It happens that some come there voluntarily. I remember one such volunteer. He was an African-American guy, with an athletic build, who came and confessed that his hatred towards his girlfriend’s ex-husband had reached a critical point. His desire to murder turned into an obsession. He can easily obtain a gun, but does not want to go to jail because of that “fucking jerk.” He requested to be given sedatives and to be “locked up” for some time at the “cuckoo-house.”
Knots swelled up on his unshaven face with its prominent cheekbones. I was taken aback by the manner in which he talked about his desire to kill someone, so coolly and unhurriedly.
Also I remember a quiet Puerto Rican, a little over sixty years old, came on his own and said he wanted to commit suicide. He cannot handle the problems of life burying him under: constant lay-offs, illnesses, and loneliness. Night and day he sees the Brooklyn Bridge in front of his eyes and himself climbing over the high handrails. He spoke calmly and could not stop smiling guiltily, even shyly.
The overwhelming majority of patients, however, are delivered to the “Psych ER” in a state of severe mental breakdown or psychosis.
Heads banging against walls, wailing, attacks on the staff, attempts to grab pens and pencils (mistaken for knives) from the table, intervention of the hospital police with handcuffs, syringes in nurses’ hands—all this is part of everyday so-called routine in the “Psych ER.”
I also spent some time in the inpatient unit—the “cuckoo house,” where most of the patients are transferred to from the “Psych ER,” already dressed in hospital gowns.
The “cuckoo house” is not the most appealing place in all aspects. Metal nets cover all the windows there while sliding steel bars with locks block access to the elevators. Psych technicians guard the wards with “dangerous” patients.
The most severe internal routine is enforced there. The announcements are strictly voiced through the speakers: for all to attend dinner or approach the medication window. The patients are pumped full of psychotropic drugs and slowly, wordlessly, wander the halls, shuffling their slippers.
Almost all of them, regardless of their condition, want just one thing: “to leave this place as soon as possible.”