Esmine Green’s ghost is haunting me. I cannot get the image of her death out of my head. A psychotic woman does not deserve to die in agony on the floor of a modern hospital. She has rights too. The timing of her death and psychosis is what triggers my grief. I was in a psychiatric ward on July 4th, 2002, just like Esmine.
I remember it was Independence Day only because most of the staff were off that day. It was a relaxing holiday with the shrinks gone. I’m thankful that I didn’t end up in Kings County Hospital’s loony bin, like Esmine. I live in Brooklyn. I could easily have ended up there and died too.
The tragic online video podcast of a crazy woman flopping like a fish on the floor while a security guard just watched gives me the willies.
My crazy mind led me out of New York City. I was in Jersey and ended up at a place called Trinitas. Watching the video of Esmine squirm on the floor makes me realize that the ward in Elizabeth was much better than the huge hospital facility here in New York City. There were only forty or so patients in my wing. There must have been at least ten staff on call at all times. Yes, treatment was better at Trinitas.
Art classes. At Trinitas Hospital we had art class. I remember vividly now that I’m over all the bitterness I had towards Trinitas psychiatric care. They kept me against my own will.
Interns. There were intern art therapists at Trinitas– two young girls, probably in their early twenties, fresh out of college, willing to do their best to help others, like me.
Clay. Molding clay. The interns passed around globs of white clay and promised to bake our creations once done. The girls granted special attention to me, perhaps because I had schizophrenia, unlike many of the other patients there who suffered from mental illnesses ranging from major depression to Alzheimers. The pretty white girls must have been warned about me; the psychotic dude in Unit D.
“What is that, Charles?”
“A crown of thorns.”
“It’s very small. It may be difficult for us to place it in the oven. Why not make a toothpick holder, something you take home with you?”
“I don’t want to take this home. I don’t want you to bake my crown. Just leave it alone.”
“It’s beautful. Such detail!” They assured me in a paranoid state.
They were so patient with me. Sketching was so much easier for me. My rendering of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s face on the body of the Statue of Liberty made everyone laugh. A bi-polar guy told me it was funny. I told him to shut the fuck up.
Older, seasoned staff are my only complaint regarding the medical treatment I received at Trinitas. They were jaded, seen it all and only had comments like– “Oh, you are going to go through a very painful period following your psychotic breakdown, Mr. Taylor.”
They were right, but a little encouragement would have been nice.
I was out of cigarettes and nobody was coming to visit me. I didn’t want to call a friend for a favor. I was in Jersey anyway. Why inconvenience my friends and old lovers to make a trip all the way out to Elizabeth? I turned to the impressionable artistic interns.
“Will you buy me a pack of cigarettes if I give you the money? Nobody loves me and nobody is coming to see me. I have cash in the bag that the nurses had taken from me when I checked in here. Will you go into my bag, get $20 and buy me four packs of Newports?”
“We can’t go into your belongings, Charles, but you can sign for your bag at noon today. Sure,” the skinner of the two interns offered.
I couldn’t believe it. There was hope in the world. I gained hope, and days later was released from the arms of the intern artists.
After watching Esmine kick her legs as if a house had landed on her in Oz, I’ve concluded that Kings County Psychiatric Hospital does not offer art classes for its patients. They should. It would be a great start to providing better services to the mentally ill and there must be untainted interns willing to work in such places who unlike seasoned staff can offer real flavor to successful hospital care.