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Friday, July 29, 2005

Chapter 4: The Patients

“Ross Mauser!”

“Ross Mauser!”

“Is Ross Mauser in this room?”

My eyes snapped open. This was a dream, all a dream. I had a horrible dream that my life turned upside down, that things unthinkable had occurred to me, things that would normally only happen in a nightmare. But I was not in my bed, I was not in my house. It was real; I had awoken to the same situation which I fell asleep to the night before. My only chance for complete escape was gone – this was not a dream.

“Who are you?”

The room was pitch black, and it was evidently a very early hour. The door was open, and a bright light was shining through, making it near impossible to see.

“I’m Ross Mauser.”

“Come with me,” the female voice instructed.

I climbed out of bed and the woman led me down the corridor towards the small room where I had been separated from my mother the previous night. My eyes, adjusted to the darkness, could barely determine the direction I was heading, and the early hour, along with the emotional stresses of the entire event led me to be in a confused, almost hypnotic state. Simply following orders without thinking, I entered the small room, where three other teenagers were standing, all girls.

“You have to have your blood drawn this morning,” one of the nurses explained. “In addition, you will have to have your vital signs taken every morning and afternoon for the first seven days you are here.”

I had the impulse to explain that I was only going to be there for the day, however I decided against it, as it really didn’t matter in the scheme of things. I still needed my vitals taken that morning.

When it was my time in line, a nurse sitting down in a chair instructed me to sit in the empty seat next to her, then attached a blood pressure cuff and took my blood pressure, along with my pulse. After writing both pieces of data on the sheet next to my name, she asked me if I was feeling any pain, to which I replied in the negative. Next, she drew blood from my left arm, then instructed me that I could return to my room, and that the official wakeup time would be in an hour.

I promptly went back to bed, and by the time that I reawoke it was officially the wakeup time. I dressed and then headed down the corridor to a room on my right at the end, where I had been instructed to go.

The room contained a television, several upholstered chairs and two couches, and a collection of books, most of which appeared to be on the elementary school level. I quickly learned that there were also small children in this wing of the building, however their common area was at the end of the corridor that I had my room on. Halfway through the room was a folding wall, beyond which was a series of tables and chairs where the meals were eaten.

After all of the adolescents had assembled in the common area in the center of the room and attendance was successfully taken, they would proceed to the meal area. Carts containing trays had were wheeled in, and each person would find the tray with their last name attached to it with a sticky-note. Though completely new to the process, I quickly picked up the routine, and found my tray on the carts. The tray was made of a thick plastic and was composed of a top and a bottom. The bottom was an off-white and the top was a greenish-grey. After one opened the tray they were presented with their breakfast. The first morning’s breakfast was French toast. I did not eat French toast, so I ignored it and inspected the other items of the tray. There was a box of Frosted Flakes, which I quickly consumed, a carton of milk (which I left alone, as I eat my cereal dry), a few sugar packets and a muffin. I picked up the muffin, and undid the wrapper, not thinking to taste it cautiously and simply shoving it into my mouth. It had no flavor, was overcooked, and was dry enough that it seemed to act as sponge, soaking up all of the moisture in my mouth. I through the rest of the muffin back on the tray and quickly swallowed what I had in my mouth, resisting the urge to vomit repeatedly. The one remaining item on my tray was a clementine, which I attempted to open. The fruit had the hardness of a bowling ball, and judging by its size was probably picked three months earlier than it should have been. Even when I was able to pry the skin away from the fruit, it was practically tasteless and filled with seeds which I had to spit back onto the tray.

After having little to eat, I reassembled my tray and placed it back on the cart. I then took a seat in one of the upholstered chairs in the common area, waiting for everyone to finish their meal. They were soon done, and a woman in her mid thirties pulled a chair on the middle of the circle that the chairs and touches formed.

There were eleven teenagers in all, or “patients” if I preferred to use the official language of the facility. Seven of them were girls, leaving me in a clear minority to start off with. I recognized Clayton sitting on the fringes of the circle, and there was a black youth a bit older than me in the chair across from mine. That left me and a rather muscular looking kid who I heard someone refer to as Joey. Most of the others seemed to be inspecting those who had arrived the night before, trying to figure out who they were, what backgrounds they came from, and why they were there. Most of all, however, they seemed intrigued to simply have something new to marvel at. Finally, a girl, who appeared slightly younger than me, and had he brown hair back in a ponytail, spoke up. “Wow, there are a lot of new people.”

The woman, who appeared to be leading whatever we were doing, asked if everyone ready. “Can we do the circle thing?” the same girl asked. “The one where everyone says their name and then why they are here?” The other patients quickly concurred with the sentiment.

“Alright, it’ll be nice way to start, seeing as that we got some new people in. For all you new people, just watch what is going on and follow the lead.” Looking at the girl who had suggested the idea, she said, “Kelly, why don’t you begin, since you suggested it.”

“Alright,” she began, with tremendous excitement, “My name is Kelly and I’m here because I am bipolar, I have anger issues, suicidal and violent thoughts, I have an anger problems and family issues.”

The next girl in line was around my age, maybe a little younger, and I later learned had been born in Haiti, before coming to the United States at the age of seven. “My name is Ruth and I’m here because I have anger problems and family issues.”

“I’m here because I am depressed, I have anger problems, I can be violent, and I have family issues,” said a rather obese black girl. “I’m back because I attacked my mother with a broom,” she added with a snicker. It was beginning to seem like “family issues” was simply a generic issue that most patients added to their list of problems, only in an attempt to make them longer, as if they were something to be proud of.

“That’s enough Melissa,” the woman leading the proceedings intervened. “But you didn’t mention your name.”

“Oh, I’m Melissa,” she said.

The next person continued. “I’m Helen and I’m here because I’m clinically depressed and have mild schizophrenia.” Helen seemed to be the only one so far that didn’t come across as boasting about her psychological disorders, but rather accepting them as a given fact of life and being at peace with the issue.

“I’m Jordan,” said the first male to speak, who appeared to be much older than me. “I’m here became I overdosed on sleeping pills, and then they sent me here.”

“How did you do that?” questioned the woman in charge.

“Well, I had I kind of took one…and then, then I took another, and then I forgot about the first two because I was tired, and so I took some more, and before I knew it the whole bottle was gone.”

“I’m Lionel,” said the next boy in line. “I’m here because I have anger issues and I attacked my mother.”

“Alright,” said the woman in charge, motioning toward me. “Why don’t you introduce yourself.”

“I’m Ross,” I began uneasily, “and I’m here because of an overreaction. A wrote a document that detailed my life for a few months and then I sent it to some girls and they took offense at about three lines out of the forty page document. The school just wanted me to come checked out here, for liability reasons.”

The woman in the front of the room frowned, and thought for a moment. “What did you write?”

“Well, mostly about my life during the period I wrote it.”

“No, what did you write to cause you to get here?”

“Oh, a few different things. Mostly things along the lines of comments that were not meant seriously, such as, “These people should be taken out and shot.”

“Well, you obviously have some anger issues, that’ll be something good to work at – how about you?” she said to Clayton, not giving me a chance to respond to her accusation of my alleged “anger issues.” It was assumed because I was sitting in that room and participating in the activity, that I had at least a fair array of psychological issues. If I believed I didn’t, then I was also in denial, which course of course be treated.

However, the woman running the activity only seemed to be a nurse, if even that. Possibly just a common staffer. Once I had a chance to talk to the doctors, they, with their years of training and experience, would quickly realize I had no issues, that I was a perfectly normal boy suffering from the restrictions and overreactions of a society recently disturbed by a rash of violence.

Clayton seemed two or three years older than I, and a few inches taller. He began by introducing himself, but then stated that he didn’t know why he was at the facility.

“We’ll work on that,” assured the woman in charge.

My name then called by a nurse who appeared in the doorway of the common area. I stood up from my seat and walked to the door. The nurse directed me towards the small room where I had my blood drawn early in the morning. I took the seat in front of the desk and, behind which was a woman with black curly hair.

“Hello,” she greeted me, extending her hand. “I’m Dr. Smith, and I am the doctor who will be overseeing your stay here. You will meet with me once per day for a few minutes to discuss how things are going.”
“Hello,” I replied, shaking the extended hand.

“There will be a meeting with your parents later today to discuss the situation. They will be permitted to visit you as soon as the meeting is over. However, for now you will need to fill out this,” she told me, pushing the paper on the desk in front of me and handing me a pen. “It’s a meal plan for the week. Circle which meals you want for lunch and dinner. Everyone gets the same thing at breakfast.”

I accepted the schedule and began to complete it, though I knew it would be of little use given my quickly approaching departure. Once the menu was complete, I was given a schedule for the remainder of the week.

“But I really don’t need this,” I protested. “I’m going to be leaving soon.”

“Just take it anyway,” the doctor replied. “You never know.”

I really couldn’t argue with the statement, so I consented and kept the paper.

“Well, that’s about it,” she said. “We will discuss things more after I have spoken to your parents.”

I rose from my seat and walked out of the room to the common area, where the group was still sitting in the chairs and couches that littered the area. Several were slumped over on the arms of the furniture they occupied, half asleep from the sheer quantities of the anti-depressants they ingested on a daily basis. Others sat gazing about at the newcomers to the group, but no one talked.

Several minutes later, the woman who had begun the circle activity before breakfast returned, and announced that Mr. Propp would be soon arriving for “school,” and that we needed to make our way to the tables that we had eaten breakfast on. A few of the patients quickly became excited when they heard that Mr. Propp was arriving, both most expressed dissention about actually having to do work.

Soon a balding man of moderately tall stature arrived pushing a plastic cart on wheels. He rolled the cart onto the linoleum tile that was the floor of the eating area, and the staffing woman pulled an expandable wall between the common area and the eating area across.

Mr. Propp quickly noted the number of newcomers to the group and began by introducing himself. “I’m Geoff Propp, but you can call me Geoff. I’m a part time teacher at a nearby school, but during most of the week I come here to teach you guys.” He explained that he had worksheets on different levels, and that we could take what we want. All pencils were available from him and they all needed to be accounted for before he left.

Students quickly began lining up for work at his cart, but I took my time and was somewhat skeptical. Work was available from level one to five, with an increasing amount of difficulty as the number grew. The highest level of math available was basic arithmetic. When I had reached the front of the line, I took a pencil from Mr. Propp while he questioned what difficulty I would like.

“Level five,” I told him. I felt like adding a “bring it on,” but I refrained from doing so. After all, if I was going to get out that day, I’d better maintain good relations with everyone.

“Are you sure? I think you’d better start with level three.”

I took a level three sheet and sat down by myself at a table. The sheet consisted of paragraphs in which words were missing and one had to fill in blanks. Somewhat like the SATs, but the words were on about a fifth grade level. I blazed through the sheet and was soon back up for more.

“Level five,” I told him. He took a look over what I had completed an handed me a stack of level five sheets. I took them back to my seat and examined them. The words were slightly harder, but still at least a grade level or two below my current ability. I began working through the sheets, and casually glanced around – some patients were struggling with level three sheets and others were simply doing nothing. A few were sitting down with their heads on the tables.

The staffer that had conducted the morning activity returned through the doorway in the portable wall, and glanced around the room.

“Kelly,” she said, walking over to the short girl in a bright orange shirt, “You have to stay awake during school and do your work.”

The girl raised her head. “But I’m tired,” she whined.

“Try to stay awake and do your work.”

I turned and looked out the panel of windows which wrapped around the dining area. It was about a two story drop down. Outside there was an area cordoned off by a gray picket fence that held two large green dumpsters, a small pond, and a one story brick building off in the distance.

The window was thick. Not bulletproof thick, but thick enough that you couldn’t break through it with sheer manual force. It was a prison I was in, a prison without bars. Outside, just through a few inches of glass lay freedom. But I was not a criminal, I did not belong in a prison. And I would be outside the glass in just a few hours, as soon as my parents had completed a meeting with the doctors.

By the time lunch had arrived, I had heard nothing from either the staff or my parents - I was being treated like any of the other patients at the facility. However, one had to be fair to everyone – I had to assume that they couldn’t indicate to the others that my departure was nearing as it would probably bring cries of “Why him and not me?”

The trays where wheeled out on their carts, and I lifted the one that had my name attached on a yellow post-it note off and brought it to a table by myself, where I lifted the top off. Inside was a hamburger, with some type of beans on the side, a container of fruit juice and a small roll. I picked up the hamburger and squeezed a plentiful quantity of ketchup onto it, and took a cautious bite. It was far too overcooked, and therefore could not even be described as meaty, but rather, crispy. It had no flavor, and the bun stuck to the top of my mouth. However, unlike the breakfast food, it was partially edible.

Upon completing my meal and returning my tray, I was asked to come with one of the staff and they led me to one of the rooms where my parents were sitting. I, too, took a seat and noticed that the doctor I had spoken to that morning was also present, along with a nurse.

“Ross,” the doctor began, “I’ve just finished talking with your parents and I’ve explained to them what is going on. As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve generated a fair amount of text that we need to analyze. We simply don’t have time to review everything with regard to your case today, and the doctors are not here on the weekend. Therefore, you are going to have to stay here till Monday, at which point we will review what you have and make a further determination about your status.”


Blogger legerdemon said...

I've read all of your posts, so far. The situation is very interesting, but I think you need to step back and take account of what information the reader knows and doesn't. You leave a lot of helpful information out. I'm going to link to you in my blog, and I hope you keep up your writing.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

Thanks for the comment, and I'll add a reciprocal link for you on this page. The inital strategy was to start bringing out all the facts that are at the moment obscure a few chapters from now, once the the interviews with various psychiatrists begin, and let those facts come out through the dialogue. But you make a valid point and thats something I'll consider in the future. I have to weigh the needs of the reader knowing everything upfront and being clear about what's going on, versus using that information to fill in the areas where I had to tell the full story over and over to various individuals who came to speak with me, as otherwise I wouldn't have much to say about those sessions.

Thanks again for the feedback, its always appreciated.

2:31 PM  
Blogger BeckEye said...

Well, I thought I'd surf some blogs for a few minutes today after checking my email, and I ended up getting totally sucked into your story! It's quite something and I'm very intrigued. You're a terrific writer. I'm linking you as well.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I've added you as a link now too. Can't wait for the next installment.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Rowan said...

I've been drawn in by your story as well... and am anxious to hear more. I'll be adding a link to you on my site, but don't feel you have to link to me:)

I was wondering... you don't have a copy of the document you wrote, by any chance?

11:04 PM  
Blogger legerdemon said...


11:50 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

I do have a copy. However, I unfortunately cannot release it, as it is littered with the names and identifying information of real people, the people who were actually involved in this incident. I will, as time goes on, extract relevant excepts from it and use them in my writing, but it would be nearly impossible to completely sanitize the document for distribution. However, in several weeks, I will be intergrating something into one of the chapters that is very much real and unedited - something I had kept for the four years since all this happened. Stay tuned, you'll know it when you'll see it.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Rowan said...

Great! I can't wait.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hope i dont sound like an idiot but i was hoping to find out how you came up with the name geoff see it is my name and is the same spelling.anyway ive read some of this and i look forward to a finished work.thank you for your time

4:45 PM  

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