This post is going to be one long potential trigger from start to finish, so please don’t read any further if this topic is likely to upset you.
A lot of people with no personal experience of psych wards will have seen a person being held down and injected on the television. It could have been in a humorous situation, such as in the film Airplane! or it could have been in a more serious situation such as in the film Gothika. I’ve seen several fictional films and television shows where a person is held down and injected and none of them properly convey just what it’s like to go through this ordeal. Yes, ordeal.
I’ve had bad forced injections and as-good-as-they-can-be forced injections. Sometimes known as ‘depots’ or ‘I.M.’ medication (Intramuscular), forced injections are a too-common feature of psych wards. I’ve written about the bad ones and the as-good-as-they-can-be ones, but for this blog post, I will write about the two forced injections I’ve had in my current stay. The first one was on Tuesday (8th) and the second one was on Thursday (10th). Why am I doing this? Writing about a raw, delicate subject so recently after it occurred? The honest answer is I don’t know. I’m writing this during the small hours of Monday morning so I may change my mind and not publish this after I’ve slept, but if I do publish it, I just want people to really know what it’s like to be injected in this manner. I think writing about it so soon afterwards will help me to write down with more passion how I felt. So anyway, here goes.
In the movies, the patient will often kick off or do something really weird. The staff will grab hold of the patient, produce an syringe from nowhere and jab the patient in the arm. Usually the crook of the elbow. The patient will then calm down and fall asleep. WRONG. That’s not how it happens. On Tuesday, I had ward round and was told that because I’d been refusing oral medication, they had no choice but to give me I.M. medication. After a lot of begging and pleading, I could see my psychiatrist wasn’t going to change his mind so I stormed out of the ward. I got halfway down the corridor before I was stopped by four members of staff.
After being brought back into the ward, I stopped very close to the ward doors. Three nurses stayed with me to make sure I didn’t try and leave again, and during this time, I knew they were preparing the injection. I tried pleading with the nurses to not inject me, but they wouldn’t listen. After about ten minutes of pleading, I was told I was having the injection now and for my dignity, they were going to do it in my room. Dignity was the last thing on my mind however, and when they started pulling me towards my room, I tried to stop still. However, with a nurse on each arm and a nurse pushing my back, I couldn’t help but move with them. My socks slid frustratingly smoothly on the polished floor and before I knew it, I was back in my room.
A fourth member of staff arrived and the four of them picked me up and put me on my bed whilst I was screaming. A fifth member of staff came in with the injection, which made me scream even more. I don’t know how loud my screams were but they felt muffled to me, maybe they were because I was panicking so much. I tried wriggling my way out of the injection but it didn’t work. Before I knew it, my trousers were lowered and the needle was in and out. I burst into tears and cried for about half an hour until I started feeling drowsy.
By the way, you did read that penultimate sentence right, ‘my trousers were lowered’. If you didn’t already know, the vast majority of psychiatric injections don’t go in a person’s arm. They go in the gluteus maximus. AKA your backside.
After I calmed down from that injection, I asked about my medication to see if I could go on the oral tablets after all. The nurse I spoke to said she would speak to my psychiatrist and let me know. Two days after the injection (last Thursday), the nurse came into my room to let me know that my psychiatrist wanted me to have the second injection. My heart sank and I tried to ask the nurse if she would try and get my psychiatrist to reconsider. She shook her head and quietly asked me if I would just accept the medication and not need for the use of extra staff. I think she asked me that three times before the penny dropped and I realised that she wanted me to have the injection there and then.
Panic kicked in again. I started trying to tell her that Tuesday’s injection hadn’t worn off and I wanted to wait until it did before the second injection. She shook her head and shouted, “OK!” at the door. My heart sank even further when I saw four members of staff (one of whom I didn’t recognise) walking into my room. I started trying to tell these other members of staff that I wanted to wait until the previous injection had worn off but none of them were talking or making eye contact with me. Again, I started trying to wriggle out of the injection and this time I was marginally more successful. However, my ‘prize’ was simply delaying the inevitable.
It didn’t matter how many times I’d been injected in the past. It didn’t matter that every time the staff told me I was having an injection, I would have it one way or the other. It didn’t matter that I was outnumbered five to one. It didn’t matter that I was rapidly running out of energy whilst the staff had plenty of back-up to restrain me if they got too tired. Nothing in the past or the present made the slightest bit of difference. Once I started panicking about the injection, my brain made me try to get out of it by any means necessary, even with the odds stacked way against me. I guess that part is something nobody can understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. It doesn’t matter what the odds of success are, if your brain tells you to get away from the injection, you will try everything to get away from it.
In case you’re wondering, Thursday’s injection ended with me being picked up, plonked on my front and held almost face-down on my bed. This time though, I was unable to cry and unable to fall asleep. In the movies, when a person is injected, they fall asleep almost immediately. This is probably the most false part of forced injections. Sure, some may knock a person out pretty quickly, but I personally haven’t had any that have done that. And being knocked out almost immediately is actually a blessing. In the hours that followed Thursday’s injection, my mind must have replayed the injection over 1,000 times. Easily. If I had been able to fall asleep immediately, I would have been spared that.
So what’s it like being held down and injected? Take a bowlful of fear, a bucketful of panic and cupful of humiliation and you’ve got the basic recipe for how you’ll feel. As I write this, I am still on a section 3 and have been told that I am to go on fortnightly depot medication. This means an injection every fortnight. The first injection is tomorrow and I am really stressed about it. I’ll be going out for a walk later this afternoon all being well, but I know tonight’s going to be a difficult night.
I’m hoping that I remain calm for tomorrow’s injection, but there’s no way I can guarantee that I will be. Deep breaths…
EDIT: Just to say that “tomorrow’s injection” went reasonably well. There were only two nurses present and I didn’t have to be restrained.