January 08, 2004

Y2K Meltdown

NOTE: The following is part of a chapter from our book SOLO FOR TWO. I have only included a partial chapter half, not my sister�s half, though it will be an integral part. Italics have been deleted as I do not know how to put them in without using Windows, and I have a Mac.

I barely remember the day the world ended.

Even now it replays like a grade B movie.

Early morning shot, the sun is barely rising over tired-looking city streets. Cut to a small apartment bedroom on the top floor of a high-rise. Cigarettes overflow in half a dozen ashtrays; coffee cups, clothing and books are strewn about. A middle-aged woman, distraught, smoking frantically, is half-yelling half-whispering on the phone to someone she calls �Nina� but doesn't seem to know well. There�s a sudden hammering at the door. She puts the phone down, yells hoarsely, �Who�s there? Go away!" More pounding followed by sounds from the phone. She fumbles, brings the receiver back to her ear. �What are you talking about? Nina! You told me you wouldn�t�� She's still protesting when the door is forced open. Paramedics and police quickly take over...FADE

"Nina" � whoever she is at the other end of the hotline -- must have secretly called the police. �Get out of here!� I yell, trying to push them back, still on the phone.

�I hate you, Nina!� I scream, �I told you I didn�t want the goon squad. Why did you do this?�

The female officer takes the phone from me, murmurs something into the receiver. She hangs up. I back up against the wall, trying to get as far away from the intruders as I can.

�Now, what�s going on here, Miss Wagner?�

�It�s Pam, just Pam. And I wouldn�t jump. I mean, I mean I wasn�t sure what I�d do. Don�t you see? I don�t need to jump. It�ll all be over in just a couple of days.�

�What�ll be over?� one of them asks.

But I can�t explain. How can I condense into a sentence or two something that has been building up for more than a year? That the world is ending, that I can�t stop it, that it�s my fault because I didn�t try hard enough to warn people. Tears start coming down my cheeks. But instead I insist I�m safe. I won�t do anything to hurt myself. A good night�s sleep is all I need.

I�m not lying exactly, just not telling the whole truth. I don�t tell them that Dr Kitzman, the psychiatrist that saved my life, is retiring unexpectedly, after taking a six-week vacation starting in January, or that my best friend and I had a terrible fight right after Christmas that ended our 20-year relationship. I can't tell them I really believe the Y2K bug will bring an end to civilization, should a Biblical Armageddon fail to materialize. Nor if it did, how I would most certainly not be going to heaven. Nor can I tell them how the voices, silent for three whole months on a new medication, have returned with a vengeance, bringing hell to my nights and days. With scathing criticism and a running scornful commentary on everything I do, they sometimes order me to do things I realize I shouldn�t, but I might not always be able to. Or that I barricade the door each night for fear of beings from the higher dimensions coming to spirit me away, useless as any physical barrier would be against them. I don�t mention the NSA or the DIA or the Interpol surveillance I�ve detected in my walls or how intercepted conversations between these agencies have intruded into TV shows either.

Oh, I want to tell them all this, I really do. But I know too well what would happen, and I don�t want them to take me away. Still the tears keep coming. A paramedic reaches out to put a maternal arm around my shoulders, in comfort.

�Don�t touch me!� I shriek, shrinking from contact. �Go away! Leave me alone! Get out of my apartment. Now! Who the hell do you think you are?�

They look stunned. Meanwhile my hands are doing their writhing thing up near my face. But I can�t help it. It takes too much concentration to still them and keep my brain under control at the same time.

One of the policemen looks through my room. Pawing through my things, he picks up one of my pill bottles, then gestures to one of his buddies. They confer in low voices.

Together they collect all my medications and ask me if I have been taking them.

�Of course!� This is the truth. One cop shakes his head. I don�t like him; he hasn�t been on my side from the start. I realize he�s connected to the Five People who monitor my movements wherever I go, their true identities always disguised. He has something to do with the other dimensions, the Supermetal Cannister and most important of all, Grey Crinkled Paper. I�m not sure how deep it goes. But something tells me to keep as far from him as I can.

In the end, it�s no dice. All they can see is the mess, the pill bottles, the ashtrays, the way my hands keep moving, my tearfulness. And the inescapable fact that I live on the 12th floor. To them it suggests too much trouble, more than they can leave behind. They�re going to take me to the hospital, just to cover their asses, they insist, to make sure I�m all right. If the doctor okays it, I can come right back home. But I know they�re only sweetening an offer I can�t refuse.

I know this. I know this. But I start yelling anyway. I'm all right, I scream, I�m not going anywhere. I don�t need a doctor. I'm fine, goddam it!

That�s when they harden. I don�t look at people, but I should have, I would have sensed it coming. They huddle around a crackling walkie talkie. Then one of them tells me in words of one syllable that I have two choices: I can go with the EMTs the easy way or with the cops the hard way.

�Take your pick, Pamela, we don�t have all day.�

Shit...I mutter. I know they mean it. I�ve been through this business before. I give up, but it's hard to swallow when they start crowding me, watching my every move. Do they think I'm going to slit my throat with a sharpened sock?

�Can I at least put on my clothes without all of you watching?�

The female medic motions the men out of the bedroom. I struggle into a dirty black sweater, add dark sunglasses on top of my regular ones, then wrapping a hooded black muffler around my face � protection -- I shuffle out into the living room in my coat. Clinging to what shreds of dignity still fall to me, I keep my body rigid, making them lift me onto the stretcher like a plank of wood. Then they start tightening the straps around my hands. This time I do resist.

�Please, no! I�m not gonna do anything, I�ll be good, I promise.� Panic has turned my voice to a whisper. They sigh, looking at each other, eyes rolling. I know what they�re thinking: Oh no, not again. Amazingly, though, they concede, deciding to risk it rather than face another fight. But I feel useless and despised, a worn-out left shoe, something they want to dump as soon as possible.

Finally, the procession -- guards, handmaidens, heavy artillery � begins down the hall to the elevator. I don�t know who�s out there watching, but even with my eyes screwed shut I sense the old ladies peeking through their doors. I can feel the stares, I can hear the rumor mill start to grind.

You old hens, I mutter. Chickenshit begock-begocks! My hands fly up to my mouth to muffle the curses because I know my swearing always gets me in trouble. But it�s some protection and what else do I have to defend myself with?

You know how people say only sticks and stones can break your bones? Well that�s a damn lie. Even bullets are nothing compared to the ax-murderers in people's eyes. And ain�t it strange how it�s the same people murdering you who just moments before were murmuring, �Don�t be frightened. We�re going to help you --�?

A new problem. They want to take me to Hartford Hospital, the biggest and nearest. No way, Jose�. I refuse, pointblank. The ER nurses there have tried to kill me one too many times, not to mention the Five People who once secretly irradiated me in the nuclear physics lab when I was there. They�ll take me to the University of Connecticut�s John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington or I�m not going anywhere. That�s my right and they�d better do what I say, or else. A mostly empty threat, perhaps, but they know I�m right. And they agree, though it�s a much longer drive and it�s obvious they can�t wait to get rid of me.

The ride uses up all my resources. When we finally arrive, I�m sweating, trembling, at the end of my rope. The paramedics roll the gurney inside the ER, sign me over, then disgorge me into a small cubicle. The smell of the place hits me like a shockwave � rubbing alcohol, disinfectant and something so sweetly acidic it makes me retch. Before I can say anything, a nurse and an aide hurry in, wrestle my bag and coat away from me. Without a blink, they order me to take off my clothes. I hit the roof, yelling and cursing. I�m not fucking undressing! There�s nothing the fuck wrong with me!

You should be ashamed of yourself, one of them scolds. This is a family hospital. Oh sure, I scoff, those asshole rugrats out there spitting up on their parents hear worse every day on TV!

�That�s enough, Pamela,� she warns.

�Bullshit! I don�t give a fuck!�

If I don�t calm down, they�ll give me a needle, the other threatens.

�I am calm!� I scream, and I counter-threaten � even louder. I�m thinking, Stay calm? I�m fighting for my life here!

Then it�s a blur. As if on signal, people suddenly crowd into the small room. Men in surgical scrubs grab me while the nurses, still telling me no one is going to hurt me, hold me down and I�m yelling and struggling against all of them and somehow my clothes are taken away and somebody comes at me with a syringe full of something the aides smirkingly call �Vitamin H� � Haldol -- and it hurts like hell when they jam it in my rear end.

That�s where the struggle ends. They�ve won and they know it. The room clears like a bad fart, but I let the entire ER know I intend to sue, I have a right to refuse medication and it was given to me against my will, violating my constitutional rights and �-

Loud enough for everyone to hear, one of the aides mutters, �So fine, sue the whole damn hospital. Meanwhile, shut up and go to sleep.�

Then I�m left alone on the narrow hospital bed, side-rails up, in nothing but my underwear and two flimsy hospital gowns, one open to the back, one over it, open to the front. I can only seethe at this injustice. Rocking, muttering, sobbing, I rage and rage at the aide guarding the doorway. But she only ignores me, yawning with deliberation and exaggerated boredom, telling me in no uncertain terms: You�re nothing new. I�ve seen it all before.

They can�t drug me up without a fight, I keep yelling, continuing my harangue. I�ll see you all in court, just watch me!

But after a while I get woozy. I can't sit up straight any more. I have to hold onto the side rails. My words get mushier and mushier. My brain fogs up, my eyes cross. I�m getting confused; I can�t remember the beginning of my sentences by the time I get to the end of them. Against every inch of my will, my jaw sags, my eyelids droop and I slump back against the pillow. I think, Maybe I�ll close my eyes for just a moment. Though I promise myself I won�t give in to sleep, my mind keeps drifting away no matter how I try to bring myself back up to consciousness. No use. It may not be voluntary, only the drug that makes me compliant, �manages� me, as they put it, but either way, before I know it, I�m out like a light.

I wake in the psychiatric ward, on a bare mattress on the floor of an empty room. Alone.

Posted by pamwagg at January 8, 2004 08:52 AM | TrackBack


Something that struck me later...
your last line of waking up on a hard floor of a psychiatric ward is reminiscent of a huge mental hospital that we have here in Bombay. The conditions of the patients kept there is pathetic, they are treated with absolutely zilch dignity by the staff there, and I was really depressed the first day that I was posted there. At least you know that you shouldn't be handled inhumanely...the patients here don't even know that, they take whatever crap is thrown towards them...

Posted by: Sadaf at January 4, 2006 02:25 PM

Hi Pam
I'm doing Masters in Clinical Psychology from Bombay, India. Over the past 6 months I've interacted with psychiatric patients, most of them diagnosed with schizphrenia. The way you have described your psychotic experiences really cut across coldly, and it is chilling to discover that the people I've come across in the past 6 months have such gruesome experiences as yours. You are in fact one of the few people who has been able to vivdly describe your condition, and I really thank you for that. I think the patient's perpective of her illness is a fact that has been long overlooked by the medical profession in their quest for discovering a 'cure'.
Hope you stay well.

Posted by: Sadaf at January 4, 2006 02:21 PM

When I read about personal experiences such as yours with the 'system', I am reminded of my own experiences with bureaucrats, police, and social workers in addition to my older sister's experiences as a person with schizophrenia. The bond and partnership that you and your twin sister share is remarkable and truly inspirational. It is about time that I face up to the fact that my older sister needs me despite both of our broken pasts.

Posted by: Spinelli at April 30, 2004 07:16 PM

hey pam
it amazes me how well you can describe the situation...makes me realize my own past that i've never been able to discuss with anyone in detail.

do take care of yourself
love always

Posted by: puzli at January 10, 2004 03:27 PM

Hi Pam,

I'm a regular poster to the board; but this is the first time I've read your Weblogs. I want to say something rational, uplifting, maybe inspiring. But all I can say is the horribleness of this disease is evil; striking you in this way. I hope that you have good days (if, for no other reason) to spite the bad ones!

Good luck and God Bless!

Nacon Four

Posted by: Nacon Four at January 10, 2004 10:33 AM

Hi Pam,

I thoroughly enjoyed all of your writing and poems. I can't find an email address on your site, but if you have some spare time, I ask you to write me after checking out my website, particularly the poems and the journal. I have been diagnosed as "psychotic" for 8 years now, and always look for friends with the condition.

the url for my homepage is:

thanks & take care,

Posted by: ZelfZee at January 10, 2004 09:16 AM

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