The Bad Queen


“Take down! They are putting someone in the tank! Come on!”

The nurse sprinted past me as Mickey and Minnie Mouse danced across her pink scrubs. A syringe was in her hand.

I could hear the commotion, but I did not want to see it. Not again.

Out here in the holding area I had watched what had taken place. The staff member sitting on the table, feet resting on the chair in front of her as if holding court. She had pushed buttons, egged on, taunted even… waiting for the explosion.

It was a game of sorts. Toying with “the crazies”. Like anyone was going to believe that it was not their fault.

I found myself standing outside the tank anyway. How did I get here?

The patient, or do they call them clients now, was fighting valiantly, screaming and kicking and clawing. Eventually she was pinned down and the “cocktail” was administered.

In a few minutes she was resting peacefully on the mattress in the bare room, arms and legs restrained by tan colored straps.

Staring at her through the little plexiglass window pane in the door, I could see that her midriff was showing. Dark hair was a tangled mess partially covering her face. No one had bothered to straighten her clothes.

Behind me, I could hear the high fives, celebrating another successful take down.

This scene repeated itself on an almost nightly basis in the psychiatric ER. Fragile people, brought here against their will, broken further by the system.

The next morning as we were giving check out, I was presenting this patient. She was mine. I had interviewed her initially. She was still sleeping off the drugs in the tank so I could not do a follow up interview yet.

I told the resident that it was not her fault, that she was provoked. He just stared at me for a few seconds, opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again.

“Next patient?”

It was my last day on psych rotation. I was a student doctor. I walked away.


23 thoughts on “The Bad Queen

  1. These stories are heart wrenching. My husband was a psych major in college expecting to go into clinical psychology. His first summer he interned at a mental institution for criminally insane. The really bad ones that killed people because of voices and such. At the end of the summer of the summer he switched to industrial psych because it affected him so badly. He said the kids were the worst because there is (or at that time there wasn’t) anything they could do for them. They would be institutionalized for life and at the mercy of caretakers and drugs.


  2. That’s just sad. A few years back, I heard about a man who wanted to work as a security guard for our local psychiatric center because he could “beat up on the loonies.” Some of the sickest people are not inside the walls.


  3. This is very, very, different from any experience I’ve had working with the mentally ill. I work primarily with developmantally delayed adults and have worked a fair bit with adults who have serious mental illness. In my experience the staff are abused on a regular basis. Bitten, spit on, kicked, punched, and verbally assaulted. This happened every shift and it was all endured with a “please stop doing that.” I now make it clear that under no circumstaces will I work with anyone who is violent or has mental illness. This may sound callous but life is too short to spend it being a punching bag. Geez, I sound grumpy this morning.


      • Wow. That is surprising. The place I work for has a zero tolerence for any abuse. Just a whiff of abusive behaviour can land you in hot water. But this has led to another extreme where staff are not always protected. A couple of years ago a female caretaker was murdered by a client in a group home just outside of Edmonton. Later, it was discovered that the government agency who placed this fellow hid reports stating that under no circumstances should this fellow be left alone with a female.
        Years ago, when I was young and foolish I replaced a staff who had her pinky finger finger bitten off and swollowed by a client.
        But these are fairly extreme examples. I am proud that I work for an organization that does make dignity, and respect, of the client a top priority.


  4. How horrible. I certainly hope staff responses have changed today. Luckily I haven’t witnessed such callousness among healthcare workers, but then again, my specialty is pediatrics. Perhaps that lot is different.


  5. My sister was a nurse and did stints with psych and neonatal intensive care. She believed it kept her fresh and let her remember that the people on the wards were once babies. She said it allowed her to see their human side, and their pain.


  6. Heartbreaking and infuriating in so many ways. My son was in the pediatric psych unit. The first hospital was good, they were kind . . . most of them. Some seemed to think the kids needed to be taught a lesson instead of helped. The second was a nightmare. I pulled my son away from them, they called CPS one me. I am not one to keep silent. They are no longer listened for pediatric care. I would not be able to stomach it. I too would walk away.


  7. My only psych experience was as a student nurse standing on the roof of Florida Hospital’s pysch wing with 7 teenagers as the Challenger was launched. Five minutes later, one kid was on his knees saying ” I knew it would happen, I dreamed it, I wished it.” Two said “Wow, my life’s not that bad”. The other four didn’t give a shit.
    Yes, sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.


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