Bleary-eyed, I walked into the “bathroom”, a giant concrete block of a room, and shivered. It was illuminated by a few bare bulbs that hung from the ceiling. The tile and peeling paint were of that “calming” gray-green color that was so common in institutions back in the day.
There were ghosts here, among the long shadows. I could feel them.
The center of the room was lined with two rows of freestanding tubs that had interesting grommet-like holes around the edges. Along the far wall was a row of open tiled cubes with no faucets, only drains. An old cracked black rubber hose was on the floor nearby, resting exactly as it must have been left decades ago.
Years later I would discover that patients were laced into the tubs with canvas with only their heads sticking out while the tubs were filled with very hot or very cold water. Therapy, especially for the unruly. The cubicles? For hosing down patients, often punitively.
How much human suffering had passed through these walls?
To my right by the doorway, were two ancient, narrow showers. Only one had a shower curtain. Cracked and torn as it was, it hung on for dear life. I picked that one and turned on the hot water.
There was a men’s dorm across the way. It was dark and cold outside but the windows here were open. There were no blinds or curtains. I tried to push the windows shut but only one closed. The rest were stuck.
I should tell someone about that.
I could see men, their heads silhouetted by the light from their rooms, as they vocalized early morning greetings to each other and to the few passerby’s below.
One fellow shouted, “Hey, you! Hey, lady!” He waved frantically. “Help me!” I pretended to ignore him.
Don’t make eye contact. Do NOT make eye contact…
Another man whistled that suggestive come-on whistle. Was it intended for me? I was not going to ask. You know you have been deprived of female companionship for far too long when a sleepy med student in scrubs, matted hair, and smudged mascara looks good to you. That, or your doctors are giving you the “good stuff”…
This was a state psychiatric hospital and that was probably the forensic wing, the home of individuals who committed horrific crimes while insane.
The original building had been erected over a century ago. This portion had been abandoned in the 1970’s, but several of the room were used by med students for sleep now and then. I had heard stories. Most everyone refused to stay here but I really had no choice. I lived 90 minutes away and was too poor for a month’s worth of hotel rooms.
It took ten minutes of letting the water run to get it warm enough to shower but even then I knew there was no point in trying to shave my legs. Goosebumps galore. It would be a massacre. Still, I had serious BO (I sniffed a pit and winced) that HAD to be dealt with.
The challenge was how to get undressed and into the shower while being watched. I finally just hopped in fully clothed and peeled off the wet clothes. They slopped to the bare tiled floor outside as I tossed them. I also had no towel, so some of that clothing was going to have to dry me off, too…
I rushed as quickly as I could, probably finishing in 60 seconds flat, then turned off the water.
Something didn’t feel right, though. My heart was pounding out of my chest, fear and foreboding overwhelmed me. I dressed as much as possible in the wet then ran out of there and down the hall, through the ancient day room with the orange and avocado vinyl chairs haphazardly strewn about, blocking my way. There was a TV with dials for tuning that was mounted to the wall. It clicked on to loud static as I shoved chairs out of the way and ran past.
Wait. Those chairs were not sitting in that position before were they?
Once in the relative safety of my bare room I could finally calm down. I drove 90 minutes both ways very single damn day.
I never stayed overnight in the abandoned wing again and that was the end of my desire to go into psychiatry.
I feel compelled, given my last two posts, to state that this is a true story. Why am I writing all of this scary crap? I think it is because of the dreary, wet weather and lack of sunshine for over a week now. It all is making me a bit stir crazy…