Crouse: Teaching Helplessness


So I wake up and know that there’s no point. There’s absolutely no point in trying to accomplish anything. Crouse Hospital has taught me this. Crouse has taught me that ultimately I have no control. I am an object and they will do with me whatever they choose regardless of what I want.

I want a semi-private room. That’s all. I want to be moved out of solitary confinement and put in a room with another woman. (Okay, I’m not fussy; I’ll accept a man.) I want another human being with whom to share my days. Not five minutes of a hundred different caregivers but one person who remains the same for up to three entire days.

I keep remembering this one roommate I had the admission before last. She was in her eighties and had a broken shoulder. She also had two daughters my age, and the four of us were friendly and cordial. They liked the music I played so I turned it up for them. I was able to give them a lot of helpful tips about equipment and services available while she was recovering at home. It was a human relationship, and I felt human in it, not to mention that I was a person with value.

Here at Crouse, when I came out of the Emergency Room, I was put in a single room commonly used for isolation. It’s back in the corner—I can’t see you if you come down the hall—and it’s small and dreary. My only view out the window is of the brick face of the physician’s office building. Nobody comes in; nobody goes out. I’m all I have.

How long do you think you could be alone with yourself before you’d start to go crazy? Nobody to talk to, nobody to interact with. You know the first thing a roommate does? Affirm you in your complaints about the hospital. You say, “Honest to God, WHAT IS THEIR PROBLEM that they can’t get pain medicine to me on time?”

And your roommate says, “Yeah, really. Seriously. That’s just WRONG. Let me tell you what happened to me . . .” You know what happens without a roommate? A procession of hospital employees come in and each one explains to you why it was okay that the hospital didn’t give you your medicine.

They all defend and protect the hospital, after all, they are co-workers of the person about whom you are complaining, and they understand everything from her point of view. Do you know what it feels like to have 2700 employees telling you that you are wrong, and not one person one your side? And you know that no matter what happens, not a single person is going to agree with you?

I have asked incessantly to be moved to a semi-private room where I will have a change of roommates as I wait out my sentence here at Crouse. I’ve been here nearly two months now. Two months of solitary confinement.

I have talked to, complained to, asked, tried to work with EVERYBODY and you know what the problem is? NO ONE AT CROUSE HOSPITAL WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. I have talked to streams of people in the nursing path and the doctors’ path and the administrative path and not one single person will say: I have the authority to get you moved. I can fix this. I can make change.

What they say is that they don’t know who made the decision to put me in this room, or on what the decision was based. Nobody will accept responsibility. Everybody passes the buck. They say, “Well, I’ve heard . . .” or “I’m not sure but maybe . . .” or “Don’t quote me on this but I think . . .”

Nobody knows who put me in this room or why, and nobody will change it. Or maybe they do know but won’t say. Maybe they are all lying because nobody’s got the balls to look me in the eye and say “Here’s what happened . . .” That’s a strong possibility.

After a week, I had talked the problem all the way up to a vice president, and then I went to sleep. Then Ann Sidore, chief of nursing, came in, woke me up and asked what I wanted.

I had no idea what I wanted. Between illness and medication, half the patients in this hospital, when awakened from sleep, can’t tell you their own names, let alone what they want. Some complete stranger asks me an open-ended question, and I’m expected to have an answer? Most of us need fifteen minutes to work our way into some semblance of consciousness sufficient to discuss anything as complicated as a room change. All I could do was croak, “Ask Bob; ask Bob.”

I guess she didn’t ask Bob. Or Bob couldn’t remember. Or whatever. The subject got dropped—or, more likely, supplanted by me with something more urgent like needing help to get to the bathroom. So here I am, still here, a week later.

This morning there’s supposed to be a big discharge planning meeting in my isolation room. What’s the point? Why should I bother to participate? They’re going to put me where they want to and there’s nothing I can do about it. They can put me right back on Palliative Care at Iroquois Nursing Home, which was so horrific that I tried to kill myself. Crouse can do that.

As a matter of fact, Crouse put me there in the first place.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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