Monday, September 17, 2012

Treatment Should Never be Trauma

When I first went to see someone in a behavioral hospital, I wondered if the fear I felt would drive the doctors to place me in there too.

I want to make it very clear that this does not mean all hospitals for the mentally ill are bad. I'm sure most are quite good and appropriate for their patients. I can only speak for this one that I visited a loved one in. To add to my previous articles, my purpose for this blog is not to bring disrespect to anyone in any way, so I will not name what hospital it was. I will say that it was not in the state I was living in at the time, which was my native state of Virginia.

I do believe, however, that visiting this hospital was a very strong life lesson for me. I was a teenager at the time, and my concept of hospitals for the mentally ill mostly came from movies or TV. To see the real thing was a huge shock, and I wanted to get out of it as quickly as I could.

The walls were crusty. I'm not sure if that is a good word to use for this description, but it is what I remember. Crusty. I'm not sure with what, but they did not look natural. There was a severe lack of decoration in the hall going from the main building of the hospital to this wing. It was like a portal that the architects of the building forgot was there, or wanted to forget.

I remember there being two sets of metal double-doors, one at the entrance to this wing from the main building, and one opening to this ward. They looked to me like something that would be on giant meet lockers, as if this wing contained nothing else but the dead.

Indeed, those living souls that were unfortunate enough to be here behind those doors were treated as such. There were some couches in the large central social room. There was an old TV turned to a local channel that played Christmas programs, which made the atmosphere even more depressing. There were yellow cabinets along the crusty walls. Why they were there I do not know. They contained nothing.

Laying on the floor was an older woman. Clothed in only a hospital gown, she cried and repeated the words, over and over as if an unending loop, “Help”.

No one came to help her.

We went back to the room of the person we were visiting. There were no pictures on any of the walls. There were no windows. The florescent lighting glowed and buzzed.


We did not sit down as there were no chairs. Only a bed with a metal frame and yellow blankets.


As soon as we were finished visiting, I walked down the hallway as fast as I could. I kept my eyes off of those crusty walls and firmly on the windows of the double-doors leading away.


There was nothing that I could do for anyone beyond that hallway, other than to sincerely hope that, one day, they found their way out as well.

The person we were visiting did, finally, escape. It was truly a place to put people who you want to forget about, a cruel place void with love and attention. I thought to myself that the only thing wrong with the people locked away here is that the people who are responsible for them want to forget about them, or hide them.

This particular hospital was no hospital at all. It was, perhaps, the closest thing to innocence a prison can be.

I mention it here to make the point that we must be careful of where we put those who cannot care for themselves. We must investigate the places where we choose to place the helpless, to verify if they will help them, or neglect them.
As mentioned this is not a reflection of all hospitals, and perhaps the one I visited so long ago has been updated, cleaned, the walls no longer crusty.

I write this as to say that treatment should never be trauma.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hurricanes and Crosses: My Interview with Jason Wright

When I first heard of Hurricane Isaac, it's path, and the day it was going to hit, one of the first things I thought about was Jason Wright's novel, 'Recovering Charles'. It was a book he had written which focused on a man in search of his father in New Orleans, a city torn apart in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
When I asked what he thought about Hurricane Isaac, Jason said, “I kept thinking this is going to fizzle, it’s going to run out of steam before it ever got anywhere close to the coast. I don’t know if that was my heart talking because I didn’t want to see a Katrina 2 or if I just wasn’t paying enough attention to the news.”
Jason Wright is a New York Times Bestselling author. Along with 'Recovering Charles' (2008), he has written many bestselling novels, including 'Christmas Jars' (2005), 'The Wednesday Letters' (2007), 'The Cross Gardener' (2010), 'The Seventeen Second Miracle' (2010), and 'The Wedding Letters' (2011). Jason has also been on CNN, Fox News, and C-Span, and writes the weekly column 'Wright Words'.
"My first reaction was I didn’t have a reaction,” he continued, “because I just kept thinking it’s never actually going to come to this. Now that it has, it’s been very surreal.”
I asked Jason what inspired 'Recovering Charles'. “I watched (the storm footage) for hours and hours and hours. Before, during, and after Katrina. It was more gripping to me than 9/11. It was just so heartbreaking.”
I was working in a town in northern Virginia called Fredericksburg at the time, far removed from Katrina, and there were some people I ran into that had the attitude that the people in New Orleans could have left but didn't, and so deserved what they got. Jason ran into that sort of attitude too. “Some were talking about how the people down there should have seen it coming and that’s what they get for living down there,” he said. “I was just hearing so much of that, how they weren’t prepared, they should have left, all that kind of stuff, and I just didn’t see that. I just saw the tremendous human suffering.”
It sometimes seems that when we're far removed from a tragedy, the impact of it doesn't seem as real to us as those who have to go through it. Jason decided to go there, to New Orleans, and see first-hand what recovery there was like. “So many people think Katrina was just so clear cut,” he said. “The reality is a bunch of those people are generations in the gulf and didn’t have resources to leave. They didn’t have access to funds and cars. For most of the people who were there when the city flooded, they didn’t have resources to be anywhere else. For me, Recovering Charles was a chance to tell a little bit of a human story. I thought the city was treated unfairly.”
We then talked about his book 'The Cross Gardener', which was my favorite of his novels. It's a story about a man who, after his mother is killed, is adopted and raised on an apple orchard. After his adopted father dies, his wife is suddenly killed in a car accident, and he is left to mourn her at a small cross he erects on the road where she died. There he meets a mysterious stranger caring for the roadside memorial, a man he only knows as the Cross Gardener.
It’s not a doctrinal book,” he said. “I’m not suggesting any of this is how it works for everybody. I just thought that it would be interesting to just invite readers to think about what that process of stepping from this life to the next might be like. If you’re by yourself at 2 o’clock in the morning on some remote highway, are you really alone or is there someone there to help with that process? The book was kind of a way for me to ask myself some of those questions.”

I finally asked him about the movie adaptation of his novel, 'Christmas Jars'. “There’s a kind of a good news bad news thing,” he told me. “We have one script partner we thought was just about to happen and it looks like it’s fallen apart. On the other hand their option is up in a couple of months and we have another team quietly waiting in the wings very patiently, and have been for quite some time. They have expressed to us that they are further down the path than we might realize in terms of their preparations if they get another chance, or if they get a chance at all, and that they’ll be in a position to move very quickly. That happens in November, and we’re hopeful that something will happen there.” Jason said that on many occasions they had been very close to beginning the movie. “We’ve been within days of production,” he said.
Most of Jason's books are stories of recovery from tragedy, of triumph over trauma, the very spirit of what this blog is all about. They are truly inspirational, and may provide comfort for those who are recovering themselves.
You can find out more about Jason and his novels at