Blackbird Has Spoken: Part 2
Morning has broken like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the world.
~ Morning Has Broken, lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon
From Blackbird Has Spoken Part 1
Ivy Ledbetter woke up on the eleventh floor of Mercy Hospital, better known as the psych ward. Her emotions were all over the place, and when overwhelmed, she would detach from reality and retreat into childhood with her Nana who always sang a hymn to comfort her when she was sad or scared. The hymn made mention of a blackbird which fascinated her. She struggled through the first day on the ward learning and trying to cope with the routine of the program and just experiencing a psychiatric hospitalization. She also has a bad experience with a new psychiatrist who insults and demeans her.
An excerpt: 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 "psyche 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.
Clara is outraged
Clara barged into the office of Elizabeth Strathem, director of nursing for Mercy Hospital. Strathem looked up from her paperwork with a deep sigh. "Can I help you, Clara?" Her voice sounded tired, stressed, and irritable.
"Oh, gee, you don't sound too good, Elizabeth," said Clara.
"Yes, not good."
"Well, I'm sorry to bother you, really, but something has to be done about Dr. Stricklen. He's..."
Before Clara could continue, Elizabeth closed her file and put her head on her hand with exasperation. "Yes, yes, Dr. Stricklen. Take a number."
"It looks like you've heard something too."
"You have no idea. The man is an arrogant weasel."
Clara couldn't help herself and burst into laughter.
"Just what are you laughing about? There is nothing funny about Dr. Stricklen."
"I'm sorry. It's just that that's what my patient, Ivy Ledbetter called him, only she added a little more color and texture to it."
"Care to elaborate?"
"The exact words she used were, 'Dr. Strychnine,' and a 'poisonous weasel from the abyss.'"
"Uh huh. Nailed it. So what happened with Miss Ivy? Let's get this over with and I'll add it to the rest of the pile of complaints."
Clara told her the story of Ivy's encounter with Stricklen. As she spoke her face got redder and her voice rose higher. "This is the fourth complaint I've had from patients in four days."
"Can you give me any specifics on the others?"
"I can. First of all, everyone tells me he calls the mental health unit Club Eleven, you know for the eleventh floor. He makes references that it's a vacations spot for mental cases."
"Yep, that's what I'm hearing. What else?"
"Well, Jeremy Bender said Stricklen told him whining can either be a symptom of anxiety or a weak character, and which one did Jeremy think applied. Sylvia Vogel said he told her she wasn't having mood swings, just too subject to drama and a drama 101 class at the local community college might be more helpful than a prescription for Lorazapam. Chloe Ludlow said he told her the pink dye in her hair indicated a serious personality disorder and that he was glad she was utilizing her frequent flyer miles to vacation once more at Club Eleven. You know Cloe, she's been here many times before. And now this incident with Ivy Ledbetter. Something has to be done, Elizabeth."
Head now planted on both hands in despair, Elizabeth said "If you want to know the truth, Clara, I could use a room at Club Eleven too. I'm getting heat every which way from patients and family members and some of the other doctors on the unit. You wouldn't believe the things he's said to them."
"How can one man create so much havoc in just under one week? The man needs to be slapped and tossed into the street."
"I know, Clara. You're right. But unfortunately, Thomas C. Gimmmler, our illustrious new hospital administrator - touted to be a trail blazer with cutting edge ideas, mind you..." - she gestured sticking her finger down her throat - "is the one who hired Stricklen. Seems they've been golfing and racket ball buddies for years. Anyway, Gimmler told me Stricklen's got an outstanding reputation for moving patients through quickly. It's all about money. It's always about money in these situations."
"Well, no surprise, really. Why does money always take precedence over patient care? Hospitals are about people's lives."
Elizabeth held up her hand. "I know. Tell me about it. But Gimmler won't even listen. He won't read the reports. He just tells me how he owes Stricklen a big favor, how great the guy is for business, that he consistently scores under par, and makes a mean Gimlet." Elizabeth put another finger down her throat.
"You can't be serious. How does he get off with saying the things he says? There must be something that can be done." Suddenly a quizzical look came over her. "What's a gimlet?"
"All I know is it's full of vodka. Listen Clara, I'm out of ideas. Keep submitting reports. Refer those who have complaints to Dr. Wong, Dr. Scanlan, or Dr. Fairfax, and encourage them to file formal complaints. I don't know what else to tell you for now."
"This is bull. Bull!" Clara stormed off leaving Elizabeth helpless and in sore need of a cigarette.
Five minutes later Elizabeth was up on the roof of Mercy Hospital blowing smoke into the wind. "Great. We've got a sewer rat and a weasel running Mercy," she said to no one. "And a smoke isn't going to do it." At that moment a crow came in for a landing on a wire stretched across part of the roof. Elizabeth confided in him. "Hey Blackie. It's been a rotten day. Do you have rats and weasels in your diet? Because if you do, I've got one of each you can have. And bon appétit to you, Blackie."
Blackie cocked his head. He seemed to be trying hard to understand this women's woes. Elizabeth took one last long drag of her cigarette and blew out. The blast of blue smoke blew toward Blackie. He hopped a few inches over.
"Oh gosh, sorry Blackie. Second hand smoke. I get it. You know, after work I'm going out for a drink. I heard there's a new drink called Brain Hemorrhage. Oh, wait, I've already had one today."
Blackie flew away as fast as he could.
While Ivy picked at lunch, Cloe, the young girl with the pink streaked, messy hair tried to get Ivy to engage.
"I'm Cloe. You're Ivy, right?"
"Uh huh," Ivy said listlessly. She continued poking her food with her fork. She didn't feel like talking.
"The first day is the hardest." Cloe said. " Each day gets a little easier."
"I can't imagine anything will ever be easier. Especially being here."
"I know what you mean, but I'm telling you the truth. I ought to know, I've been here a time or two before."
Ivy set down her fork and looked into the eyes of this kind, young stranger in surprise. "You've been here before?"
"Yep. A frequent flyer, as the professionals say when they think you're out of earshot."
"Um, do you mind if I ask why? Oh that was too personal. I'm so sorry."
"Don't worry about it," said Cloe. "I'm the one that brought it up."
"If it gets easier, as you say, then how come...well, how come you're a frequent flyer here, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Here in Club Eleven? That's what Dr. Strickland calls it, you know. He said it's so good I utilize my frequent flyer miles to vacation here."
"That jerk. I can't believe that guy. I told him off."
Cloe's eyes lit up. "Really? What did you say."
Ivy cast a sly smile, "Well, I demanded a new doctor after he insulted me several times. He asked me why and I told him."
"And?" Cloe said.
"And I told him, "Because you, Dr. Strychnine, are a poisonous weasel from the abyss."
Cloe's coffee spewed out of her mouth and she doubled over with shrieks of laughter. She slapped the table then held her hand out for a high five. "You go girl. Strychnine, poisonous weasel from the abyss. Girl, you slay me."
Ivy felt light for the first time in forever, it seemed. "You know," she said to Cloe, "it just did get a little easier. Thanks for the encouragement. Anyone who despises Dr. Weasel is a friend of mine."
Ivy was suddenly starving and devoured lunch, all the while laughing and chatting with her sweet, colorful new friend, young Cloe. Cloe filled her in on how the program works and they giggled about the honeyed code words "guests" for patients, "psychiatric unit" for psych ward, and "Doctor" for weasel.
When lunch was over it was time for the next group. Cloe said "Well I'm off to recreation group."
Ivy rolled her eyes. "Is that where they offer rehabilitative basket weaving to pacify the loony tunes?"
"Actually, no. I really like the group. First of all, it isn't demeaning, not to me at least. Sometimes we do some lame therapy games. It all depends on the therapist. But I love the art stuff. Art is my thing."
Ivy was envious. "I wish I was going. I have to go to grief and loss."
Cloe gave her a sympathetic look. "Gosh, I'm sorry. Bad way to start off." Then she smiled. "Hit me up at dinner and I'll cheer you up. Tonight's movie night, too. Popcorn and everything."
"I doubt I'll be up to it after grief and loss discussion," Ivy said, using her fingers as quotation marks.
"Believe me, it will be the perfect anecdote for grief group hangover. Pinky swear," she said holding up her pinky finger.
They hooked pinky fingers, and the friendship was sealed.
Cloe and Ivy pinky swear
Grief class trigger
Ivy didn't last long in grief and loss group. The counselor was probably around Ivy's age, mid thirties she guessed. His name was Eric. There was something about him that creeped her out but she couldn't put her finger on it. He wasn't handsome exactly, but had a rugged, outdoorsman look many women would find attractive. He had a strong Jersey accent, but was not brash. He didn't seem the type to facilitate a group about grief and loss. Ivy figured a nurturing older woman would be the type.
Eric explained what the group's purpose was, and what the group format would be like. No one would be forced to share but participation was strongly encouraged. He began defining terms regarding grief and loss. As he talked on Ivy didn't hear anything he said but was riveted watching him. Anxiety built as she listened to his voice, observed his body language, his contoured biceps, and his dark curly hair. There was an uncanny, but creepy familiarity about him that she was trying grasp hold of. At one moment, Eric ran his hand through his curly hair. The moment was like déjà vu. 'Who? Where do I know this guy from?' The blood suddenly drained from Ivy's face and she went weak in the knees. Eric was a dead ringer for Roger, the man who murdered her mother and then turned the gun on himself. Ivy bolted from the room. She barely made it to the commode when she got to her room. After washing her face she wondered why God was allowing this constant buffeting. If He loved her so much, why was he allowing things like this to happen? Hospitals were supposed to be safe places. Not happy places, but safe. She'd been surprised so far that at least the experience hadn't been like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it had been disturbing nonetheless.
In the five hours since she'd gotten out of bed that morning, Ivy had had a wild, rapid cycling of emotions with extreme intensities. She was utterly spent physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. She drifted off into fitful sleep with images of Roger and Eric running their hands through their hair and making threatening gestures. She sat bolt upright on her bed, terror tripping her heart and cold sweat dripping from every pour. "God, will this nightmare go on forever? I need a break here. I want to go home to Nana and Mama and Jesus. There's nothing left for me here."
Grief and loss group
Sixty four count
The movie was cancelled that night due to technical issues with the DVD player. "Let's go color," Cloe said to Ivy." She took Ivy's hand and pulled her along, but Ivy stopped her.
"What do you mean, 'let's go color?' Color what?"
"Don't you remember coloring as a kid? I begged my mom for years to get me the sixty four count box of crayola's. I finally got them for my eighth birthday."
"And you want to color here at Club Eleven? Where do you color?
Cloe nodded her head cheerily. "They have a recreation room. It's got a television and couches and chairs, a library, board games, jigsaw puzzles, and paper, coloring books, crayons and markers."
"Are you serious? Cloe, I'm thirty four years old. I quit coloring when I was eleven. And I don't appreciate this hospital treating us "guests" like babies. Coloring, for crying out loud?"
Cloe's smile drained from her face. "Ivy, you totally miss their intentions here. When we do arts and craft things here it's because it's soothing and it feels good to be creative. It's a good way to unwind and kind of shut out the noise in your head." Cloe smiled with amusement. "You have those squirrels in your head like I do?"
"Well, I suppose I do."
"Well then, Miss Ivy, have some cheese with your whine and come color with me." She dragged Ivy along once again.
A few minutes later the two pinky sworn friends were at a table surrounded by crayola crayons - three boxes of worn, sixty four count, and a box full of pieces - colored pencils, and colored markers and replete with drawing paper and coloring books of every kind. Cloe looked like a kid in a candy store. She picked up a pile of coloring books.
"Oh my gosh. I can't believe it. They got new books since the last time I was here. Cool beans."
"How long has it been...you know, since you were here last?"
Cloe looked up the ceiling and counted. "Ummm, two and a half months ago, I think. Wait, no. No, it was two months ago... I think." She smiled, chose an adult coloring book with intricate patterns of flowers and shapes, and chose a turquoise marker to begin. Ivy sat there quietly with her hands in her lap. 'Two months ago, frequent flyer. I don't see it,' she thought. She felt sad and bewildered for Cloe. She remembered that Cloe had evaded her question about why she keeps coming to the psych ward. Ivy uttered a prayer for her friend.
"Grab a book, poker face. Swallow your thirty four year old pride and relax." She tossed a simple children's coloring book to Ivy with animals and flowers in it. "Start simple if it's overwhelming. Come on, girlfriend, dig in."
Ivy sighed with resignation and opened the book randomly and landed on a simple drawing of a bird. She grabbed a black crayon and began. Ivy lost herself in coloring the bird. The bird took her back to the song and without realizing it, she began to sing it quietly.
Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Cloe chimed in and their voices blended together.
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the world.
Ivy set down her crayon and looked at Cloe. "How do you know that song?"
"My grandmother used to sing it to me. She was in the church choir. My mom has an old record album of Cat Stevens singing it."
Tears slipped from Ivy's eyes. She realized why there was an instant connection between her and Cloe. She felt like Cloe was a part of her.
Cloe tenderly swiped a tear off of Ivy's face. "What Ivy? Why the tears?"
"My Nana sang that to me all the time when I was scared or sick or sad."
Their eyes met and lingered with an unspeakable knowing, a oneness of hurt and love. Finally Cloe spoke. "We're not allowed to hug here, but if I could I would wrap my arms around you and hug the hurt right out of you. Maybe when we get sprung." She smiled. "Do you know the next part?"
"Next part? You mean of the song?"
Ivy thought for a moment. "Refresh my memory. I was always stuck on the black bird verse."
"Okay," Cloe said. " Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall...
Ivy joined in.
"on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass."
The sense of peace in that moment was inexplicable.
Cloe smiled. "I was always got stuck on 'His feet' part."
© 2016 Lori Colbo