Seeking Help in the UNC ER

UNC Hospital Day 1

4/1/19: Chapel Hill, NC

That Monday morning after our series at the University of Pittsburgh, my coach drove me to the UNC Emergency Room to receive a psychiatric evaluation for suicidal ideations. I truly had no idea what would happen, and if I am being honest, I expected to sit in an ER bed and wait for someone to come evaluate me and send me home. However, my experience was quite the opposite

8:00 am

We checked in at the front desk where I told them I was having suicidal thoughts. I was quickly shuffled onto a gurney in the hall where my phone and all my belongings were taken. I was then placed in a room the size of a small closet with just a rubber chair. They proceeded to hand me purple and green scrubs so they could collect my clothes and jewelry.

I sat in the rubber chair and waited until a young man came in and spent about ten minutes asking me about what was going on and what medicines I had been prescribed. His jaw dropped when I told him the amount of Ativan I was taking daily, and that is when I knew I should have asked questions rather than just fully trusting the psychiatrist I had been seeing. He told me the crisis state I was in was likely due to the medicine, and that I would be moved to the Children’s Emergency Neuroscience Unit where I was going to be evaluated and deemed appropriate to stay in the hospital or go home.

9:30 am

I got the the Children’s Unit and was put in room with a cot, a chair, and a curtain. The unit was overflowing with children from about age 7 to 16. The next ten hours were spent listening to the children in this unit scream, cry, bang their heads against the wall, blare music, and crawl into my room to ask me questions. My heart hurt for them, but the lack of privacy and overwhelming noise was sending me into a complete panic. Those ten hours were spent with not a word about when the evaluation would be, and I was growing more and more anxious by the minute.

5:30 pm

I had been told the psychiatric evaluation would be done by one of staff psychiatrists; however, right as I sat down to pick at my dinner, a woman named Judith came in introducing herself as a psychiatric-mental health nurse who would be doing my evaluation. She told me she wouldn’t see me until later on that night because she had a sinus infection and wasn’t feeling well. I responded telling her that I would wait, but I was hoping to be seen as soon as possible so I could potentially go home that night rather than wait until the next morning.

While standing over me as I sat on the floor with my dinner, she said, “I suggest you spend the next couple of hours thinking of new ways you can cope, or you are never going to get out of here.”

I then responded and said that if the evaluation ran past 9 pm, when visiting hours were over, I would like for my coach to stay during the evaluation because I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her alone.

She then proceeded to say, “That is an accommodation we only give to children. What disability do you have that would require an adult to be present?”

I was completely taken aback at her insensitivity given her position and specialty. I already felt vulnerable and scared, and now my need for someone familiar to be with me during this process somehow made me a child or required a disability. Her tone, demeanor, and word choice was so unbelievably inappropriate. I had voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital and could not believe that someone who was supposed to be working with psychiatric patients was talking to me in such a demeaning and condescending manner.

6:00 pm

Once Judith left, I called in the nurse at the front desk and asked that she please switch the person in charge of my psychiatric evaluation because I was not comfortable talking with Judith after our conversation. She said that this was one of many complaints she had heard about her, and that I should report it to the individual who oversaw the unit. Unfortunately, Judith came back before he came around to talk to me.

6:30 pm

Judith took me to the conference room for the evaluation. I don’t remember much of what was asked, but she did sit there and spend about an hour with me asking me specifics about the situation I was in and how I was feeling. In the end, she deemed me not an immediate danger to myself or others; HOWEVER, she strongly encouraged that I voluntarily admit myself to the Adult Inpatient Unit because “they would be able to titrate my medicine up to a higher dose in a supervised environment which would help my overall mental state.” She talked it over with my dad on the phone as well, and his biggest concern was he wanted to be able to pull me out of there if it was not helping, and she told us he had the authority to remove me from the inpatient unit at any time.

I agreed to do the inpatient unit in hopes that it would help with the stabilization of the medicine which had become quite the nightmare.

UNC Hospital Day 2

4/2/19: Chapel Hill, NC

3:00 pm

My dad arrived that following morning, but a bed did not become available until late in the afternoon at which point I was escorted by a security officer upstairs to the inpatient unit. I spent about 30 minutes once again describing what was going on and was then taken to my room where I was searched along with my belongings.

Then, my coach, my dad, and I met with a medical student who was doing my intake. He proceeded to describe that the unit was for crisis stabilization for individuals suffering from severe mental illnesses. He seemed confused as to why Judith had told me I was there for medicine management as that was not the purpose of the unit. He also said that titrations up on medicine could not happen at the pace in which it was described to us. In addition, he told my dad that he in fact would not be able to pull me from the unit as Judith had said, and I would have to sign a request for discharge form. After signing that, the medical team would have 72 hours to respond; however, if they deemed me not fit to return home, I would be required to stay in the unit and legal measures would have to be taken to get me out. Understandably, my dad was livid at the misinformation that we had received on the two key factors that convinced me to voluntarily commit myself in the first place.

I was in a state of complete panic and had to say goodbye to my dad and my coach and spend the night alone in a Co-Ed Adult Inpatient Unit. It took me only about five minutes to realize that this was not a place that was conducive for any sort of healing or mental health restoration. I was scared and more anxious than I had ever been before. I spent that entire night crying and rolling through panic attacks while looking out the window at the football field; that same field that I had ran on with my team just one week prior.

UNC Hospital Day 3

4/3/19: Chapel Hill, NC

8 am

I woke up the next morning, had breakfast, and then it was time for our first group. During this group, the other individuals in the unit were screaming, throwing things at one another, and yelling expletives at the woman talking about how to make discharge plans. I had this overwhelming urge that I needed to find a way to get the hell out of this place.

11 am

After the group, a medical student came in to pull me into a team meeting. It consisted of a psychiatrist, a couple residency students, and several medical students. This was the first psychiatrist I had seen since entering the hospital two days prior. He told me that the high dose of Ativan I was taking was most definitely the culprit for the strong suicidal ideations. He then looked at me and said, “We have no idea why you were recommended to come inpatient.” Honestly, that made two of us, and he said since I was in agreement that they would discharge me that day.

12 pm

I called my dad to come get me while a social worker gave me the number of a psychiatrist to follow up with about two weeks later. Within two hours, I was leaving the hospital with my dad.

I am not qualified to give suggestions on how to fix this system because I know it is extremely complex. However, I am qualified to share my experience. I will say this was one of the most traumatizing experiences I have ever been through. Before going to the Emergency Room, it was a safety net and represented a last resort of help. However, I truly believe I left there more sick than I went in. I understand the demand for psychiatric evaluations is high, but I should have never been placed in that unit and should have been referred to a different program or somewhere where I could have received appropriate treatment and help. I left the hospital having not eaten for four days, having dropped 8 pounds, and having absolutely no plan for how I could get a handle on my mental health.

There was no doubt that I was sick and needed help, but as long as I wasn’t an immediate risk to myself and didn’t need crisis stabilization then I wasn’t the hospital’s problem anymore. After I left, no one ever followed up with me from there, and my anxiety, panic, and eating disorder persisted.

Carolina Outreach Behavioral Health Urgent Care

Phone: (919) 251-9009

Recently, I became aware of Carolina Outreach Behavioral Health Urgent Care located in Durham, NC. Upon arrival, you meet with a medical assistant, a therapist, a nurse, and a psychiatrist if applicable. That is all done within your visit that same day, something that I could not find at UNC. In addition, they help connect you to what they think are the best resources in the area that would suit your individual mental health needs.

At BHUC, they offering the following services

  • Nursing assessments
  • Crisis counseling
  • Provider referrals
  • Psychiatric services
  • Case management
  • Discharge plans

While the hospital can be an appropriate option, this may be a place that can meet those same needs in a less stressful, more time effective manner.