Schizophrenia Tactics: Surviving the Hospital

  • Disclaimer: I was last in a hospital over 19 years ago and stayed in the hospital a total of only five weeks. I suppose however that in some way I'm schooled in using the Get Out of Jail Free card.

    It is my contention that an extended hospital stay can do more harm than good unless a person is in such dire straits that he needs the continual monitoring. Those individuals who exhibit anosognosia should also be screened carefully before they are released to the community where they will stop taking their meds and revolve back through the hospital door.

    Some of us manage to spend our whole lives going in and out of a psych hospital. How can this fate be avoided? Immediate intervention with drugs and therapy at the onset of a first schizophrenia episode is the best tactic to halt the progression of the illness. Continuing treatment with medication and a support system in place will reduce or end the need to be hospitalized.

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    A recent study suggested there is an average delay of 8.5 years between onset of symptoms and getting treated. This results in lost productivity, a worsening of a person's functioning level, and often permanent severe symptoms.

    As I said, my mother drove me to Veronica Lane within 24 hours of my breakdown. I was 22 and spent three weeks in that hospital taking the Stelazine. This was my first miracle drug that halted the positive symptoms by the time I was released.

    As far as these kinds of hospitals go, Veronica Lane was a better one. We had ceramics in the OT room, group therapy, a goals group and three square meals a day. The staff during my first stay were all professional and it was there I met my first therapist who I saw privately when I got out.

    I remember seeing another patient who looked to be in her sixties complete with gray hair and dark eyes and because she was so old I formed the instant impression that she revolved in and out of the hospital her whole life. I didn't want that to be my fate.

    So I recommend some things if a hospital stay becomes unavoidable:

    First, be prepared. You should have in your apartment or house a GoBag anyway in case of emergency. A large backpack is suitable for this purpose.

    Also pack a suitcase with a change of clothes, a Dopp kit with toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, razor and dental floss and soap; a pair of walking shoes, change of underwear; and rations like bottled water and a few power bars like Clif bars or Luna bars. You can always unpack the items whenever you're going on vacation and need to store other things in the suitcase.

    So you'll be ready to go at a moment's notice if you need to be admitted to the hospital. I'm in the process of creating a GoBag and emergency suitcase just in case I need them.


    At the intake, be honest with the screening psychiatrist or social worker. You might not want to be admitted yet if you can barely function on the outside due to a worsening of your symptoms it's best to tell them exactly what's going on. Also: don't lie to the staff about how well you're doing in the hopes you'll be released quickly.

  • The hospital is not fun, it is dreary, and sometimes it is not safe. You must alert the staff, regardless of how receptive they are, to any violent or sexual behavior used on you. The hospital is not the place to begin a romance although it is here you might make a new friend or two because that person can relate to what brought you together. I'm kind of iffy even on extending the friendship outside the hospital walls yet people have done this successfully.

    Go to the group therapy sessions and go to the community meeting. I was hospitalized twice almost five years apart between the two visits and in those five years later the same concern was brought up in identical clamor at the community meeting: a protest against being allowed to smoke every hour instead of whenever they wanted to smoke.

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    That's kind of sad yet that's the reality because an inordinate number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia are heavy smokers. Smoking cigarettes is not a good idea even if you're bored and have nothing better to do in the hospital.

    Read books if you can. Read magazines too.


    I remember that during my first stay there was a session called Independent Study in the OT room. Every weekday for fifty minutes you could go to the OT room for some peace and quiet. I did this religiously. While there, I took up a magazine reading one article at a time line-by-line. I had lost my mind and didn't want to slip any farther so decided I had to just keep reading a magazine every day.

    If you are able, have your parents or someone else you can trust visit you every day or as often as possible. Have them grill the staff because if your case manager and psychiatrist don't want to break confidentiality that's okay. The point is that you have someone on your side monitoring your treatment and the staff might be less inclined to exhibit unprofessional antics.

    Should you suffer abuse by a staff member or another patient, I would recommend filing charges after you get out of the hospital. This isn't revenge, it's justice. You have the right while you are in the hospital to be treated with dignity and like an individual, not a "schizophrenic" lining up for the sole purpose of popping pills.

    While I was in the hospital the second time I approached a nurse because I wanted to talk to her about how I was embarrassed to wind up on the ward again. It was in the early evening and she wouldn't talk to me and told me to talk to my therapist in the morning. I didn't understand her lack of compassion and certainly didn't understand her refusal to give me even ten minutes of her time to listen to me.

    That's how it is in some places: the staff just don't care and you will have to use your judgment about who to approach to strike up a conversation with. My mother, who is of course Italian, baked cookies to give to the staff when I was released from the hospital the second time. I was there for two weeks.

    I recommend too that you try to take control of your discharge plan as best as you possibly can. Your health insurance might not cover an extended stay and you might be released before your symptoms are totally under control. This could happen if the hospital finds out you don't have any insurance at all. So you need to develop an action plan for ongoing treatment on the outside and create a daily routine to occupy your time.

  • I left the hospital the second time within two weeks also because I had to return to my job in the insurance field. I got back to the office and it was like I was walking around with spots, everyone treated me differently except for the new account executive I was assigned to work for: a woman with an independent mind. She was intelligent and unafraid and a spitfire too.

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    This is my guide to navigating a hospital stay.

    I will end here with the most important advice: go to the groups that are offered. I remember once in the TV lounge the occupational therapist led some kind of session where he and I began talking about recreational activities we could enjoy. I told him I liked to go to clubs not to drink or find a guy only to listen to music because I was a died-in-the wool music lover. He understood. I connected to him because we had something in common: I wore my old oversize black-rimmed eyeglasses and he wore a funky titanium-frame pair.

    It was hard for me to stay awake during the day the two times I was admitted to the ward. The most sound advice I can give you is to go to bed early and try to stay awake during the day.

    The next SharePost this month will talk about the latest schizophrenia research.

Published On: September 10, 2011