Inside Eitanim psychiatric hospital

A mother’s candid firsthand account of her bipolar daughter’s stay – and her own battle to cope

October 10, 2018 19:41
THE WRITER with daughter Rose.

THE WRITER with daughter Rose.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

My daughter has stepped behind closed doors and I’m locked inside the waiting room at Eitanim Psychiatric Hospital, a two-story, yellow concrete and bar-windowed boxy campus reserved for women with serious mental disorders. 

The next bus leaves in 10 minutes and it’s at least a six-minute walk up to the hospital bus stop. 

I don’t like to rush. I have enough stress and tsuris and the last thing I really need right now is to have my own meltdown in this airtight waiting room without a bathroom, a water fountain, or any way to get out the door of my own volition. I ring the buzzer again.
Nobody comes to let me out. Another minute passes. I look down at my watch. If I don’t make it out of here right now it will be another two hours before the next bus back to Jerusalem rattles by.

Still nobody answers my persistent buzz. 

I think to myself: “Doesn’t anybody work in this place? I demand to see the manager!” 

I push down on that buzzer and this time I don’t let up until a women with thick forearms arrives, scowling at me as she pulls out of her pocket a thick ring heavy with keys. “I have eight women to attend to. Wait your turn,” she barks. 

I sigh. I surrender. 

I have absolutely no choice but let this hospital take over. It’s tough to know when to complain and when to take a deep breath and let the system care for my loved one in the worst of times. 

The staff at this mental hospital have to be physically strong. They have to be able to bodily remove and tame aggressive patients. They have to be able to hold down a patient to inject them in the rear with a needle if they refuse to take their medications. 

And for this my daughter cries bitterly. She knows it’s humiliating. The injection frightens her. But I explained as best I could after that first visit that if she complies with taking her medication she won’t have that injection, she won’t be locked up in the quiet room for a time out, and most importantly, she’ll feel better. She’ll get well.

While I quell Rose’s fears, I have to soothe my own. Fear is always the worst part of mental hospitalization for me. Will the staff be kind and caring? Will the doctor pay enough attention to notice my daughter’s heart is in as much confusion as her mind? 

Each visit I’ve got to be strong enough to embrace my daughter in whatever condition I find her. 
I’ve just been searched at the front gate, the chocolate bars my daughter requested me to bring pass with flying colors. The glass vial containing relaxing lavender oil does not. 

The Eitanim hospital compound comprises separate facilities for men and women – the acute emergency patients in closed wards, the long-term residents allowed to wander freely through well-kept gardens. To all appearances, this place looks as close to paradise as a parent could hope for. The purple bougainvillea are calm and the residents sit on park benches that radiate warmth.

But as I walk briskly along dirt paths in the scorching sun, I start to get anxious over my daughter’s state. Will she still be accusing me of killing her father? Will she tell me again with absolute certainty that Prince William is working the day shift in her locked ward?Or will I come all this way to sit with her in the small waiting room only to have her grab my cell phone out of my hands so she can watch Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber in their latest YouTube masterpieces without even acknowledging my existence?

Nobody said it would be easy to have a mentally ill daughter. Nobody promised my sweet, beautiful Rose a life like others her age. My friends’ daughters are mostly at college now. Or in the IDF. Or working jobs. They’re dating and starting to marry. And it’s hard to not feel sorry for my daughter that the divinely ordained script that my child and I were handed is a story that has unfolded in and out of mental institutions for nearly one third of a precious young life. 

My daughter asks, Why did this happen to her? I explain the genetics: my grandmother’s sister had bipolar disorder. Her father’s cousin has spent her entire life locked up in a mental institution for reasons that never came with a diagnostic name. It’s not about why but how can you handle it? How can you cope with it? 

You try to not feel sorry for yourself, but the tears flow anyway. I tell my daughter when she is lucid to listen – that she is a brilliant, creative being. I remind her of the bipolar geniuses that suffered through their lives to leave the world a better place: cherished painter Vincent Van Gogh and haute couture fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, England’s preeminent home-schooled writer Virginia Woolf. Rose adds to the list her music idol Demi Lovato.


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