Yesterday was my penultimate psych clinical day at Western State Hospital. It was really the last "real" clinical day because next week, we will leave the hospital at noon and go out to lunch with our instructor, which is the tradition for the final clinical day in every class.
The whole experience of clinicals at Western State was a lot more rewarding than I expected it to be. The first day the mental hospital setting seemed mysterious and scary. Would one of us be assaulted? Yelled at? I didn't know what to expect. I had no idea how I was supposed to interact with the patients or what to say. I imagined making an innocent comment that would send a patient off on a tirade.
I worked on a locked, all-male unit of about twenty patients. The staff have been unvariably friendly and helpful. Although I was assigned to one particular patient, I've gotten to know the other men on the unit. They are a group of men who are funny, intelligent and caring. There is a camaraderie among them and sometimes I felt like I was at a boys' boarding school rather than a mental hospital.
There is a cafe at Western State, in the "mall" where many of the patients go for their group therapy classes. The cafe is staffed by, and patronized by patients. My patient works there every morning before group, so it has become my habit to hang around in the cafe in the mornings. It has a sort of groovy retro atmosphere--totally by accident and not by design. Yesterday I sat at the counter on one of the vintage bar stools. The cafe was crowded. Next to me was a patient I recognized from one of my patient's classes. Next to her was a guy who introduced himself to me as "Ed." I knew the people working behind the counter and I recognized many of the other people in the cafe. I drank my coffee and watched my patient make fried egg sandwichs and listened while a patient told me about her grandchildren. I realized I was the only person in the room who wasn't psychotic, but I felt totally comfortable.