Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself by Dr. Rhonda Houston

They call me Houston at the hospital. Sometimes they add “ Dr.” or “Dr. Miss” before Houston, but either way, I’m still Houston. As in, “Houston, we have a problem.” I work at a behavior health facility. I said I would work the trenches for a semester about 15 years ago and I’ve never left the hospital setting. I love the clients! I promised to share some stories and quotes of the day I’ve collected over the years. I thought of this story today when this particular client returned, as she has multiple times over the years. When she is stable, she is quite interesting and intelligent. But when she is not—well, let’s just say she is never boring.

One of my very favorite stories happened years ago. Then I had an office in the outpatient setting. So the front door was always unlocked. I was coming back from lunch, sandwich in hand, and as I stepped through the door the clerk eyeballed me, motioned with her hand and whispered the familiar “Houston…we have a problem.” Coming down the hall was a fit middle aged woman wearing spandex shorts, spandex top, black leather bikers vest, and black leather boots that went up to her knees. Her hair was long and curly. Her eyes blazed as she came right up to my face and told me how lovely I looked. Oh My! I put on my most pleasant professional voice and asked how I could help. Out streamed a whole bunch of words that made no sense, stuff about the Devil and God. In between she made sexual comments about most everyone that walked by. I knew immediately she needed our help. As I was trying to gain her confidence, I was also trying to figure out how to get her to a safe place out of the milieu.

My first thought was to offer her lunch. In a surly voice she replied, “No thank you, I ate Tabasco sauce for breakfast.” I have to admit, at this moment it was almost impossible for me to keep my composure– I just wanted to burst out laughing! I offered something to drink and she chose coffee. I slipped out and over to the intake department to give them a heads up and to clear a room. I nabbed the coffee, adding some cold water, just in case it went flying. One learns these tricks early in the field of mental health. Upon return I offered the coffee. In a surly husky voice she asked “Did you put poison in this?” Her eyes narrowed to a glare. “No.” I replied, “You didn’t ask for poison, just coffee.” “Ok, I’ll drink it then.”

As she sipped her coffee, I offered to allow her to stay so she could have a warm bed for the night. She liked that idea. I was able to walk her over to the intake room where we started paperwork. First, I started the form where we asked for another contact–a relative, or perhaps a good friend, in case of emergency. After she tossed out several names she finally decided “Lucifer!” I repeated, “Lucifer?” She said, “Yes, Lucifer– you can trust him.” I wrote down Lucifer on the form and asked for a phone number. That glare came back and she hissed, “YOU know his number.” Suddenly an angel appeared, backlit by the light of the doorway. To my relief, it was an intake person who swiftly and thankfully took the client up to her room.

Miranda here–This is from my friend Rhonda, and should probably rightfully be called  ”Why I am Not a Psychiatrist #4.”

Hurricane Season

Watching the events of Hurricane Sandy unfold from a safe distance this past week, I was reminded of the great hurricane that occurred in my own youth, Hurricane Carla. At the time the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, Carla made landfall on the coast of Texas on September 11, 1961. I was seven years old, and had just started third grade. Before the lights went out, I remember taping up the windows and watching the news where our local KTRK news reporter, Dan Rather, reported live from the Galveston Seawall as the winds were howling and the surf was picking up. That broadcast was the one that launched his career. At the time, my family was living– all five of us– in a two bedroom apartment on North Braeswood. As the eldest child, I remember feeling responsible for the younger ones, so that they wouldn’t be afraid of the dark. It was exciting that our little family consisting of my mother, myself, and my brother and sister could huddle around a candle flame, with Mom reading stories and playing games. We ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the heat and humidity were oppressive at the end of a long hot Houston summer. I don’t recall my father during that time at all–as a surgical resident I am certain he was at the hospital tending to victims of the deluge. When it was all over, the damage estimates were over 2 billion dollars, but I was a child, and that meant nothing to me. The sun came out, and I went back to school.

Times have changed now, and every tragedy is played out on every computer screen and wide screen television in the country and around the world. From the twenty sixth floor of the Boston Marriot Hotel, I watched in horror as the New York University hospital’s backup generator failed, and nurses, medical students, interns and residents used Ambu bags to help premature newborns and the sick elderly breathe. My heart broke as I read of the woman whose four and two year old sons were swept away by the surge, and who was ignored by frightened homeowners in their darkened houses as she screamed for help. And just today, I read a handwritten note from a young man who was standing in his kitchen as it washed away, and who nearly drowned before taking shelter in a stranger’s house, where he found blankets to cover himself as he wrote what he thought was a last letter to his father. My sister in New Jersey still has no electricity.

When we are children, we are incapable of truly imagining a world beyond our own four walls and our immediate family and friends. Playing games by candlelight, we are shielded from darkness. When we grow up, we struggle against being paralyzed by the same imagination that insulates us when we are young—we see too much, read too much, know too much, and sometimes we feel too much. Hurricane season officially ends on November 30, and hopefully there will be a brief respite before the winter storm season brings the North to its knees again. Watching the election results tonight, I was happy that this too has come to an end. We are adults now, and know that despite the tumult and acrimony that enveloped the last several months, it is time to band together– like the good people of New York and New Jersey–and rebuild. Our future really does depend on it.