I must intellectualize this to cut my emotion.
The side walls are gray. Flat paint on the rough surface. The drop ceiling must be 10 feet high, at least. I feel small, but I might be able to touch both walls with my fingertips, from where I’m sitting.
The far walls make this a five-sided office. They are at weird angles. That might be what sent my discomfort over the top. They are light beige. The one on my right is longer than the one on my left. The air is still, odorless. This place resembles the concrete box that a coffin is placed in.
On my left, slightly behind me, is a picture. Art work, sort of. A mass-produced copy of a watercolor portrait of a couple of kids. On hardboard. Hanging crooked. Below it is a sliding glass window, with a desk on the other side of the wall, with chairs facing the window, and another window like it on the other side of the small, unoccupied office. My neck hurts when I turn toward it.
On the cabinet that was placed against the far wall – the longer one – is two photos. One of a young boy, framed. Probably a school picture. Beside it is one of a young girl, slightly older, propped up in front of something framed (maybe an older photo of her?).
“ID and insurance card?” she asks. I take them out, and slide them across the desk to woman on the other side. I make my breath go as deeply as I can. It won’t go past the top buttoned-up-button on my shirt. I try to push a breath down into my belly. It won’t go.
I uncross my legs to plant my feet firmly on the floor to help me feel grounded. No carpet to settle my feet into. Hard vinyl flooring. It is a dark pattern. Abstract. Angular shapes of grays and tans. These colors might be known for subduing people, but I’m not feeling it. These sedating colors are making me impatient to get out of here. To anywhere. To outside. To sunshine and green and lively colors and traffic.
My breath is deeper now.
“Sign here.” She untangles its cord as she slides an electronic signature pad toward me.
“What am I signing?”
“I think I should read the forms before I sign them?” I try to look at her quizzically, but I can’t see her face over the top of her computer monitor, even though I’m tall. I have to lean way over to the side to see around it. Leaning sideways makes me feel dizzy in this room.
One of the papers says that I will behave myself, do what I’m told, not carry firearms in this building… I never had to sign paperwork like this before. I tell the woman, “Do you know that studies show that people with mental illness diagnoses are less likely to be criminals, break laws, or attack other people than the general public?” She sputters a response of doubt.
Decision For Dignity
This is not where I want to seek help with my recovery from my mental illness, even though this is the only place, within a two hours’ drive from my home, where I have found psychiatrists who accept Medicare health insurance and new patients. I wish that my insurance covered the psychiatrist who has been advising me brilliantly.
I am following one of the options that I discussed with the psychologist: I am asking my physician (who accepts Medicare) to manage my prescriptions for psychiatric medications, as long as I continue to feel well.
Dignity For All
I am using Medicare this year for a few reasons: I save thousands of dollars on health insurance premiums, I want to know what poorer people experience, and I want to support a program that is supposed to provide affordable health care to everyone who qualifies. I also don’t want to support businesses that make large profits on providing essential services to those who can afford to pay the premiums.
When I talked with the intake psychologist who assessed me, and who assigned me to a counselor and a psychiatrist, he said that the paperwork, and a similar sign in the waiting room, were there to help me feel safe.
I would feel safer if the Center would tell us what we can expect, rather than what we can’t do. I feel safer in other professionals’ offices where I see positive affirmations, rather than signing “I shall not” promises that conjure fear.
My thought is, “why do they think that they need me to sign this?” rather than, “I’m glad that all of the patients here had to make these promises.”
The psychologist finally stated that the paperwork and signs were the result of “overpaid lawyers protecting the Center”. As I suspected, it has nothing to do with my feeling safe; it has everything to do with reducing the Center’s liability exposure. Even when they don’t expect people to read the forms that they’re signing.
As far as I recall, when I previously signed in for services at hospital-affiliated health centers, I have received a Patient’s Bill of Rights. I did not receive anything like that from this hospital-affiliated Health Center.
I share my story with the hope of enlightening you who have never been to such a Health Center, and you who go to such places and see nothing wrong. I want everyone to expect to be treated with dignity. Before my intake for outpatient services this week, I heard from health care professionals, and others, that people were really happy with the services that the Center provided. I wasn’t prepared for the psychologist to be derogatory. I want employees at the Center to sign a form that says:
I will behave myself
I will not carry fire arms
I will not raise my voice
I will be patient with you
I will not call you names
I will treat you with dignity
Claustrophobia by Timothy Allen. Used under Creative Commons License BY-SA 2.0. Modified by Grace Buchanan.