Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mike's Story Part 37: New Year's Day in Bellevue

By Jenna Orkin    

As a companion to this post, see Mike's article on entitled, "New Year's at Bellevue."

January 1, 2007


Email to Ray with the heading "mike's phone number:"




they're trying him on lithium today. i was going to visit him at 1 but he says he doesn't see much point. 'there isn't much to talk about here.'  we may speak later about whether i should visit him at six.

   in a couple of days they'll decide whether he can leave. they think maybe he should stay 'upstairs' (in the long term wing?) for a few more days to see how the lithium is working. they have the option of holding him if they think he's going to 'hurt' himself.

  Ray calls to check in. He has not seen the email. I give him an update.

  "If you look at Valium closely," he says, "it's in the alcohol family. I don't know what Mike told the doctors..."

   "[His outpatient psychiatrist] knows he was in AA."  She recommended a Bellevue therapist who was familiar with the organization but Mike said that wasn't a criterion; he wanted someone who was intelligent and who understood his situation. 

"Certain points are non-negotiable," he elaborated.  "I did write a book. I did have my computers smashed. I did find the government involved in some nasty activities."

  "I'm not sure they made the connection," Ray says.

   He wants to talk about setting up a regimen for Mike to get out for at least half an hour a day, preferably twice a day. This is a notorious time of year, no getting around it. and today is the bleakest of New Year's days.

   I tell him about the email from the prospective buyer.  The tone of it is friendly: Mike can quote from his own work but the buyer still wants the intellectual property rights. 

   “Do you know what he does?” Ray asks.

   “For a living?  No.”  Buying and selling companies?

   ”Snake oil salesman.  He has a website, sells [an alternative form of medical treatment.]”

   ”My God, he really is a snake oil salesman.”  Of course, the alternative treatment might be effective.

   “He wants the subscriber list.”

   “To sell the [treatment] to?”

   ”Yes.  That’s the intellectual property.”

   That doesn’t sound like intellectual property, I think.  Also, wasn’t the subscriber list excluded from the contract?

   ”Also if there’s a movie deal,” I say.

   ”Ah yes,” Ray agrees.


2:30 Call from Mike. He's being subjected to fifteen hours of Honeymooners reruns.

   "Jackie Gleason just doesn't do it for me anymore," he says.

   "I always found it a depressing show," I say. "You said it was supposed to be."

   He sounds livelier. I ask him if he wants me to come at six.

   "I won't be able to do anything but say, 'I want to come home,' and cry."

   "That would be a good thing. Nothing wrong with that."

   “The other male patients just sit around talking about ways to commit suicide.”

   "Is that therapy?!  Sounds like criminals going to jail and learning how to be better criminals.”


   I tell him what Ray said about Valium being related to alcohol. He reminds me of how I've seen him drink in moderation and without getting drunk.

   I say that isn't the point. I’m not sure how the dose of Valium that he's on relates to a drink.

   "I've testified on alcohol many times," he says. "I don't need to lecture you on it but this is fine." 

   Although it's clear he doesn't care whether I visit or not, I go to see him at six.  He’s wearing hospital drab over his jeans and T-shirt.  Having been taken off Effexor, he's antsy to leave and gossips about the other patients.  Crying is not on the agenda.

   The male patients are watching TV; the women, separated from the men by design, are on the other side of the doctors’ Observation Room.  Mike has a private corner, also on the other side, from which the doctors can observe his behavior. 

    The news is on.  Mike wants to watch a report about cops who shot an innocent escapee from Katrina in the back seven times.

   “See that guy behind me in the glasses?  On the cell phone?  He keeps saying, ‘If I had a 38, I’d blow my brains out right now.'”

   A small man in pajamas that are four sizes too big is wheeled out of the ward.  As he passes, he shakes Mike’s hand.

   “So long, Michael,” he says.  “I made it to upstairs.”

   ”Congratulations,” Mike says.  “That’s what you wanted, right?”  Upstairs is anathema to him but to each his own.

   A report has come on about the season’s second snowstorm in Colorado.  Another patient says civilly, “I thought that was a hot state, an arid state.”  He has a Hispanic accent.  Like the other patients, he treats Mike with respect.

   “You’re maybe thinking of Arizona,” I say.

   “Or parts of New Mexico,” Mike adds.

   A stout woman shouts in Spanish and rattles the exit door.

   “When she first came, she cursed everyone out in the name of Jesus,” Mike comments.

   “You see that all the time on the subway,” I say, wondering why this woman was brought in, of all the loonies New York is home to.  Her shouts are coherent, if loud.  “Perhaps she’s not so much crazy as ill-mannered.”

   “She’s been heavily medicated,” Mike says.  “I just want to go home.  How’s the apartment?”

   He must really hate it here if he’s homesick for my apartment which is dark, looks out on a construction site and lacks any vestige of nature.   “I miss dental floss,” he says wistfully.

   ”I can relate to that.”

   “This is worse than Venezuela.  But the doctor who was here today thinks I might be able to leave tomorrow.  What did you do today?”

   ”Remember how I told you this is the hub of the universe for Indian grocery stores?"  Bellevue is on First Avenue and 27th.  The Indian grocery stores are around 28th and Lexington.  "On the way here I bought three kinds of curry paste.  One is from Kashmir!”  These days, of course, you can get the same products at the local supermarket.

   He smiles indulgently.  What kind of sustainability nut am I?  A hypocritical one.  Or maybe he's thinking about my food preferences which seem to him so alien.

   “And I wrote.  It’s always a satisfying day when I do some writing.

   'Have you seen a newspaper?”

   “Someone had yesterday’s Post.  This is the first time the news has been on TV.”

   “There’s a huge effort going on to interest children in what most people call ‘classical music.’  The Met did a kids' production of The Magic Flute.  It’s really successful.  If there was going to be a world in a generation from now, this would be important.”

   Sectarian violence has escalated in Iraq since the hanging of Saddam Hussein a few days ago.

   “That was intended,” Mike says.  Of course.  Divide and conquer, in addition to which, it gives the U.S. an excuse to "stay the course."

   Since he’s off the Effexor, he’s able to go to the bathroom again.

   “Is that my cue to leave?”


   “Ok.  I understand these priorities.  Call me if you want me to come tomorrow at one.”

   “I may be leaving,” he reminds me like a kid who’s afraid he'll be abandoned at school.

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