I recently, unexpectedly, spent six days in a local Behavioral Health Unit due to the sudden onset of severe and debilitating panic attacks. I’m so grateful to be home now and feeling better. My time in the hospital now feels almost like it never happened, but I feel a need to integrate that experience as part of the truth of my life. This poem is part of that attempt. I hope if maybe you’ve had similar struggles it will somehow speak to your experience.
Brown Paper Bag
It’s not the
barcoded wrist band that gets to you
constant roll-call and waiting in line for meds.
No, it’s the
brown paper bag that holds your belongings,
and clean underwear your husband gathered from dresser
his and packed into a small suitcase to be dropped off
on his way
to work early the next morning.
suitcase you have only the pajamas you arrived in –
and a three-dollar t-shirt from the clearance rack at Target.
though, are better than the scrubs some patients wear,
clothes along with their freedom and, for a time at least, their sanity,
is vetted at the nurses’ station,
belongings checked for that which
is not allowed –
sharps, strings, medications.
wonder, though you didn’t then,
what they thought of the board
your husband packed. You asked him
to help you
remember” although now you cannot remember
what. The books, among them The Carrot Seed, were his
Your journal and bible, your bra, socks and shirts,
together in two hefty brown grocery bags and brought to you
room. These you place on the floor in a
large door-less wardrobe.
your toiletries with care, the small toothpaste and white plastic toothbrush,
the hospital-issue baby shampoo and lotion, taking organizational cues
from your roommate’s side of the
leave, six days later, half of your things
will go back
into the black suitcase, returned to you
from the safe place where it was
kept. The other
half you will carry out through the locked doors
in a brown paper
bag. You will stop at the nurses’
to have the wristbands cut off and their phantom presence
you to touch your
arm again and again
well into the following day, but it will be a week or more
before you begin at last,
to unpack that brown paper bag.
Photo source HERE.