Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Telephone

I hope that I didn’t offend any nurses with the photo that went along with my last post. I am a librarian, and I LOVE finding bizarre book covers. Romances are good fodder for that!

Every psych ward has a single phone for patients to use. It used to be that they were pay phones, so you had to have lots of quarters. Many patients couldn’t afford to use the phone, so I would keep rolls of quarters my wife brought from home. I felt like a drug dealer, as patient after patient came to my room looking for a quarter.

Today the phones are usually free, but always have two things in common:

-        They are always in a very public space, usually by the nurses’ station, so that everyone can hear you.

-        There is always something wrong with the cord, so that you have to position it just right to hear the person you are calling without being drowned out by crackles and periods of silence. (Many patients are not gentle with the receiver, especially when receiving bad news).

Loved ones call the nursing station only when asking for an update on your condition. To talk with you directly, they have to call on the shitty, patient phone.

Why not cell phones? Why not multiple private phones? One of the big worries is that manic patients will wreck relationships. They will call employers (if they are lucky enough, like me, to have a job); they will call friends; they will call family; and what they tell them will be offensive or absolutely crazy.

Today, smart phones, tablets and laptops are sometimes allowed, but are kept locked and given out for short periods of time only if you are stable enough.

I was lucky that my family and friends would call to check on me. I wasn’t shy about letting people know where I was. I felt bad, because I was constantly getting knocks on my door to let me know I had a call. The nurses never answered the phone – it was always another patient walking past. Often it would be someone who had never received a call themselves.

That crackly, crappy phone became a lifeline for me – my only contact, besides visitors, with the outside world. I learned how to hold the cord just right so that I could talk and listen without too much disruption.

And when a call made me sad one or two of my buddies would invariably be walking by and invite me to join them.

Together, we would do our lengths up and down the hall until the sadness was shared, and became tolerable to bear.

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