"A Small Collection"
My name is Grey Poduska. I am eighteen years old and I have been to five different psychiatric facilities in the past three years. In my time there, I watched countless children and teenagers animalistically restrained. These are a few of my stories.
At my first inpatient, I was fourteen years old. I was only there for a stay of ten days, and yet I still witnessed multiple restraints. One that still haunts me is one I didn’t even visually see, but heard entirely. I was in the classroom of our unit when a code was called, and suddenly the doors were locked and nobody was allowed in or out of the room. I heard staff running to the room of a patient who was roughly sixteen at the time. Through sobs, my peers and I listened as this patient begged not to be touched, crying out “please, please stop! I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!” We heard the screams of this child as staff put their hands on them and sedated them. It was more than heartbreaking.
At the same hospital two years later, I was threatened with restraint multiple times, and one night, a code was called. They were trying to send me back to the unit I had previously been on, even after I had expressed that I faced trauma there. When I asked to call my parents before any changes to my treatment were made, I was told that I would not be able to call them unless I moved units. I was sixteen. I spent hours begging directly to my nurse, the charge nurse, and several staff just to use the phone to contact my parents – who were my legal guardians and the ones paying for treatment – only to be told that I would not be allowed to. Security was called and every patient was sent to their rooms with the exception of me and one other. More and more staff were gathering around me, listening to me plead for just five minutes on the phone with my parents. I never raised my voice. I never threatened a soul. I never made actions to hurt myself or others. I spoke calmly and clearly. I asked for a basic human right, the basic right of a scared teenager, to speak to my mom and dad. I heard staff saying there would be physical consequences if I wasn’t “taken care of.” After an hour of pleading to speak to my parents, I finally asked if I could call my older sister. They allowed that, but when I asked her if she could tell my parents to call me, they intercepted the call from them and once again took away my ability to talk to them. It was nearly midnight by the time I was able to speak to my parents, and even then the phone call was to be no longer than five minutes, supervised by the very nurse who had intercepted the calls previously.
At the treatment center I was sent to after that hospitalization, staff were not allowed to put their hands on patients, but they found other ways to torment us. I was screamed at by a nurse for tapping my friend on the shoulder, a technique that she had expressed to me previously as helpful when she was in a dissociative state. I watched a child strapped into a stretcher after staff claimed he was threatening them. The claim that the staff made was entirely dishonest, as he had never expressed any ideas of harming them or others. He was thirteen, had barely hit puberty. Just a kid. And still EMTs were called and loaded him into an ambulance that took him away to an inpatient.
At my next inpatient, I was kept on 1:1 supervision for three weeks straight. My very first night there, the staff threatened to call a code and restrain me simply because I expressed that I wasn’t feeling safe. I tried to explain to them that what I needed was someone to listen to me, to validate the fear and anxiety that came with my transition to the unit. But no such empathy came my way. A few days later, they took away all of my possessions, including my clothes, toothbrush, blanket, and books. I was allowed no blanket to sleep with and had a bare mattress. This went on for a couple days before I “earned” my belongings back. Even after all of this, I was discharged after three weeks. They had enough fear that I couldn’t be safe that they kept me on a 1:1 for weeks, but ultimately decided that I should go home with no follow up other than once-weekly therapy. I was back in the ER three weeks later.
At my most recent inpatient, I witnessed more restraints than I had ever seen in my life. My second night, my roommate was restrained. This girl was 5’2”, roughly 120 pounds, and only fifteen. The cause of her restraint was a code called on a different patient. Not even on her. The patient had shoved her down stairs because she was sassing staff. Not because she had aggravated him. Not because she had made an attempt to hurt anyone, but simply because a teenager was giving ‘sass’ to staff. This girl was held down on a bare mattress by six adult men, one of whom said they should put a bag over her head. From our room we could hear her crying: “I can’t breathe! Stop, I can't breathe!” I stepped out of our room to beg the staff to let her go, to listen to her pleas for air, and was met with stony faces and demands to get back in my room. When I asked to speak to the human rights staff, I was directed to a nurse. There was conveniently no human rights officer working that night. I filed a complaint that same night, which was “lost,” and I was forced to refile it six weeks later. By that time they simply told me that nothing could be done.
In that same ward, another roommate of mine was restrained right in front of me in the middle of the night. They had acted out in the evening, but at this point they were calm and ready to be on good behavior. This didn’t stop the staff from coming into our room, holding them down while they screamed, and sedating them, all while I was forced to watch from my bed. Nobody told me to look away. Nobody asked me to step out. And after the restraint happened, nobody bothered to check on my roommate or myself, both of whom had just been through a massive trauma.
This is only a small collection of the stories I could share, the ones I feel comfortable speaking about. If I was in a place to share more, I would. The system is broken in every place. This is not the actions of any single institution. Every program has stories like this. I write this as I am sitting in a hospital, awaiting placement, where I have been for the last month. For a month I have had no treatment, have been on 1:1 supervision, and haven’t felt fresh air, much less been outside. I hope the system changes not only for my own sake, but for the hundreds of children in the exact same place I am in right now who are just looking for someone who has their best interests at heart. Someone who cares. I wish I could promise that a psychiatric ward would give them that. I really wish I could.