A couple years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with lightning pain in my abdomen. I yelled and my husband awoke. My mind cataloged all the issues that could be causing the pain. Forty-five minutes later, I was admitted to our local hospital. Prescribed pain killers though an IV, I fell asleep.
As I slowly came back into consciousness, a male doctor in a white coat informed me I had appendicitis. My father had had his appendix out as a teenager, and I remembered the scar. "What caused this to happen now?" I asked. He told me the reasons for appendicitis were not well-understood, but that my surgery was scheduled for later that morning.
Something about this hospital stay gnawed at me. I later realized it was my first hospital stay for something other than mental illness since I experienced a break in 2010. At that time, the procedure had been much different. Although I was a graduate student at "liberal" UC Berkeley, and, I was confused but docile, something very different happened when the time came for me to go to the hospital.
The psychologist or psychiatrist at the student counseling center did not step forward. Instead, a policeman did. I was informed he would escort me to the ambulance.
Then, he put handcuffs around my wrists.
The contrast bothered my brain. I felt as if a marble rolled between my ears, its noise persistent and hollow. For a ruptured appendix, a friendly, calm doctor reassured me in a timely way. But under the influence of a mental health condition, I was viewed as a security threat. My husband, who came to see me the next morning after I was hospitalized, ranted, and demanded to know why I looked worse and had not seen a doctor over the course of an entire day and night in the hospital. When the doctor did come, she appeared impatient and annoyed with both of us. It was only her role to pronounce a medication and leave us to our separate but equally harsh worries.
This is why May is Mental Health Month. If Mental Health were viewed as Health, I would not have been viewed as warranting police presence and intervention. Instead, my husband could have accompanied me to the hospital and waited with me for my intake. A doctor would have reassured us. I would have been treated within hours of my hospitalization. Richard would have received helpful information.
And Handcuffs (Handcuffs!) would not be viewed as a necessary anecdote to a scared woman who was only quiet, confused, and sick.