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Grey's Story

"A Small Collection"

Grey's true happiness
Grey and their sibling's as little kids
Tiny dancer!

     My name is Grey Ganz Poduska. I am nineteen years old. I am the second child in a set of three, and our faces are a matching set. I am a musician; I sing in three different choirs for ten hours a week, I’ve been playing piano since I was three, and I have found a way to combine those two skills to perform as a soloist. I am creative; I write spoken word, poetry, prose, and short stories, I draw in sketchbook after sketchbook, and my walls and floors are littered with my paintings. I am passionate. I am silly. I am kind. I am millions of things, millions of wonderful things, all before I am a patient. 

      When I was fourteen, my entire self-perception changed. And it stayed altered for four years after that. When I used to look and the mirror and see a person, all I could see was a label. Patient. Not a person, not a young adult, not a singer, not a sibling, but a patient. The story of this journey from person to patient is long and, at times, pitiful, but I will give you an abridged version.

     In March 2018, I was admitted to my first hospital for a mental health crisis. I was fourteen, not even in high school yet. I had been in therapy for three years at this point for my severe anxiety, but depression was slowly creeping into my life, and I was at a loss for how to stop it. The symptoms arrived fast and heavy, and it seemed as though all at once, I was sitting in my kitchen waiting for my family to leave to do something truly terrible. Though I never followed through with my plan that day, I was sent to the emergency room following my next therapy appointment. On March 29th, my life changed forever. I was on constant watch, had no belongings, and slept in a cot most of the day while I waited to be placed in an inpatient. I was on the road to patienthood.

     When I was placed in an inpatient, I took my first of ten ambulance rides. While there, I witnessed a restraint for the first time, which still haunts me. All the patients were held in the classroom while we listened to one screaming, “please don’t hurt me! I’m sorry, just don’t hurt me!” It sounded animalistic. It sounded wrong. I hope that person has found peace.

     Two years and one pandemic later, I returned to the same hospital. I had to be moved units because of a relationship with my peer, and now that I’m older, that makes a lot of sense to me. What made absolutely no sense was when I wasn’t allowed to call my parents before I moved units. They told me I could call them as soon as I moved, but I just begged to call them before there was any change. I was sixteen. They were my legal guardians and also the ones paying for my treatment. I asked a counselor, a nurse, and the charge nurse over and over just to be able to call my parents. We went back and forth for what felt like hours, and eventually, they called security and told me there would be physical consequences if I wasn’t “taken care of.” They finally let me call my older sister, and I just asked her to call my parents, and then when I finally got my parents to call, the staff picked up the phone and spoke to them for 15 minutes before I ever got to. 

     When I moved units, I was put with the younger kids. One was eleven years old, and I listened as she was restrained just down the hall from my room. She was little, just a kid, and I listened as she screamed and sobbed and begged the staff to let her go. Most of the kids wouldn’t meet her gaze the next morning. We all wished she hadn’t been through that.

      When I left that inpatient, I was sent to an acute residential. There I was with peers who I got along with, had a team who really looked out for me and truly did some healing. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. I got screamed at for tapping my friend on the shoulder. I watched a thirteen-year-old boy strapped into a stretcher because staff claimed he threatened them during an argument. The entire unit saw the argument and heard what was said. There was not a single violent action or word. He just wanted to go home.

     My next hospital was a “transition unit,” made for patients between the ages of 16-25, and before I had stepped foot in the hospital, I had waited three weeks in the emergency department, just looking for a bed. When I did arrive, I was immediately put on 1-1 supervision, which is typically given to those who are at high risk of being restrained. I had been there for under an hour. I had done nothing wrong. On my first night, six staff were in my room, all threatening to call a code and restrain me. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing. I just remember crying and hyperventilating, telling them, “I swear I didn’t do anything. I’ll stop. Please don’t hurt me.” They left my room, but with them, they took every belonging I had brought with me. No clothes, stuffed animals, blankets, no pillows. Just a cold, bare mattress and a staff posted at my door. I had to beg to keep my journal, so scared they would take it that I slept cradling it. They kept me on the 1-1 the entire three weeks I was there, only to discharge me straight home with no follow-up other than weekly therapy. I was back in the ER three weeks later.

     My next hospital was just outright inhumane. I was told by everybody that it was one of the worst hospitals in our area for adolescent psych, but I really didn’t have another choice. So, for six weeks, I was at a tiny unit with the worst care I have ever received. My roommate was restrained on my second night. The code was originally called on a different patient, one who was acting aggressively toward her, but when code staff arrived, they saw my fifteen-year-old roommate giving sass to staff and immediately put her in a restraint. She was 5’2” and very small, but they had six male adults holding her down for hours while she screamed, “I can’t breathe! Let me go; I can’t breathe!” One even suggested they put a bag over her head. The other kids and I begged them to let her go, to just let her come back to our room so we could do something to distract her. I kept telling them “she can’t breathe! You have to help her, she can’t breathe!” I was sent back to my room with a paper to file a complaint. The complaint was lost, and weeks later, when I tried to file a new one, they said nothing was to be done. 

     Weeks later, my other roommate was restrained in front of me in the middle of the night. They had been acting up earlier in the evening, but it had been hours since then, and they were on good behavior. That didn’t stop staff from coming in and animalistically holding them down and injecting them with medicine. Three staff in our room. None of them thought to tell me to leave. I lay in my bed, frozen with fear, frozen with confusion, frozen with no way out. The next morning the patient had words to joke about it. I did not. 

     There were also more brief restraints, staff bear-hugging kids to get them to stop doing whatever they deemed as bad. Leaving kids in the quiet room alone for hours. Threatening to call a code when we sat on the stairs. Restraints were woven into the every practice of the hospital. 

     That hospital also has a very relaxed policy for COVID exposures, which meant that every single patient on the unit got the virus. I was sent to the emergency room to be tested because of how sick I was. Then I was sent back to the hospital and put on their COVID unit. I was alone for two weeks, the most sick I’ve ever been, with no fresh air and once-daily calls with my parents. My pre-existing fainting issues worsened and we quickly realized I had long-haul. All of which could have been avoided if they had better procedures. For months after my discharge I struggled with long-haul symptoms all while knowing it could have been so easily avoided. 

     After six weeks at that hospital I was sent home, once again with nothing but weekly therapy. They told me for weeks that I would go to a residential or a group home. They did not follow through. 

I was home for 218 days before my next hospital. 218 days I wish I had cherished more. I found myself in the emergency room on the first of December, 2021, and unknowingly began the journey of my longest and most difficult hospitalization. I was in the emergency department of Boston Children’s Hospital for two weeks before I was moved to a cardiac unit. I waited in limbo for 30 days before I was placed in an inpatient unit. 30 days of no treatment when I needed it most. 

     When I did arrive at the hospital, I absolutely devolved. We spent the first two weeks in quarantine, meaning no groups, no private therapy, and no control. My roommate and I were close, but doing zoom therapy in the same room as somebody else who was also struggling seemed like the worst possible scenario. When we were out of quarantine, I was almost immediately put in my own room, and slowly my number of restrictions grew. No belongings, no sheets, no clothes in my room, no sleeves. Locked room, verbal bathroom, visual bathroom, and countless new medications. 

     I had an ongoing eating disorder that worsened when I was stressed, so I barely scraped by with enough liquids to stay on my feet. Eventually, the staff threatened to send me to Children’s if I couldn’t get it under control. “Just protocol,” they said. Inspired by images of tubes and velcro restraints, I found ways to eat enough. They never did treat it, really.

     I don’t really remember my first restraint. I know from a nurse that it was on January 20th, but who was on me or what time of day it was is lost to me. I’m sure it was because I was acting in ways I shouldn’t have been, but what exactly the first event was, I could not tell you. I know a general idea, which was the same for all of my restraints, but I usually don’t share that for fear my experiences will be used as an instruction manual. 

     I was put on a 1-1. I was given new meds. I was put under different restrictions. Nothing seemed to be changing. I was getting restrained once a week, then twice a week, then every single day, and sometimes twice a day. I wish I could say I remembered the quicker ones, the ones with my favorite staff, the ones when I didn’t have to get injected. Mostly I remember the hard ones.

I remember a nurse locking me in the quiet room, then when I kept acting up in isolation, I ended up in a restraint anyways. I remember hyperventilating on the floor for over an hour, struggling against the hands on my body. I remember having seven people on me at once, having male staff see my body, and getting intramuscular injections. I remember hands pressed into open wounds and raw skin, I remember bruises, and I remember my joints aching. I remember being slammed onto the floor, and I remember hitting my head, both intentionally and not, on the concrete beneath a thin layer of woven carpet. I wish my memory were more flawed. I wish I didn’t remember all of these.

     When restrained, I would be completely mute before, during, and after. Sometimes for minutes, often for hours. They would give me meds that left me in a complete daze. I was unrecognizable. I was exhausted, I was foggy, and I took on the sickly appearance of someone who could not eat and physically fought people off their body daily. The only thing I could do was draw or color and try to focus in groups. Sometimes I would journal, but often I would not. One of my few entries from March 2022 read, “I got restrained again last night. It was short and I was too tired to fight it that much. I gave up pretty quickly and just took the meds and got out. I’m tired of holds and restrictions and limits and mental illness as a whole.” 

     For about two months, I was in near-daily restraints. Things got easier and harder again. I stayed inpatient there for three months. The other patients and I were friendly, but there were many times when it was clear that I was the “scary patient.” I was the reason they got sent to the dayroom. I was the reason we couldn’t go in the hallway yet. I was bad. They were good. And many staff made sure that was clear. 

     I was never allowed to talk about restraints unless I was completely alone with the staff. The hospital called them “holds,” maybe as a way to make them sound less awful, maybe just a choice of language. I became so used to not talking about them that I wouldn’t even mention them to my parents. They got the phone call when it happened anyways. There was no need to go over it. I began declining the required follow-up conversations and would just sign the papers and walk away.

     My restraints were so regular that many staff learned restraint protocol from me. I was the test dummy for floor counselors in training to learn where to put their hands, how to press me down, and how to stop me from moving. I would be on the ground for so long that sometimes, the staff would have to switch out, taking turns on my arms and legs. 

     Two months of this. Two months of people coming with me to the bathroom, watching me shower, watching me change. Two months of not meeting my peers eyes. Two months of bruises left on me and bruises left by me. Two months of being too dazed to even journal about what was happening to me. Two months of staff not knowing how to ask “why is this happening?” Two months of not having an answer for them. Two months of receiving the message “we are forced to do this. You are doing this to yourself.”

     I looked at different residentials to step down to, but it became clear that none would take me with my restraint history. So I had two options: the CCU or the intensive residential. My team decided that CCU wouldn’t be an appropriate fit, so we began planning for the IRTP.  They wouldn’t take me until I could get off my 1-1, and my hospital wouldn’t take me off until I could stop getting restrained. This all meant I was determined to stop getting restrained, determined to get myself together enough to escape that place. 

     It wasn’t sudden or easy. There were steps forward and steps backward. Fewer restraints in the morning turned into only having a 1-1 for the afternoon. I took my meds without complaint. I ate as many meals as I could, I even helped set up therapeutic groups, and began leading every community meeting. There were slip-ups, but eventually, I got the go-ahead. I was leaving the hospital.

     It was like a switch had been flipped. I was given a discharge date, and everything started to come back into focus. I started writing again, there is a page in my journal of a question asked on March 17, “why is everything bad all the time?” Two days later, I made an entry that started with “the short answer is that not everything is bad. Some days are harder than others.” I spent each day as distracted as possible, just waiting for my ambulance. 

     One day my doctor came to meet with me and requested we meet in the quiet room. He told me my discharge date had been pushed back and that the new hospital wasn’t ready to take me yet. He had brought me to the quiet room because he expected an adverse reaction. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I didn’t get restrained for my reaction. I managed. I cried, and I was angry, but I did not get restrained. 

     When my discharge date finally came, I was elated. I packed all my things into paper bags and said goodbye to all the patients and staff who had made my time there more bearable. I got into my tenth ambulance and knew it would be my last. 

     I got to the IRTP and realized what I was in for. An “all-girl” treatment program that was little more than a glorified boarding school located at a state hospital in southern Massachusetts. My days were entirely made up of hours of schooling far below my grade level, required groups that didn’t even remotely address therapeutic topics, and sitting in my room waiting for bedtime. When I did meet with my clinician, it was often for under an hour once a week. The psychiatrist met with me once in my entire stay and did nothing but change my diagnosis in his chart because, according to him, “we only give borderline to the patients we don’t like. For you, we will give PTSD.”

     I was there for less than a week when I decided I needed to get out. Nothing could be done for me there, and almost everybody around me knew it. My parents and I started looking for different programs, one in California, one in Connecticut, and finally, one in Massachusetts. I stayed at the IRTP for a month while we tried to find a place for me, a month without groups, a month without proper school, and a month without real treatment. I was told that I could only sign myself out after I had been evaluated and proven safe, which required 30 days. As soon as I was given the go-ahead, I signed the three-day and left.

     I spent three weeks at home before admission to my next residential, a six-week program in a neighboring town. There I received hours of groups that trained me in coping skills, 1-1 therapy where I could actually talk about my experiences, and, best of all, they didn’t allow restraints. There was never even a possibility that they could put their hands on me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so much more helpful than any other treatment I had received in those months that it seemed close to perfection. Even when I had a breakdown midway through about wanting to leave treatment, they stayed with me and helped me find a path to cope.

     Finally, on July 15, after seven months of hospitalization, I packed up all my belongings and went home for the last time. I have been home ever since, and on January 31, five days after writing this, I will be celebrating my 200 days home. Adding to this, it is now May 11, which means I am 300 days home. Adding again on June 20, I am now 340 days home. New addition, July 15, 2023, I am one year home!

     I spent 11 months between the ages of 14 and 18 in hospitals. Not counting the months and years of therapy, intensive outpatients, or partials. I spent one Thanksgiving, one Christmas, one New Year’s, and three Easters in hospitals. I lost countless days in school, my sister’s sixteenth birthday, and family vacations. I lost the Billie Eilish concert I was given tickets to for my eighteenth birthday. I lost choir concerts and school dances. I lost prom and graduation and had to repeat my senior year. I sacrificed four years of my life to a system that left me with more trauma than help. 

     Not everything is black and white. There are some days at home that I can’t stop thinking of the restraints and can barely focus on class. And in the hospital, there were days that I felt true joy, especially talking to staff I loved. There were a few that gave me hope, a light in those dark times. The counselor that shared a poem with me, a line of which is tattooed on my left forearm. The counselor who gave me a sketchbook with a note saying, “be kind to yourself gorgeous.” The counselor who wrote in my goodbye book, “you are going from being the one who is locked up to the one holding the keys.” They all saw a hope in me that I had not found yet. I will forever be grateful.

     These good people, however, do not cancel out the harm that was done to me. The harm that has been done to countless other people, countless other children. There are still days when I wake up with a racing heart, convinced I am still at the hospital. I have explained to people countless times that I am extremely complicated with touch and that an adverse reaction to a hug does not mean I don’t like you as a person. I can still look at my arms and see scars from wounds that got infected because they had bare hands pressed into them for hours. 

     Hospitals changed who I am. They made me take on the identity of a patient for far too long. They gave me PTSD. They altered my course in life. But they also gave me a reason to fight. To speak up for every child who has ever experienced a restraint. To write pages and pages of poetry and prose about the trauma they left me with and how I have overcome it. To share my story in the hopes that nobody ever has to go through what I went through. 

     I am Grey Ganz Poduska. I am nineteen. I sing in three different choirs. I have been playing piano since I was three. I am the middle of three sisters. Both of my parents are the third child in their family. My lucky number is three, and I have three wishes for the hospital system. I wish for better de-escalation tactics. I wish for better support for people actively experiencing the trauma of restraints. And my last wish is to never, ever find myself in a hospital again.




 

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