Five Days, by Stacy Lee

A policeman escorts me from the lobby in to the psychiatric unit, unlocking and locking thick metal doors as we go. A tall blonde woman in tight jeans softly tells me she knows I’m scared but will have to pat me down. An African-American man takes my small cloth purse and has me sign a form stating I arrived with five dollars, a tube of lipstick and a mobile phone. I sit and wait on a molded orange chair next to a twenty-something Asian girl who is crying.

“This is so wrong,” she says.

An hour later, a different blonde woman in tight jeans has me follow her to an oversized cubicle.

“What brings you here?” she asks, pen poised over a clipboard.

I tell her about losing my job and the hit-and-run driver who totaled my Saturn. I tell her about the migraine headaches and how good it feels to hold the point of a kitchen knife to my chest. I tell her I have a cat at home named Bhakti and I am worried him.

She says it was my fault that I lost my job, that I should research borderline personality disorder, that she doesn’t think she can let me leave the County facility because I have no one to help me outside of its walls.

I return to the molded orange chair next to the twenty-something Asian girl, and this time I cry.


Several hours later I am taken by ambulance to a private hospital with a 14-bed behavioral health ward.  A silver-haired, freckle-faced nurse greets me. She shows me to my room and I tell my story again: lost job, smashed car, migraines, knife. She doesn’t say it is my fault or offer a diagnosis. She sits in a chair by my bed and teaches me how to breathe deeply when I feel anxious and writes down an affirmation from her church in Santa Cruz.

It is my intent to love myself.

It is my intent to treat myself with kindness.

I honor my creative potential.

I embrace all opportunities to heal.


I tell her my neighbor is watching my cat Bhakti, but I am worried about him.


A chubby psychiatrist with an asymmetrical haircut enters my room and instructs me to follow her down the hall. In her office I tell my story for the third time. When I am done she asks, “Don’t you want to get married and have kids?”  I shrug my shoulders. Finding a man to marry is low on my list of priorities. Trying to resist late night urges to cut myself is at the top.

She asks about recreational drugs and alcohol, and I say no, not for years.

“We’ll see,” she says, filling out a form for a blood test.

I tell her I am really worried about my cat Bhakti. She says the cat is fine; your neighbor is taking care of him.

I am given lorazepam for anxiety and bupropion for depression and allowed to go to sleep.


The next day I call my father and tell him where I am. “Oh no,” he says, over and over again. He asks if he can come and see me, and soon arrives with my two wide-eyed sisters. One sister hands me a stuffed tabby curled up in a ball the way cats do when they sleep on a pillow. It is Bhakti’s doppelganger.  The other sister says she probably won’t be back. My father asks if I need anything; I say please bring me a comb.


In the dining room I meet a beautiful teenage boy who is schizophrenic. I meet a Hispanic man who hiked in to the back country of Yosemite with no food or water. I meet a woman with saucer eyes who is a Republican. I meet a Buddhist man who had no place to sleep, so he went to Walgreen’s, bought a bottle of aspirin, swallowed a handful and then called 911.

“I like to take pills,” he tells me. “Then you can change your mind.”

He is upset because they took his Buddhist ritual items away: a bell, mala beads, brass bowl, and a tiny statue with a spiky crown.

“Like I’m going to stab myself with the Buddha of Long Life,” he says.


I have my own room close to the nurses’ station where they dispense the lorazepam, which I am increasingly enjoying.  They give me thick blue socks with non-skid dots on the bottom to wear during the day. Every time a new nurse comes in the room, she is startled by stuffed Bhakti curled up on my pillow and says, “I thought he was real.” I hear this so many times it starts to annoy me.


All of the patients meet as a group with a social worker in a crowded room. We each write down one goal for the day and then go around the table, sharing what we have written.

“Take a shower,” says the saucer-eyed woman.

“Find a job,” says the Yosemite hiker.

“Meditate,” says the Buddhist.

“Comb my hair,” I say.

“Get out of here,” says the beautiful schizophrenic boy.


After the group meeting, I fill out my dinner request. I circle every single thing on the menu—baked chicken and vegetable lasagna, apple and cranberry juice, split pea soup and salad, vanilla ice cream and chocolate pudding.  Later that evening when the tray arrives minus the lasagna and pudding, there is a handwritten note on it from someone in the kitchen that says, “Sorry, this was the best I could do.”


There are things I don’t tell the asymmetrical psychiatrist, the freckled nurse, the social worker or my father. I like it here. I feel safe here. I don’t have to pretend here. I don’t have to try to look like I am not profoundly sad and filled with shame and self-loathing.

I don’t tell them that the other patients are my kindred. That outside of these walls, only Bhakti is my kindred. That I like knowing exactly what time I will eat, take my pills, go to group meetings and color pictures of daisies and puppies with felt tip pens.


The miniature dark-haired nurse who dispenses the lorazepam has small plum-colored bruises on her inner wrist and fore arm.

“What in the world?” I ask.

“I get acupuncture for anxiety and stress.”

It takes a moment for me to inquire if she has ever, um, considered taking medication.

“I hate that stuff.” She crinkles her face as she hands me a tiny cup with a pill inside of it.

I call my father and tell him I am okay and he doesn’t need to come visit me. Then I sit by the thick metal door and watch as visitors are buzzed in, and each time the door opens I say to myself please let it be him. An hour later, he arrives.

“I thought you might need me,” he says.

After he leaves, the beautiful schizophrenic boy’s family arrives with bags of fast food for all of the patients. I am too shy to ask, but eventually someone hands me an ice cold beef taco, for which I am immensely grateful. It is the best cold taco I have ever tasted.


The freckled nurse tells me I am being discharged. She hands me a stack of papers to sign, the most interesting of which states that I am not allowed to purchase a gun for the next five years. I feel sad about that, even though I have never owned a gun or shot a gun or had the slightest desire to buy a gun.  I thank her for all of her wisdom and advice and tell her I love you, which I do, even though it is the abundance of lorazepam in my system that makes it possible for me to say the words. I don’t tell her I am sick with fear of leaving this place and returning to a world where I am expected to function without the safety of a daily routine or the protection of locked doors or the companionship of my tribe.

My father collects me and stuffed Bhakti and drives us to Safeway to buy groceries and cat food for real Bhakti. We say good-bye inside my studio apartment.  He tells me he will call every day to check on me and hands me a hundred dollars in twenties in case I need anything. I know I am lucky to have such a father, and I want to say I love you, but the lorazepam has worn off to the point where the words can’t be said.

I close and lock the front door behind him, and then I gather real Bhakti in my arms, rub my cheek against his soft fur and listen to him purr.


Stacy Lee’s work has been published in numerous journals and magazines, including The Writer and Sacred Fire. She has won awards for her poetry and short stories. Stacy Lee lives in San Jose.



  1. pendergrasts says:

    Fiercely honest essay.

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