothing had happened. Surreal to say the least.
I began to listen to and speak with the patients, learning their various idiosyncrisies. One, an older African American woman from the deep south, told me of her "demons." She had been hearing voices since the birth of her first child. "Sometimes they were quiet," she'd tell me, "and sometimes - sometimes they were loud, loud and mean."
The patients that were older somehow made sense to me. I thought, for some reason, that most people who were mentally ill were older, maybe forty and up? What threw me was the large number of patients that were my age or younger. I met a great number of patients who were in their early or mid twenties. I mentioned my observation to a nurse and he said that it mental illness most often surfaces between the ages of 16 - 25. I was glad, upon hearing that, if I were to have "gone crazy," I would already have been there.
Another thing that nurse told me was that most of the patients were hyper-sexual. Well, if they're between the ages of 18 - 25 (as this was an adult facility) - no shit! The stable, everyday 22 year-old thinks of sex how many times a day? Too many to count. However, this was written on their charts as though it was part of their disorder. This seemed a little excessive to me, but they were the doctors and nurses - I was just an English student.
In an effort to get to know my more-than-a-little-stand-offish co-workers, I struck up a conversation while we were watching the patients play volleyball on the patio and smoke. I politely asked the staff member what her interests were and she, attempting to be polite in return asked me mine. I told her that I studied English literature and focused on Shakespeare for a couple years. One of the more "aware" patients had been listening and decided that he was interested in what I had to say.
"Wait, you're not a nurse?" he asked, interrupting our conversation. I replied in the negative. "Then why are you here? Do you like helping people?" I responded in the affirmative. "Do you think that everyone here likes helping people?"
"In theory," I said, with a shrug.
He laughed and said, "That's a good answer - "In theory." You're smart, huh?"
I shook my head and shrugged, "Not more so than the next person."
"Do you think that mental illness exists?" he asked.
I paused. Yes, I was just asked by a patient in a psych ward if mental illness existed. "How would you explain this," I said gesturing to the facility, "if it didn't?"
"So you do?" he asked. I just nodded and said that I did. "How do you KNOW that it does? You aren't in their minds," he said indicating the other patients.
"First," I said, "you can't disprove it - and secondly there are outward symptoms that exist to indicate mental illness."
He grunted, and said, "Well, I don't think it does." With that, he walked away.
I was torn between feeling pity for this patient and outright laughing at him.
The patients gave me much to entertain me and much to think about on the drive home. Even more curious, however, was the staff.
I'll update more later, sorry, still working on it!