Blackbird Has Spoken:Part 1
This story is dedicated with gratitude to Sandie McElliott, my Barnabas and gift from the Father.
Ivy Ledbetter huddled on the floor, swimming in her oversized hospital pajamas. Her white stocking feet tapped together as she sang the hymn that Nana always sang whenever Ivy was scared or sad or sick. She was there now, snuggled into Nana's soft bosoms and joined in with her sweet voice, trilling the sacred song of a blackbird speaking as morning dawns.
"Nana, why do blackbirds speak? All the other birds sing. Do blackbirds have magic? And who was the first bird?"
"Goodness gracious, Ivy, you do ask a lot of questions that I don't have the answers to. Never lose your sense of curiosity and wonder. But for now, just think about when morning breaks tomorrow and there's a new day of possibilities, and new mercies from our Father in heaven."
The voice of a stranger snatched her back to reality.
"Ivy? Good morning. How are you feeling?"
The realization of where she was and why hit her. She clutched herself protectively.
"That was a lovely song you were singing. What is it?" said the woman.
Ivy swallowed hard and began to cry.
"Ivy, you're going to be okay. Things are going to get better. You are going to heal and you're not alone. Time to start a new day."
"No. I can't. It's too hard," she said.
"Not with so many people around you who are going to help you. And people, everyday, normal people like you who are going through a hard season are here in this together with you. You are not alone."
'You are not alone,' Ivy thought. The very words Nana always said.
Ivy looked up into the tender eyes of the young psychiatric nurse assigned to her. Some of the ice began to thaw and Ivy began to relax.
"I forgot who you are," said Ivy, embarrassed.
"Clara Cyborn at your service." Her smile reminded Ivy of lights turning on on a Christmas tree. "I'm your contact nurse. That's a cold clinical term for friend and supporter. I'll be checking in with you during the day to see how you're doing and anytime you need to talk I will be here for you. We met last night when you were transferred here from the med floor. You were pretty out of it."
A weak smile crept across Ivy's face. She let go of herself and shyly gave Clara her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Clara. I'm sorry I didn't remember. I'm kind of hungry."
"A very good sign, I'd say," said Clara. "Breakfast will be served after goals group."
"Goals group? Is that a cold clinical term for campers around the fire singing Kum-by-ah?"
"Ah, a sense of humor. Well, not exactly," Clara laughed, "but it's short and sweet and I'll be there with you. May I give you a hand?"
Ivy grabbed Clara's outstretched hand and came to her feet.
"Your robe is on the end of your bed there. Are you ready?"
Ivy hesitated, her heart suddenly beating with trepidation, but knowing she had to face the day like it or not. "Well, not really, but let's get on with it."
The door opened and Ivy faced her first active day on the eleventh floor of Mercy Hospital, better known to the world as the psych ward.
Ivy looked around the circle of strangers. The only familiar face was that of Clara. There were twelve other "guests," - a sugar-coated word for patients - and three staff. Clara appeared to be the facilitator.
"Good morning everyone," she said cheerfully. "I'm Clara Cyborn, one of the nurses here on the unit. Welcome to goals group."
No one appeared to Ivy to care or feel any happier to be there than she did. She looked around at the people in the circle. Six men and six women herself included. A few stuck out to her. One middle-aged woman with short reddish hair with streaks of gray at the temple - indicating she'd stopped coloring - looked desolate. It was painful to witness because Ivy knew that feeling. She was the only one besides Ivy that was still in pajamas. 'Must be her first day,' Ivy thought. 'I wonder what her story is.'
A rotund, gray-haired man of about sixty-five sat with his legs stretched out and arms folded. Ivy could see he was trying to stop trembling. A young twenty-something woman with blonde hair streaked with pink dye and piled messily on her head was aggressively chewing gum. She too had arms crossed. There were a few who were relaxed, smiling, and chatting quietly. 'How can they be so calm and happy? If they're so happy, what are they doing here?' She felt a surge of anxiety and despair. 'How did I get here? What would Nana think?' How she needed Nana.
The staffers were easy to identify. They had an obvious familiarity with the setting, sat up straighter, and didn't look hollow and frightened. Two of them had clipboards - a dead giveaway. They smiled broadly - another dead giveaway. 'Easy for them to smile,' thought Ivy. 'They get to go home to their happy, normal lives at the end of the day and tell their spouses and friends all about the fruit loops at the nut house they encountered today. Their friends will then laugh or shake their heads and say, "Man, I don't know how you do it working with "those people."'
Clara proceeded. "For those of you who are new, goals group is where you make one, two, or three goals for the day. Goals are important for a few reasons. Number one, you are here to get stabilized and on your way to recovery and that means taking steps toward that end. Having a goal or two every day and seeking to achieve them is a step toward wellness. This is not a passive program. While you are all here to rest and recoup, that is only a part of your purpose here. Participation in the program will equip you to return home and resume life with new tools and resources to continue toward recovery. Secondly, it's encouraging and motivating when you achieve a goal. When you came in you were not feeling yourself and it's easy to feel bad about yourself, so meeting a goal is good for your self-esteem. Does that make sense to everyone?"
'Make sense?' Ivy thought. 'How can anything make sense when your broken, shattered life brought you to a room on the eleventh floor of Mercy Hospital?' Although she liked Clara very much, nothing the woman had just said made any sense to her.
A handsome, bearded man with a clipboard jumped in.
"Hi. I'm Nick and I'm a social worker here. Making goals can seem overwhelming to many of you. But we encourage starting small and few. As you start feeling better you'll be able to expand. On your first couple of days making a to-do list for your spouse, calling your insurance company, and finding resources when you are discharged is not realistic. Keeping it simple is best. Why don't we get started? Jeb, you met your goals yesterday. How did it feel?"
Jeb looked to Ivy to be in his early twenties. He was tall and lean and rather skittish, tapping his fingers together in his lap. His eyes were averted to the doorway to the left. He cleared his throat. and in halting speech said he was able to call home yesterday and talk to his sister about bringing him some personal items from home. He also made a list of questions for the doctor. His nervous smile at Nick prompted the question about today's goals.
He cleared his throat a second time. "Um, today I want to make a list of questions for the med class."
'What's a med class?' wondered Ivy. Suddenly she was overwhelmed by living, and being on this strange and fearsome planet called a "Mental health Unit" - a sugar-coated, clinical word for "psych ward." She felt herself emotionally curl up in the fetal position. Mentally she checked out, returning to Nana while the rest of the group discussed their goals.
Ivy snuggled down on to the pillows of Nana's breasts. "Nana, I'm afraid. Sing our song. Nana, I'm so afraid."
"Its alright, honey," Nana said, and the room was filled with her singing God's praise.
Once again Ivy was summoned back to reality.
"Ivy, are you ready to make a goal for today?" Clara asked.
"I don't know. Maybe just to keep breathing."
"Well, that's a good thing, but maybe something a little more challenging."
"I...I just don't know." The pressure built, her anxiety reaching new heights. Her leg jiggled with a frenzy, a common occurrence among the patients.
The third staffer, a forty-year-old Asian woman by the name of Trish, had a sweet smile. She looked at Ivy with bright, compassionate eyes. "Ivy, how about getting dressed before breakfast?"
Ivy thought for a moment. Getting dressed felt overwhelming, but at the same time, she was disgusted wearing the worn, starchy, gargantuan-sized, aqua and pink striped pajamas. They made her feel pathetic.
"Yes, I can do that," she said.
"Anything else you can think of?"
Ivy looked to Clara for the answer. Clara just smiled encouragingly.
Tears brimmed Ivy's eyes. "I just don't know. You're pressuring me."
"It's okay, Ivy," Clara said. "Getting dressed is a good goal. Didn't you tell me earlier you were hungry? Going to breakfast can be a goal."
"I don't know if I can eat now. But I'll try."
"Good," said Clara. Clara turned to the group. "Okay everyone, that went well." She checked her watch. "Breakfast is in ten minutes. Be sure to check the whiteboard for your group schedule today."
Ivy could not comprehend what was going on. Her life was so broken, searing with anxiety. How could they even think of making all the guests go to groups? It seemed so insensitive to their incapacitating pain and need for rest.
Ivy was still in her chair when all the others had dispersed. Trish approached her. "Ivy, you've still got time to dress."
Ivy sighed with resignation. "Right, get dressed." She headed off to her room. The ward and the world were suddenly surreal. She felt detached. She dressed in slow motion. The effort was exhausting. She sat on the bed for a moment, gathered herself and followed the nauseating smell of french toast and coffee.
Ivy ate only a few bites of breakfast. Afterward, she returned to her room where she would be safe. She had twenty minutes before the onslaught of "groups" would begin. Ivy found her name on the "Name that mental illness?" Seriously, the fear of having to talk about her griefs and losses in front of a bunch of strangers punched her gut with dread. After a few minutes of being in her room, she heard a light tap at her door.
"Come in," said Ivy.
Clara stuck her head in the door. "Ivy, the doctor wants to see you now?"
"Everyone meets with a psychiatrist every day. He diagnoses and prescribes and monitors your medications."
Ivy's heart.sank. Just getting through a nanosecond was exhausting and terrifying. Seeing a doctor, answering questions and being treated like a disturbed mental case was more than she could bear.
She lay down on the bed and curled up and cried. "I can't. I don't want to see a doctor. I can't handle living and you want me to see some nosy doctor who's going to make me a zombie with medications." She wept harder.
Clara sat on the bed next to her. Her voice was soothing. "Ivy, the doctors are here to make things better. They don't turn people into zombies. The medications are to help you feel better. I promise you that."
After a few minutes, Ivy's tears subsided and she dragged the boulder of pain she carried to the doctor's office on the unit.
Moments later Ivy knocked on the door to the small office. She heard a gruff "Come in." The doctor stood behind his desk as Ivy entered. He wore an expensive blue suit and an air of self-importance. Reading glasses balanced on top of his head. Without making eye contact with her he told her to take a seat. Staring down at her chart, he said. "Ivy Ledbetter." It was a statement, not a question.
Ivy sat down, numb, and nodded.
The doctor glanced up at her. "You are Ivy?" he said impatiently.
Annoyed and over the edge, Ivy said, "Yes. Ivy. Ivy Ledbetter. What of it?"
With a condescending smile, the doctor sat down and introduced himself. "I'm Dr. Stricklen, Ms. Ledbetter. My, your last name is quite a mouthful." He looked up to see her reaction.
"I'm glad you like it Dr. Strychnine," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Touché, doctor." Vulnerable as she was, Ivy still had enough pluck not to be pushed around.
He was not amused. Flipping a page over in her chart he began his interrogation. "It says here you took twenty-five Percocets and they pumped your stomach." Glaring over his glasses, he demanded the unnecessary confirmation.
Embarrassed, Ivy looked down at her feet. "Yes," she whispered.
The smug smile returned. "Hmm. I'd say that's a bad day, Ms. Ledbetter."
"Hey, don't break a sweat with your compassionate bedside manner," she spat.
He returned his gaze to her chart again. "Your medical history looks pretty innocuous. I see you have a mental health history of some sort, judging by your medication list. Bipolar? Borderline Personality? Schizophrenia?" He pulled his glasses off and rounded off another barb. "Surely you must have one of those?"
Ivy lost it and came to her feet. "I want a different doctor."
"And why would that be, Ms. Ledbetter?"
Ivy flew to the door. As she opened it she turned to the doctor. "Because you, Dr. Strychnine, are a poisonous weasel from the abyss." With that, she slammed the door and let out a scream of indignation.
Ivy's emotional eruption immediately alerted the staff to a possible safety issue. Their greatest concern was escalation. Ivy stormed into her room and slammed the door. Frantically pacing she cursed and cried loud enough for everyone to hear. Nick, Trish, and Clara calmly but quickly sent the guests to their rooms until the situation was diffused. Since Clara had the best rapport and trust with Ivy, she approached Ivy's door and tapped gently. Ivy didn't seem to hear it. Clara carefully opened the door and stood, keeping a safe distance.
"Ivy?" she said gently, "Can I help in some way?"
Ivy then recognized that Clara was there. She stopped her pacing and stood frozen in the middle of the room, looking at Clara with a confused expression. Tears began to spill out all over again.
"What about the doctor, Ivy? It didn't go well?"
Ivy remained standing in the middle of the room. "He...he was so rude, so condescending. He treated me like a pathetic loser."
"I see," said Clara. "Do you want to sit down and talk about it?"
Ivy sighed, indecisive, befuddled, and humiliated. "I guess so."
"Okay. Let's go out here in the common room and sit down and talk. The guests are all busy. We'll have privacy."
Ivy numbly followed Clara, sat on a couch, and began trembling. Clara sat in a chair to her left.
"Can you tell me what happened Ivy?"
Ivy suddenly felt another wave of exhaustion. She tried to summon the strength to discuss what happened. Rubbing her forehead with agitation she told the whole story to Clara with many tears. "It was so humiliating. Why is he a doctor here? We need people we can trust. You said the doctors want to help us get well. I'm not going back to him. I want another doctor."
"Absolutely you may have another doctor, Ivy. We don't expect people to work with a doctor they are not comfortable with. Doctor Stricklen is new. In fact, this is his first week here. What I can do is give this information to the nursing director. We have three other doctors. I think Dr. Wong might be a good choice. I'll set it up. Would that be okay with you?
She trembled worse at the daunting task of being. "I just don't want to be here anymore." She meant life, not just the ward. They sat in silence a moment then Ivy said, "I guess so. Another doctor. Please, yes."
"Okay. I'll get on it right now. Why don't you take a rest until lunch and then you can go to groups afterward."
"Thank you so much."
"You're welcome, Ivy."
Clara left Ivy, and with restrained fury headed to contact the director of nursing. This was the third complaint about Dr. Stricklen's attitude with the patients. Sweet, smiling, gentle Clara was now a force to be reckoned with. "Look out Dr. Weasel," she seethed. "Your weasel hide is mine."
© 2016 Lori Colbo. All rights reserved.
- Blackbird Has Spoken: Part 2
Clara Cyborn, psychiatric nurse at Mercy hospital, is outraged by reports of Dr. Stricklen's mistreatment of the patients. Ivy has a very moving connection with Cloe, a frequent flier to the ward.
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Lori Colbo