Hospital: First Few Days


eecI hung up the phone and had to get ready to go to hospital the next morning.

I didn’t know how to pack. I had arranged for someone to watch Pixel, just in case, so that was settled. But, what do you pack for entering a psychiatric hospital stay for a short yet unknown duration? I Googled and got myself sorted.

I arrived the next day at 8:30AM and waited outside the doctor’s door in the depression unit. I met with my doctor, along with a nurse present. They both took notes assiduously as I described how I was currently feeling (medicinal side effects; inability to feel; suicidal, etc.), my life history, family history and details of previous depressive episodes. Not to mention chronic stress and exhaustion, exacerbated by life events in Europe.

Then I was escorted to my room and began to unpack. A young woman came into the room, introduced herself and gave me a quick tour of how things worked across the whole depression unit, where things were, etc. There was a very clear system in place and later I’d understand why.

The hospital I entered, Charité, was for all illnesses, not just about psychiatric care. It is a first rate university hospital, with several campuses across Berlin. Its various departments were isolated from one another.

Charité had also recently created the first “Mother and Child” psychiatric unit. This allows mothers with newborns to stay in hospital with their babies. Revolutionary and rarely, if ever, seen worldwide.

That said, we depression patients, grouped with other depression sufferers, and the same went for mothers with newborns, schizophrenics, PTSD, etc. We’d very rarely cross paths, except in some random activities like walks along nearby canals or ‘movement therapy’ (PE in American words). Other mental illness groups, we’d never meet.

The depression unit was on one side of the floor, while the schizophrenics were on the other. The two remain separate, but we shared a kitchen and laundry room. We each had our own refrigerators, food, snacks, and laundry machines. I was warned early on that the schizophrenics would always steal our Nutella and honey packets. I could only laugh at this, thankfully.

The depression unit had recently relocated from another Charité campus in a different part of Berlin. In doing so, they refurnished this part of the hospital, so everything was still very new. We were also on the top floor and had great views of the area, including a wonderful view of sunset every day.

Thankfully, this young woman showing me around in the first hours spoke English. Not everyone did; far from it. At the time I spoke almost no German. Language was incredibly difficult, in its own right, at the hospital for me. I will come back to this.

Along the walls of our space, along our hall, there were photographs of New York City and further down, photos or drawings of nature. It was clear from this exhibition not many Americans came around here. The photos showed the World Trade Center in the skyline of one photo and then this, a woman, looking out directly at the World Trade Center Towers. Clearly nothing that would be displayed in the depression unit in the US. (lol)

twin_towersWhile I was getting the tour, a nurse handed me my schedule. We all had a tight schedule of activities, doctor visits, individual therapy, group therapy. “We all” included roughly sixteen patients in the depression unit. We ate meals together, and shared small chores, which changed every week, and, of course, were in various types of group therapy together.

The majority of patients were middle class, middle age women with a few outliers in younger and senior years. When I first arrived, there were only two men. Of the 16 or so, patients only 3-4 spoke English.

Straight away, I needed my schedule translated. Two younger, English-speaking patients helped me with this as I scribbled the translation directly on the paper. They also graciously explained each activity and what they all meant. (Schedule forthcoming in another post. Too much here.)

The first course of action was a full physical exam, blood work, MRI and neurological assessment. Nothing wrong, physically, by all scientific test measures. No surprise there, but that still needs to be ruled out, just in case.

My roommate was very young, in her early 20s. She was going through various rounds of ECT/EKT (electroshock treatment). I asked how long she’d been in hospital. By then it was roughly 5-6 weeks for her. I asked others and it was similar – 6-10 weeks on average. Shit. I didn’t plan for this. I thought I’d be there maybe a week. Nope.


In the second week, I learned the treatment for me would be Ketamine. Though I’d have tried anything, I was relieved if only because I thought, in advance, that this might work. 

I began tapering off Jatrosom before I went to the hospital, but this particular medicine takes a long time. I’d continue tapering off for three weeks, before I could start the Ketamine treatment.

This meant I was still on a restricted diet. The hospital version of my restrictions was more extreme than what I had done at home. Perhaps because I couldn’t bother with variations at home and, now, I could see what other people were eating.


I lost a lot of weight before the hospital because I wasn’t interested in eating and then was on the restricted diet. I lost even more weight at the hospital. Even though we were weighed every Monday morning before breakfast, I never paid attention. I had gained more weight than ever before in Torino, so any weight loss was a good thing. For a while.

I began attending my activities and stuck by my new friends, who hooked me up with English. I could get by in some activities where others, namely group therapy sessions, were nearly impossible. Until later.

I waited out the tapering of the MAOI until I could begin the Ketamine treatment.



4 thoughts on “Hospital: First Few Days

  • Reply steve portigal November 24, 2016 at 5:54 am

    I can’t help but notice how engaged you are in your own care. I have a passing familiarity from Anne, who is a case manager for inpatient psychiatric patients, where she deals I suspect with people who are hospitalized, probably others, primarily in crisis. But you research options and consider the implications for diet, other medications, and so on, and are so proactive in pursuit of something to change your situation. I have a lot of admiration and respect for that firm underlayer of grit (can grit be firm? I think so at least in this simile).

    Also: you are a good storyteller. The interwebs are long littered with confessional writing of various levels of quality, but the power of your detailed description to help us picture the context – internal and environmental – is significant. I’m definitely hungry for more in this story, which I’m not 100% comfortable with as I don’t want “lurid” consumption to distract from “compassionate” listening (if there’s a form of reading that counts as listening). But you are sharing it with some desire to engage us, your readers, so I’m 90% comfortable with wanting more!

    • Reply jennifer November 25, 2016 at 9:07 am

      There was a long segment of time between when I first began my sick leave (Dec 2013) and when I simply couldn’t concentrate long enough to read a single sentence. Before I got to that stage I spent months researching online wtf to do or could be done. Hence the list ‘Depression Resources’ in the right nav. The books, I downloaded Kindle versions for. Grateful for that immediacy otherwise I’d have to order them from Amazon UK or US and with the delay… I’d probably never had bothered.

      I don’t know how I did that but at the same time it allowed me to understand other peoples experiences, more of the science behind the illness and of course, alternatives. I found it fascinating and became slightly obsessed to learn more.

      About the diet, I didn’t really consider implications. I had no appetite and couldn’t enjoy food for so long, any diet restrictions that healthy people might have cared about didn’t matter to me.

      Regarding the storytelling. I guess it’s funny I don’t think of this as confessional, though, of course it is. I don’t feel like I should be on Jerry Springer or anything 🙂 About the narrative or style, I imagine it’s tied to the fact I spent a couple decades designing experiences and in so doing, told stories and narratives as part of the process. Feels the same here only thing is it’s my own story.

      Thank you as always, Steve, for your feedback and engagement. I really appreciate it and it means a lot to me.

  • Reply Laura December 3, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I’m not sure where to begin. It is heart wrenching to read your blog. Girvin came for thanksgiving this year and told me about your blog. Would you be up for a call? Would love to speak with you. It’s been too long. Please let me know:

    • Reply jennifer December 4, 2016 at 9:05 am

      Hi, thank you for reading and getting in touch. I’ll email you.

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