Like so many others, I looked forward to cracking into the new season of OITNB this weekend. I thought I’d kick back with a glass of wine and enjoy a few episodes. What I did not expect was such an abrupt reminder of my hospital experience.
Nobody panic. This post does not contain any spoilers.
I am in no way ungrateful for the things I learned during my stay. I understand that there are valid reasons for the various protocols and rules. That being said, the environment is eerily prison-like. Don’t count on keeping your dignity after having mug shots, enduring an awkward search, and carrying your belongings to your assigned bed in a brown paper bag.
The first flashback was triggered by someone cheeking their pills at med time. I’m not sure what the currency is in prison, but in the hospital, it’s cigarettes. As a non-smoker and generally compliant patient, I did not participate. Next is the overall lack of privacy. The bathrooms had curtains rather than doors, so you were never truly alone. If someone wanted to shave, a staff member had to be present. Rooms were kept locked during the day to “encourage participation” and keep us from isolating ourselves. A few minutes of privacy is not the anti-isolation, kids.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with what hit me the hardest. Family visits. When a person is physically ill and in the hospital, there are daily visiting hours, typically lasting the full business day and beyond. When your struggles come from the mind, you get one hour, twice a week. Your family member(s) are searched, have their belongings held by security, and escorted to the cafeteria. Your fellow inmates are escorted to the cafeteria in a line and closely monitored for the designated visitation time. Upon return to the inpatient unit, another invasive exam is administered.
This is not meant as a complaint about what was a very important terrifying time in my life, but rather a plea for everyone to take a minute today to be grateful. Be grateful for the few moments you get to yourself, for being able to perform basic hygiene tasks without surveillance, and for every second with the people you care about.