Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Nursing student and the Mental Hospital

Anytime you work with the public, you run into many different types of people. The list of different personality traits could be long and varied: Some nice, some hateful, some weird, some impatient, some arrogant, and some that are totally out there...etc.
When you work in the medical profession, some of those personality traits are magnified when people are sick or in pain.

Most nursing student have to have some psychiatric training/courses before they can graduate.
When I went to nursing school, we did one semester of psych at both the state mental hospital and at a private mental hospital.

When I was in nursing school, it was quite the talk among the nursing students about their experiences at the state mental hospital. The stories usually involved the upper class "experienced" nursing students (those who had been to the state mental hospital) telling horror tales to the lower class "new" nursing students (those who had yet to go to the mental hospital).

Every first trip to the state mental hospital was always nerve wracking for the new nursing students. This was probably due to the exaggerated tales we had all heard prior to the trip.
The students were always driven the 30 or so minutes to the state mental hospital on a school bus. Once that bus turned onto the property, the first thing you noticed was the smell. There is really no describing the odor associated with the mental hospital. Let's just say that not only was it a potent smell but that particular odor always seemed to permeate everything. The first thing most students did once they got back home was to shower!

My first trip to the mental hospital is funny now to remember, but back then it was not so funny.
I was pretty nervous and wondered what it would be like. It was always well known that when it rained, the mental patients always got a "little nuttier". Not sure why that was except maybe because the patients couldn't do much physical activity and the rain forced everyone to be cooped up in small areas.
As my luck would go, it was raining the first day I went to the mental hospital.
Someone that worked at the hospital always gave the students a tour on their first day, to orient everyone.

Two very memorable things happened to me on that first tour.

First, as we were waiting to begin the tour, our group was lined up against one wall. Out of the blue this male patient came up to me and wrapped his arms around me for a "hug". Well, let me tell you that I was in a panic....the first thing you want to do when someone comes up and grabs you is to push. We had been warned to avoid most physical contact if we could help it and to use our "language skills" we had been "taught". Part of our grade was how well we used our communication skills. Trust me when I tell you that at that moment, I thought the "language skills" were highly overrated! Here I was trying to say junk like," I know you want to hug me but could you please let go." and I think I tried saying something equally as dumb as "I like you too but please step back so I can talk to you." My nursing instructor (who I might say at this juncture was not the brightest tool in the shed) just stood there and was NO assistance at all! I really think that she was as scared as we were because it was her first year teaching and first time for her at the mental hospital too.
After what seemed a LONG time to be in a "hug/head lock", the tour guide finally said in this gruff /loud voice: " JOHN, LET HER GO!" and "John" finally released me! Good 'ole plain lanuguage with a kick butt attitude worked for the tour guide. I managed to slow my heart and we gradually continued the tour.
The second thing that happened that day was pretty humorous and I swear true!
We had "circled around" the tour guide as she was imparting information. All of a sudden, this patient jumped in the middle of our circle, dropped his pants, and yelled "COCK-A-DOODLE- DO!!!"....all the while "strumming" his genitals like a guitar. The tour guide hardly batted an eye, called the patient by name , and said "we don't act this way in front of others" or something to that effect. The guy calmly pulled his pants up and went on his way. The tour guide then said something about the rain and increased "acting out" behavior and blithely continued her tour. It probably would have made a great "funniest home video " scene if someone could have taped all the students' faces....priceless!

During my time at the mental hospital, I had one patient that I had to "work" with. I had to tape our conversations so my instructor would be able to grade me. I wish I had some of those tapes now... I bet they are hilarious.

One of my last experiences with the mental hospital was a Christmas "field trip".
It was Christmas time and it was decided that it would be a good idea to take some of the non-violent patients to "shop" for Christmas presents.
( I think they had actually done this in the past with other nursing students, but I was a little nervous that our "not so bright" instructor was in charge of this little extravaganza. )
We "buddy up" with our patient and head off to the Hills Department store on our bus. (Hills was something similar to a Walmart or a Kmart store.)
A good number of the patients had "dressed up" for the occasion. This involved picking out clothes that had been donated by various organizations. Most had on many layers of clothes that didn't come close to matching. We got quite the weird looks from the other shoppers while we were there. It was interesting when the patient who thought he was Johnny Cash went up to the store clerk and asked her if she had any of "his" records. She didn't know what to say to that and "Johnny Cash" kept trying to explain to her who he was. He even gave her a little perfomance of Folsum Prison right there in Hills!
My instructor decided that she would "buddy up" with this one mentally retarded patient. She said she "felt sorry for him to be left behind". (He always made me really nervous because he was a BIG guy with not much mental ability...he also liked to do the hug thing.) He walked all around the store holding his old decrepit billfold saying repeatedly to anyone who would look at him, " It's a billfold ain't it?!
I was just happy that we made it through without anyone stripping their clothes off as many of the patients had little inhibitions about that.

When I think back to all the things we were exposed to in that mental hospital, I feel incredibly sorry for those poor patients and really appreciate the life I have now.

PS: I know my family would have cracked up at seeing me trying to "lead calisthentics" in the male dorm...This was the brilliant idea of my nursing instructor and it does make me smile now remembering that stupid idea! It was ridiculous and I couldn't help thinking while I was doing it, " Who is more crazy...them or ME?"


neva said...

You remember I worked at the Barboursville Mental Hospital the summer after I psych training or anything....just go and do your job and let me tell you that the first time some patient wanted to hug me was quite the experience.....I almost wet my pants ....mosty due to the smell...but also the litany whatdoidowhatdoidowhatdoido kept running through my head...This was valuable experience once I started xray training and had to deal with mental patients daily.....If the real world only knew what we know....un f*****gbelievable.

Cara Maria McDonough said...

Oh my God...that cock a doodle do moment. That is awesome. Hahahahah.