n the morning in the Woodhull psychiatric ER, the television blasts an evangelist, then cartoons, then Jerry Springer. The ward nurse tools around, screaming orders and commentary. No beds are assigned; when I get up, another person can get into my bed. Todd yells that he’s going crazy. “You’re playing games with me, I’ve got to get the hell out of here.” A nurse tells him that he’s not going anywhere.

A psychiatrist comes in the ER and calls patients into his office. The door is wide open. Whoever wants to can listen. The psychiatrist is yelling his questions at the patients. “Where is your residence? Where is your residence? What drugs are you taking? What? What is it?”

An elderly woman sits in the day room mumbling and talking to herself non-stop. A man sits for hours curled up in a chair in a corner. The young man in my room wakens only to get medication and eat, then goes immediately back to bed. I don’t hear him say a word the entire time he is in the ER or hear anyone say a word to him.

A homeless man in a wheelchair comes in, screaming at the top of his lungs, threatening violence to police officers and nurses. He is unmanageable and demanding. He sees a psychiatrist and is released from Woodhull within a couple hours.

After he leaves, the clerk sits in the nursing station accusing the man of faking his illness, resenting the fact that he’s hiding behind his alleged disability. “If I see him on the street, I’ll beat the shit out of him,” the clerk says, as the nurse listens wordlessly.

My name is called for medication, and I’m given a pill and a cup of juice. No explanation. I ask what it is. “Mellaril,” the worker says. Several times I ask what kind of drug it is, and each time the nurse offers a vague answer (I find out later it’s an anti-psychotic). Finally, she explains, “It’s for your delusions.” I tell her I don’t have delusions and refuse it.

Eleven hours after I walked into the hospital, I’m called into the psychiatrist’s office for an interview. The door is open. “Shouldn’t we shut that?” I ask. She says no, “Nobody cares,” and “They can’t hear because of the TV.”

I tell her the same story: My life is pointless, a series of meaningless jobs. I don’t want to live like this until I’m 65. If I stay out there, I might go crazy.

She seems indifferent, clerk-like--I could have been applying for a driver’s license. She asks me questions about drug abuse and some basic autobiographical facts.

I tell the truth about my life up until my 18th year and try to keep things vague from that point on. I try not to deviate too much from my own emotional life script.

She mentions working and jobs repeatedly. I try to see if she’ll allow me a depression not directly tied to my employability. “Jobs? I’m thinking that I don’t even want to live, I don’t care about jobs,” I say.

“Okay, I’m admitting you,” she says simply. The session, which lasted about 10 minutes, is over.

I go back to pacing the corridors.

As in the Rosenhan experiment, my plan was to stop exhibiting symptoms after I’d been admitted and let the hospital decide what to do with me. But the boredom is excruciating, nothing is happening, and I think three days here will be enough. I assume I’ve been admitted as a “voluntary admission,” meaning that if I request my release in writing, I must be discharged within 72 hours (unless the hospital petitions the court for a longer period of commitment). Later in the day I ask to submit my request.

“No, you can’t do that,” a nurse tells me in a subtly mocking tone. “You’re involuntarily admitted.”

That night, still in the ER, I talk to the psychiatrist on duty and try my very best to separate myself from the crowd. I go in, attempting a caricature of normalcy and reason, and ask to be released. I make my case: I’m okay now, I really don’t think I belong here. I didn’t realize what would happen if I showed up at the ER asking for help. I just was going through some rough times and I called up and they said if I came to the psych ER I could get some help, counseling, medication. I really think I can and should be an outpatient.

He tells me I’m just as mentally ill as anyone in the ER and says, “After reviewing your file, I really think that you should spend some time as an inpatient. I don’t think there’s sufficient reason to override the other psychiatrist’s decision.”

He flips through my record. “Suicide, suicide, suicide,” he says. “It’s written all over the place.”

I ask, “How long will I stay?” He says, casually, “A week or two.” I tell him I don’t need Mellaril, that I’m not delusional. He discontinues it. The next morning I appeal to the psychiatrist who interviewed me the previous day. She tells me: Talk to them on the ward when you get moved upstairs, maybe they’ll release you in a day. Then she walks off.

That afternoon, after 34 hours in the ER, I’m told to change into a hospital gown. My clothes are stuffed into plastic bags, and a staff member and a police officer escort me upstairs.

All told, I stayed in the hospital for seven-and-a-half days. I was locked up, never told when I would get out or how I could get out and never informed of my rights. Hospital staff made almost no attempt to get to know me or my problems. I spoke with a psychiatrist for approximately six minutes over the course of six days on the ward. I was provided with virtually no counseling or other substantive treatment. I refused Medicaid coverage, and was informed that I would be billed $1,400 dollars a day.

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