My Birthday Present


Huh! December 18th. My birthday. Huh-huh. Who’d a thunk?

Three hours of half-decent sleep and now wakefulness at 2:00 a.m. Middle of the night the music is always jazz—WAER, coming out of the university. Smooth sounds in the darkness.

There is a possibility that help is on the way. I have learned that there never is a rescue on the scale that is desired, but right now the first thing I ask for is a semi-private room. I’ve been in punitive segregation for 98 days because I wrote and said some things that Crouse didn’t like and Crouse Hospital should not, under any circumstances, be confused with the American democratic process. In solitary confinement—

“. . . Prisoners might prefer the lash, because it did not induce permanent damage and would not incite madness in the way solitary confinement did. Mental instability has been linked to solitary confinement since as far back as the 1860s.

“Day after day 23 hours behind a solid steel door, limited to no human contact, phone calls are infrequent and family visits, especially non-contact visits, are even rarer, in addition to inadequate medical and mental health treatment. Because solitary confinement means being in the cell for 23 hours a day, rehabilitation and educational program privileges are revoked. . .

“Grassian has found that common effects of solitary confinement include increased sensitivity to stimuli, hallucinations, and other changes in perception, as well as cognitive problems including memory loss, difficulty thinking, and impulsiveness. . .

“Craig Haney built upon Grassian’s findings and found the following symptoms present among inmates housed in SHUs: anxiety, headaches, chronic tiredness, trouble sleeping, impending nervous breakdown, perspiring hands, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, trembling hands and nightmares. Haney also found that suicidal thoughts, perceptual distortions, chronic depression, emotional flatness, violent fantasies, social withdrawal and ruminations were present among these inmates a short time after admittance into the SHU. . .

“Some sociologists argue that prisons create unique social environments that do not allow inmates to create strong social ties outside or inside of prison life. Therefore, women are more likely to become depressed than men . . . Extreme forms of solitary confinement and isolation can affect the larger society as a whole. The re-socialization of newly released inmates who spent an unreasonable amount of time in solitary confinement and thus suffer from serious mental illnesses is a huge dilemma for society to face. . .

[Fully a third of all NYS prison inmates who are transferred to Central New York Psychiatric Center have come direct from solitary confinement.]

“Solitary confinement is considered to be a form of psychological torture when the period of confinement is longer than a few weeks or is continued indefinitely. [I have been isolated 98 days with no end in sight.]

“Opponents of solitary confinement hold that it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and torture because the lack of human contact, and the sensory deprivation that often go with solitary confinement, can have a severe negative impact on a prisoner’s mental state that may lead to certain mental illnesses such as depression, permanent or semi-permanent changes to brain physiology, an existential crisis, and death.

“Restorative justice may be seen as an overall alternative to punitive measures. . .”

So I’ve been in punitive segregation for 98 days, and I’m not doing too well. CFIDS isn’t the only reason I can’t sleep, and without sleep? Well, you just go crazy. Sleep deprivation alone can cause psychosis.

So I complained to the NYS Dept. of Health and they said, “We do administrative, not patient care.” And I complained to the NYS Office of Mental Health and they said, “You’re not in an OMH facility.” And I complained to the NYS Justice Center, and they said, “You’re not in an OMH facility.” And I complained to the NYS Mental Hygiene Legal Service and they said, “Call us back if you get committed.” And I complained to Legal Aid and they said “Call the Medicare Center.” And the Medicare Center said “We only do insurance, not quality of care.” And then I called the general counsel at NYS Dept. of Health and I’m still waiting for him to get back to me.

Then, last Thursday, I called DNV and talked to Pat, who is variously reported to be supervisor or CEO. Here’s the thing: if you really want to light a fire under a hospital then you call their accrediting agency. Most of the places I’ve been—hospitals as well as other large practices/groups—are accredited by JCAHO, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, but Crouse Hospital is certified and accredited by DNV: “DNV is a global provider of services for managing risk, helping customers to safely and responsibly improve their business performance.” DNV’s home office actually is in Norway, and DNV, loosely translated, stands for “The Norwegian Truth.”

And the truth is that if DNV doesn’t certify and accredit Crouse Hospital then Crouse can no longer receive insurance payments, most particularly Medicare and Medicaid. Without government insurance payments, a hospital is shit out of luck, not to mention out of business. This gives the accrediting agency an enormous amount of influence: when DNV talks, Crouse listens.

And when I called Pat back yesterday afternoon, he told me that he’s got a survey team in Crouse and I should expect Wally, the nurse tech guy, to come and see me yesterday or today. At Pat’s direction, I emailed the nurse manager and the nursing supervisor that I wanted to see the survey team. The nursing supervisor emailed me—and Pat—that the nurse manager had already gone home but she’d be right on it first thing in the morning.

I can promise you that the last thing the Crouse executive team wants is for me to talk to DNV but you know what? DNV’s website has a little blue arrow right after “Report complaint about hospital,” and sometimes the system actually works. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, today—my 98th day in punitive segregation—is my birthday, and Wally the nurse tech is coming to see me.

And the jazz is really cool.

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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2 Responses to My Birthday Present

  1. susan schuh says:

    Anne, just want to wish you a “Happy birthday” and wishes that it all works out for you – I’m rooting for you!! – Sue (met you at the Iroquois – my husband is there)

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Sue, thanks so much. I have just had a 90-minute interview with a very nice, smart nurse from the accrediting agency, and I am optimistic that things will soon change. I hope Bob is doing well. Best wishes to you both. Anne

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