The story of an (almost) suicide…

I struggled in futility to make sense of my surroundings but without my glasses there was no point. Lying on that hospital gurney, all I could see were the bright hot examination lights.   As the fear and confusion grew, an animal instinct in my foggy brain was urging me to resist.  However, all efforts proved fruitless.  As the sedative effects of the sleeping pills took hold, I struggled in futility to regain control of any motor function.  All I could manage in that moment was nonsensical slurred speech while flailing about the bed like a crazy homeless drunk. When I tried sitting up, hospital staff surrounded me while tying hands and feet to the bed. The last thing I recall was the big plastic tube they shoved down my throat.

I opened my eyes several hours later to mental clarity and events of the previous evening began flooding back.

I recall waking up to a knock on my door late Sunday night. Laying on the sofa, I was prepared for an eternal slumber. As the door opened, I became enraged with myself for forgetting to lock the dang door. A crew of emergency responders walked in, including my old college roommate (a cop) & a former high school classmate (an EMT).

At the lowest point of my life, there were 2 people from my past who existed as reminders of traumas I was struggling to forget.  The idea of this made me so angry my hands began to shake uncontrollably.    They now had a ring-side seat to the assorted details of my fucked up life.

 Wanting nothing more than to run away in shame, I stumbled into the bedroom but didn’t get far before my old roommate grabbed me by the arm. As she sat beside me on my bed, I was hit immediately by barrage of questions:
“A friend of yours was concerned about you and told us to check up on you. Did you take this bottle of pills”
“Can you tell me why you decided to do this?”
“I can appreciate that you don’t want to talk about it but I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on?”
This line of questioning continued for what seemed like an eternity. I sat there & ignored the questions & recalled our last conversation.  I was hopeful for what lied ahead as a new college freshman and grateful for the opportunity to move away from my home town.  However, life was not destined to unfold as I had hoped.  My roommate, on the other hand, achieved everything she had set out to.  She had her criminal justice degree, was now a cop, and married her college boyfriend.  I began to despise her normalcy as a reminder of how pathetic my life was. A lump formed in my throat as I came to the realization my life was a reflection of my worst fears.  “I really am a walking shit magnet,” I thought to myself dully.

As she informed me of her plans to take me to the hospital, a blind panic took over. “I can’t let him see me like this!!!”

A blind panic overcame as I remembered the old high school classmate, waiting in the next room. I felt like that awkward bullied kid again terrified to show my face.  The idea that he might spread details of this evening throughout town, pained me.  My mind flooded with painful memories of my childhood.  He was your adverqfe kid just trying to survive.  He always avoided me and pretended to not notice the bullying I suffered – an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that I was the social leper. As a silent bystander he was “the enemy” in my mind.  All I wanted to do is hide out in the bedroom. In my mind.  I was that scared kid who hid in the girls locker room to avoid the daily lunchroom torture – all over again.   It wasn’t until he left that I was willing to leave my bedroom and be escorted to the hospital…

After surviving this nightmare, I was simply grateful the sedative-induced fog had lifted & my mind was finally clear.

I reoriented myself to the surroundings. The ER room was large and expansive with long curtains separating a row of hospital beds. I wondered in horror, how many people were able to witness the “humbling events” that unfolded just hours ago. As a nurse approached my bedside, I asked for politely my glasses.   She ignored me as if I wasn’t there and sat down to scribble some notes in my chart.
I laid there in silence, and wondered what I had done to make her angry. Still tied to the bed, unable to move, there was really nothing I could do but wait.  I began to recall the conversation hospital staff had while hovering around me just hours ago.  They were talking about me as if I wasn’t there, unaware that I was still conscious.  A male nurse, at one point, called me a pathetic loser, since “only losers kill themselves”.   The ER doctor got mad at him for saying this and ordered him to help someone else.

Sitting by me at eye level, I could tell by his kind eyes and sincere voice that he genuinely cared. He told me it would be okay and he would make certain the nurses took good care of me…

I squinted my eyes and searched for a figure in a white lab coat.  However, the ER was quiet, and the nice doctor was no where to be found. The nurse remaining by my bedside, was stoic and cold.  Without a hint of acknowledgement she approached my bed and forcibly sat me up & turned around to search for my clothes.  I sat there stunned and dizzy, as the my fuzzy surroundings began spinning about.  I struggled to grab hold of something, however my arms were still tied firmly to the bed and my hands felt numb.  As my untied hospital gown started gradually falling down my shoulders, my breasts were exposed.  With no curtains drawn to ensure privacy, I became fearful that some random person might walk by and see me sitting here.  I asked her to pull up my gown up or close the curtain.  However, She ignored my requests.  Frustrated and ashamed, I noticed a phlebotomist milling around, ogling at me with an evil grin on his face.  I bowed my head down towards my feet in a futile attempt to use my hair as a privacy shield.   After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse finally turned around and pulled the curtain shut, so I could finally be spared another second of feeling like a side-show oddity.

She was 16 years old and brought in by an ambulance to the ER.  Her parents called 911 after finding her in the bathroom with her wrists slashed.

She arrived covered in blood and could have passed for an extra for a slasher flick. Her arms were wrapped in towels as they wheeled her in. I was instructed to clean her up so the doctor could do the stitches. Her mother stood by, crying uncontrollably as I wheeled her into a room and pulled the curtains for privacy.  After getting her into a hospital gown, I laid her down on the gurney, unwrapped her wrists and began scrubbing the dirt and dried blood away from her arms.  After a period of silence I asked her what happened.  Her affect remained flat as she shrugged shoulders and contemplated my  question for a minute. Looking away, she replied: “I’ve had a rough time at school and my parents are getting divorced.”

I continued cleaning her up and recall saying that I was sorry I was to her about the hard time she’s going through. I attempted to reassure here I was there to help and available in this capacity should she need anything. Beyond the polite smile and thank you, I could see she was in a world of pain.  I recalled my own suicide many years ago.  I shuddered at the possibility that the care she was being provided might make her to feel like I had several decades ago. 

As I continued to scrub away the blood and grime, the details of my life quickly fell into the background.  Before me, was a human being who is just hurting.  She simply wanted the pain to stop.   I wished in futility for a way to make it better and continued cleaning her silently and meticulously.  Sounds of ER chaos unfolded just beyond the drawn curtain.   The air was ripe with a cold and emotional neutrality that reflected a jaded “I’ve-seen-it-all” mentality.  I could recognize the “survival mode” mindset in the staff working that evening.  They were overworked, stressed, and entire hospital was short-handed.  Everybody was focused simply on the tasks at hand with cold and steely determination.  A sadness grew within me as I began to witness this clashing of perspectives.  I was vividly aware of the client’s needs and the hurt overwhelming her.  However, as a healthcare worker, I also understood how difficult the job an be at times.

In that moment, it was clear to me that the client’s need for compassion, and understanding, would be met with a clinical focus on the overarching goal of simply ensuring patient safety.  She could expect to receive repeated punitive reminders that what she did a very bad thing…

Finally, some parting words as “food or thought”:

“Perhaps nowhere is the ability to empathize with another person more important than when one is interacting with a person who is on the brink of suicide.  This is true whether one views one’s task as helping the individual choose continued living over suicide or, more rarely, as helping the individual make a wise chose between suicide and continued life.  The ability to hold a person within life, when that is needed, and to allow a person who has chosen suicide to die, when that is needed, depend on an experiential appreciation of the other’s world view. Finding hidden or obscure ways out as well as seeing that there is no way out require both the ability and the willingness to fully enter the experience of the individual ready to suicide and, at the same time, not become that experience…” (Linehan, 1997, p. 353).