This Is Crazy

Stan Israel spent two days in a psych ward. There was just one little problem.

As he smokes in the gloom, trying to figure things out, a nearby patient laughs uncontrollably. The guy keeps talking to himself and then cracking up. Israel finishes smoking and goes back to his room. He hears another patient screaming. "Stop!" the man shouts at Israel as he walks past. "Help me! Help me! I need medication."

Israel is scared. He can't sleep. He lies on the bed, then goes outside again for some air. He returns to the room and finally nods off around 3:30, but his sleep is broken up by a woman cussing someone out at the top of her lungs.

5:30 a.m.
Israel walks to the lounge for coffee and a magazine. He's drained in every way, "whacked out." In the hall he runs into Joe, a stocky, older man with tattoos and a wrinkled face. Joe follows him back to his room and starts telling his story: He was med-evac'd out of Vietnam in 1968 and is addicted to methamphetamine. They chat for a while, but mostly Israel sips his coffee and waits for Joe to leave.

11 a.m.
The VA is a clean place. The floors are shiny, the furniture is nice, and the white walls smell freshly painted.

Dr. Norwood brings Israel's release forms, which he signs. She asks if he got any sleep. A few hours, he says. He is still scared. She says she'll call everyone and come see him in the afternoon.

He washes up and then goes to lunch, where they're serving turkey and mashed potatoes. He's hungry but can't force down more than a few bites. Israel calls Essman and asks if he can come by. But Israel does not call his job. The last thing he needs is to tell his boss he's locked up in a mental institution, has no idea how he got there and no idea when--or if--he'll be getting out. Israel believes that if he's not out of there in 72 hours, his life will be over.

Essman comes at 2:45 with cigarettes. The two friends go outside and smoke and talk about J.J. Neither of them can make any sense of the last 24 hours. Essman can tell his friend is worried.

Israel is screened by the VA staff. He is reported to exhibit a minimal amount of guilt that he wasn't more involved in raising his daughter but denies periods of irritability or euphoria. He does admit to being "nervous"--experiencing insomnia a few times a month. He demonstrates "no behavior suggestive of dangerousness to himself or others."

May 7, 4 p.m.
Israel is back in his room. Dr. Norwood returns, having talked to Beumer, Barrett, Essman and Patricia. Norwood says the only thing they all agree upon is that Israel has some unresolved anger toward his ex-wife. Other than that, Israel's sister is describing one man, his friends another. Israel says he's not angry at his ex-wife, just disappointed at the way she's raising their twelve-year-old daughter. Norwood says she has no reason to keep him. She says she'll confer with another doctor and try to get him released tomorrow. That makes him feel better, but she tells him that she can't make any promises, and his spirits crash. He sees his whole life going up in flames. He'll lose the respect of his daughter because she'll think he really is insane; he'll lose his apartment, his job. His record will state that he spent time in a mental institution.

He goes to his room and prays. At dinner he still can't bring himself to eat, so he smokes. Later he watches TV and tries hard to stay calm. Maybe I won't be able to see my daughter again, he thinks.

Someone comes by and says he's going to be moved in with other patients because someone else needs his room. Israel grabs up his hospital pajamas and goes to his new quarters, where he meets two new roommates. One is a pleasant guy who's on the psych ward because he inexplicably likes to cut himself. (The next day Essman observes the man tapping on picture frames in the hall, checking to see whether they're made of glass.) The other guy is nice, too, but quiet. Israel never does learn his story.

Israel lies on his bed, trying to read. He wants to brush his teeth, but he has no money to buy a toothbrush and paste. He also wants to take a shower, but he's just too frayed to take his clothes off and chance it. Who knows what might happen there?

So he stays in the room and winds up with a severe headache. The rest of the night he goes outside and watches TV, comes back to the room, tries to sleep and can't, asks a nurse for a pen and some paper and spends several hours writing down his thoughts. Sometime past two, he finally falls asleep.

May 8, 5:30 a.m.
Israel's head is still pounding and his eyes are burning because his contacts have been on for more than 36 hours, and he can't take them out because he has nothing to clean them with. A patient in a hospital gown and sandals is walking up and down the hall performing an impromptu revelry, clapping his hands as loudly as possible and chanting. The loud woman from the day before is stirred to her own outburst: "Motherfuckers! I want out! Get me out of here!"

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