Jeff was 24 years, a huge guy, strong and foreboding. But he could not stop using alcohol. He had been to rehab three times but each time, within a week after rehab, the cravings would take over. Not able to control his addiction, he was a slave to alcohol. This time when Jeff drank he was seen roaming aimlessly along the Pennsylvania turnpike. A state trooper was contacted and next thing, he was sent to my psychiatric hospital. When we met, Jeff was one angry fellow. Withdrawing from alcohol can be intense and he demanded that I discharge him immediately. I tried to assure him that we could give him medication to help with his withdrawal and then figure out what to do next. But Jeff wouldn’t hear any of it. He started yelling all sorts of expletives my way: “F… you! ; who the hell are you? I’m leaving now.” But he couldn’t leave, of course. Psych wards are locked and, besides, he was there on a commitment. Some days go better than others. Jeff upped the ante. He started coming at me, with his six foot five frame and his biceps. I did what any experienced psychiatrist would do: I ran! I ran like a scared kid trying to escape a bully on the playground. Frantically, I yelled out ‘CODE STRONG’, and before you knew it, ten staff members came running in. Jeff started swinging now, randomly, at everyone, swearing and spitting, yelling racial and religious slurs. Thankfully, our experienced staff was able to contain him but due to his continued aggression, we had to put him in restraints. I ordered shots of Zyprexa, Ativan, and Benadryl - and soon Jeff was sleeping. The next day, I was forewarned that Jeff was threatening to come after me again. And so, I ‘armed’ myself with three security guards by my side as Jeff barked at me: “What the hell are you doing, Guterson! You know there’s nothing wrong with me. I’ll drink whatever I want once I get out of this damn place. Go f… yourself!” I wish I could say that Jeff’s time in the hospital evolved into a happily-ever-after. Jeff was so used to intimidating others that he couldn’t stop and look at himself. We tried giving Jeff options, tried to help him see his patterns, but he had no interest to take that journey. He did stop threatening me and others, but that was only because Jeff realized that ‘acting nice’ was his ticket out. What can I say? Not every patient admitted to the psych hospital comes out ‘cured’ or necessarily better. But you never know. The journey we take in life has stops and starts, and today’s seeming failures may well be the stepping stones to a brighter tomorrow.
Jeff and I shook hands a week later when he left. I told him that our door is always open, that we are always here if he changes his tune in the future. Jeff smiled and said, “hell, no.”