Abuse of hospital inpatients at New England Baptist Hospital -- Home page. The nightmares I had about medical abouse and psychological torture I suffered when I went to NEBH for orthopedic surgery.
  “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
—Hamlet, Act II, scene 2

Before I was abused at the Baptist, I only occasionally had nightmares, and they were of the common-or-garden variety, like being back at college, and realizing that you had an exam coming up for a class you had not done the reading for. I was, in all respects, a very ordinary woman.

But the abuse and terrorization I was subjected to while I was a bedridden, head-injured multiple-trauma patient at the Baptist left me with a brutal case of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition to all of my other difficulties, I had constant nightmares about the physical, medical, psychological, and medication abuse I suffered while I was held at the Baptist. The first four nightmares below, I suffered in a tight rotation for the first year or so after the accident. I woke up screaming in terror from one of these nightmares three or four nights a week. None of the treatments or exercises my therapist gave me, though I did them faithfully, seemed to help.

Nightmare #1
I am at the Baptist, wearing a hospital gown, with my leg in a cast, my arm in a cast and a sling, my neck brace on, my back brace on, without my glasses (they would not fit over my broken nose for many days), and staggering about with the aid of a cane. I am in the hallway outside my room. (I saw this hallway briefly each day, when the physical therapist walked me a few doors up and back. Once I made it to the end of the hallway, which turns to the right, where, around another bend, was a bank of elevators.) Suddenly, I realize that Dr. Karlson is after me. He is wearing the same outfit he had on in the X-Ray room—street clothes and no I.D. badge—and he has the same enraged expression on his face. I stumble and reel through the hallways of the hospital, trying to get away from him, but am unable to get up any speed because of all my injuries. He is snarling, as he did that day in the X-ray room. I cannot turn around, but I can tell he is gaining on me, and I wake up screaming. . . .

Nightmare #2
I am at the Baptist, in the same condition as above, in the same hallway, which is has s gentle upslope and wooden chair rails all along the hall, which is how I can tell I’m at the Baptist. In this nightmare, though, instead of being chased by Dr. Karlson, I am trying to catch up with my EENT, Dr. Douglas Bell. I am staggering and hobbling through the corridor, gasping for breath, and calling out for Dr. Bell, who keeps disappearing around that corner towards the elevators. I need to speak to him desperately, but he keeps slipping out of reach, and he does not look back, and then I wake up, screaming. . . .

Nightmare #3
I am at one of my regular doctors’, whom I like and trust, like my family practice doctor, or my gynecologist, or my dermatologists’, and I am out of all my braces and casts, and am having some kind of post-accident outpatient visit. I sit and wait, calmly and happily, wearing a gown and sitting on a table in the examining room. Suddenly Dr. Basilico bursts into the room, and begins screaming at me. He rants and raves, berating me, blaming me, and threatening me, as he did when I was at the Baptist. He screams at me: "I’m not writing any more transfer orders for you! You can stay right where you are! How dare you do this to me!" and so on. I am rooted to the spot with fear, shivering in my gown, and shrinking from him. I cannot imagine why he is there. Where is my family practice doctor? This goes on and on until I wake up screaming. . . .

In a particularly hideous version of this nightmare, I am sometimes at my gynecologist’s, whom I’ve known and liked for years. I am sitting in his examining room, waiting happily for him to come in. But instead of my gynecologist, Dr. Basilico bursts in. He begins berating me, screaming at me, because he can see (and I then realize, too,) that I have begun menstruating, and there is blood on the examining table, and even on the floor. He is screaming at me: "I can’t examine you now! You’ve wasted my time! You should have known you were going to get your period, and not bothered me! What’s wrong with you—can’t you see that I have better things to do than take care of you? You’re going to pay for this!" This goes on and on until (all together now) I wake up screaming. . . .

Actually, this is a strange twist on something that really happened while I was at the Baptist. My period actually started ten days early, for the first time in my life, the very first day I was at the Baptist. I was extremely confused about this, until Dr. Rivkin explained that it was because I was so badly injured, especially, he said, from the impacts to my head. He explained very kindly that my body obviously couldn’t sustain a pregnancy, and knew it, and so it was dumping the lining of my uterus to prevent that from happening. He said that if I had been pregnant at the time of the accident, I would have had a miscarriage. But having menstrual cramps in addition to all of the other pain I was in was really a bit much. And when I checked my medical records as part of the lawsuit, I discovered that this reaction my body had to the seriousness of the accident went utterly unrecorded. Was this part of the hospital’s effort to minimize their documentation of the severity of my injuries?

Nightmare #4
Badly injured, wearing a hospital gown and all of my casts and braces, I am waiting and waiting in the cafeteria of the New England Baptist Hospital. People are taking trays, going through the line, picking things up, then taking them back to tables, or leaving the cafeteria with them. Except that they are not getting food and drink—they are getting documents and X-rays. I go through the line several times, but am told by the women behind the counter that mine are not available, and I will have to wait. I sit and wait and wait, for what seems like hours, in terrible pain, but gradually, everyone else gets their documents except me, and leaves, and at 5 o’clock the cafeteria closes. I stagger frantically up to the employees, begging for my X-rays, telling them how badly I need them. " Please, please, help me. I need those X-rays to take them out to Newton-Wellesley. You can’t just leave me here. What am I going to do?" But they just stare at me stonily, and tell me that they won’t help me: the cafeteria is closed. I am terrified. I usually woke up from this dream crying rather than screaming. . . .

This nightmare is actually almost a reproduction of some of the worst events of Monday afternoon, when the hospital staff sat on and failed to fulfill our request for my elbow X-rays, which my husband needed to get before he could go to see Dr. Schweitzer* at Newton-Wellesley.

As time went by and I began to accumulate positive medical experiences at other hospitals, a process is supposed to take place, even in traumatized people, where the new memories you lay down start to mediate the previous traumatic experiences. Unfortunately for me, the opposite process also happened: my memories of being abused at the Baptist began to infect my relationships with new doctors, and even with my old doctors. I found myself fearing appointments with gentlement who had cared for me for 10 years before the accident. This process was reflected in my nightmares, which began to include friendly doctors as well, and friendly places.

Gradually, the simpler nightmares of being chased by Dr. Karlson through the corridors of NEBH, or of frantically trying to reach Dr. Bell, began to be replaced by more complicated but just as frightening ones that took place in settings outside the Baptist. Both of these nightmares, though, still contain elements of the actual medical and personal abuse I was subjected to while I was an inpatient.

Most often, I woke up from these dreams crying rather than screaming, and suffused with such an intense sense of despair that it was all I could do to crawl from my bed into my office and curl up into a little ball on the floor. I didn’t want to wake my husband every time this happened, so after a while, we moved an old TV up into that room, and some entertaining videotapes, and I would stay up as long as I could afterwards, watching late-night TV or videotapes. But it was often very cold in there, since the heat was off, and so my fractures hurt me. And, I was afraid to go back to sleep, even when I finally felt tired again.

Nightmare #5
I am lying in a hospital bed, many months after the accident, not wearing any braces or casts, but feeling quite ill and weak. I am having trouble breathing, and am in agonizing pain. In the dream, I know I am dying of breast cancer that has spead to my lungs. Everything I experience seems very real, not dream-like at all.

Basilico and Karlson, and, oddly, Dr. Rivkin, are all there in my hospital room, and I’m begging them, through my tears, for more pain medication, because all I am getting is Percoset. They refuse me, saying it could depress my breathing too much. "But you could still give me oxygen," I beg them, "I’m having trouble breathing now." "Oh, no," Karlson says, patronizingly, "that might prolong your life and increase your suffering. . ." I tell them that this makes no sense—if they gave me both morphine and oxygen, it would solve the problem, but either would be an improvement over where I am now. They continue to refuse, and turn and walk out of the room as I’m begging them for help. I am left alone in agony and gasping for air.

I wake up crying from this dream, and so filled with dread that my chest hurts.

Nightmare #6
In this dream, I have been discharged from the Baptist to home without any rehab, as Dr. Karlson originally ordered, so I have all of my braces on, am walking with a cane, and am very dizzy and weak. I also have developed cancer, and am trying to get treatment. In this dream, the cancer I have is Hodgkins’ lymphoma.

I am reeling through the corridors of a big teaching hospital, trying to hold onto several large file folders that contain all of my medical records and paperwork, even though my left elbow is broken and in a sling, and I am walking with a cane. I am going to a doctor’s appointment in this big hospital. I finally arrive at the office, and meet up with the doctor, who looks very much like Dr. Parazin (the friendly spine guy from the Baptist). He asks me if I’ve met with the specialist I needed to see yet (I think it’s an oncologist), and I say, no, I couldn’t find one who would treat me. And he says, "Mary Lou, this cancer is very curable if you catch and treat it early. You have to get on this."

He pays no attention to the obvious fact that I can barely walk, or handle the documents I am already carrying. I tell him that I haven’t been able to find anyone, and he’s nice about it, but he just says, "Well, keep looking, because it’s important." But he doesn’t help me in any way, like call anyone for me or anything (if you’ve read the Chronology pages of this web site, you will recognize where this incident comes from.)

Then he asks me if I’ve started on the thyroid medication he said I should get from an endocrinologist, and I look at this green sheet sticking up from one of the folders, and I gasp with horror, because I realize that because of my head injury, I’ve completely forgotten to do it. He says again, "You’ve got to do this. It’s really important!" I explain to him again that I haven’t been looking, because I totally forgot, but that if I did look, I don’t think I could find anyone. And he tells me again that "You need to find someone...." And I am filled with despair as I realize yet again that he is expecting me to do all these things myself, even in my condition, and that he is not going to help me himself. I also begin to be terrified, because I realize that I am not going to be able to remember what he’s telling me, and that I don’t have a free hand with which to write things down (see Monday morning in the Chronology for where this particular aspect of my trauma comes from.)

At this point in the dream, I black out and fall to the linoleum floor, braces, casts, medical records and all (see the Chronology for Monday afternoon for the origin of this particular trauma). As I am regaining conciousness, I hear him and a nurse standing over me, and making interested remarks about my fainting to each other. Neither of them checks on my condition or even helps me up. Then they tell me that I should "Get that fainting problem looked into, too." and stroll away, leaving me lying on the floor with all my braces, documents, and cane scattered near where I am lying.

Often, I would wake up from this nightmare so traumatized that I couldn’t even get out of the bed—I’d just rock back and forth autistically with tears running down my face.

At first, I was concerned about putting so much personal stuff about my dream life out on the Web, for strangers to see. But as I was typing, I had a realization that I want to share with you: these nightmares aren’t really about me. I was a simple and straightforward woman with an unremarkable dream life before the folks at NEBH got their mitts on me. The terror, pain, distress, and gruesome images contained in these nightmares is all about the abuse I experienced. It’s not really about me at all.

After all, if you feed a dog broken glass instead of dog food, and the dog throws it up again, you aren’t magically going to find dog food on the floor. You’re going to get broken glass and blood and chunks of stomach, and it won’t be pretty. That’s what these nightmares are.

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Photo: Mary Lou before accident