April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
Peg Ackerman, Clinical Director at Commonwealth Community Care, recently published a first-person account of her experience working at a public health hospital. Her story focuses on Theresa, a woman who endured a horrific tragedy as a teenager and spent the rest of her life in the state mental health system.
Below is an excerpt from “God’s Junkyard.”
I did not attend her funeral. I was at a job interview across town, burnt out from four and a half years of working at the public health hospital that I had come to think of as God’s Junkyard. I heard all about it though. A wake in the hospital chapel in a coffin lined with purple velvet, just like she wanted, with cigarettes and cans of Pepsi tucked into the sides of the coffin-those two essential items of her tragic life. Patients, psychiatrists, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and medical assistants all stopped by to pay their respects. Benny, the obese Bassett Hound that belonged to her guardian sat by the coffin. Friends placed extinguished cigarette butts amidst the few flower arrangements. A quiet funeral officiated by a kindly Catholic priest, eulogizing her tragic life, pandered to the crowd of patients and professionals, and then off to Potter’s field, where she was laid to rest in the family plot.
Laid to rest, finally. Theresa had a tragic life. When I first met her, she was 41, I was 42. She had been living on a mental health ward for the previous eight years, having failed group home living several times. The mental health units served as transition units for patients, assisting them to transition between inpatient psychiatric units into community living. Theresa had failed community living. And here’s why-when she was a 14 year old kid she was thrown down a flight of stairs by her father, a security cop, and broke her arm. She went to the city hospital for treatment and stayed there a week. No one in the family went to visit her and when it was time for discharge, no one picked her up. So she caught the local bus home to the public housing unit where she lived with her parents, six siblings, and German shepherd dog. She was looking forward to getting home because the dog had just given birth to a litter of puppies. It was a hot, stinking Boston day in July when she unlocked the door to the family apartment. What she found sent her screaming into an abyss of psychiatric and medical care from which only death would release her some her thirty years later. Her entire family had been shot, execution style by her father, who killed himself with pills.