CAMH Emergency Room

I went to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) Emergency Room yesterday (bear with me if this is long, I need to get it all out). I had a slip the other night (self harmed) and scared myself pretty good (the post the provides details is password protected. If you would like the password I can email it). I decided that night I would go to the CAMH ER the next day and make sure my wounds were ok; that I was ok.

After hanging out with a friend (and doing some shopping!) I headed to the CAMH location that has the ER. A friend was going to come with me but I felt bad since it was cold, the wait was probably going to be long and they may not even accept what I was asking for (yes, friend, I know you would have come anyway). So, I went alone.

Where the nurse speaks with you.

I walked in the door and was directed to the admission counter. I was scared but told the woman why I was there. I had to repeat it twice because she didn’t hear me the first time. It was horrible. She gave me a form to fill out with basic information and then I waited for a nurse to do the intake. It was a man and he led me into a small room with a table, two chairs, a box of kleenex (there is kleenex on every table I swear), a broken file holder hanging on the wall and a blood pressure machine). He asked the questions I expected (why are you here, what’s your mental health history, do you have plans to harm yourself etc). I began to answer his questions with a weak voice. I was terrified. I started to cry. I explained to him that I hadn’t been at a hospital for mental health issues since my suicide attempt in 2006 so I was very nervous. He asked if I wanted medical attention for my wounds because if I did I should have gone to the hospital. I didn’t have the time or the nerve to launch into my reason why going to a regular hospital was out of the question so I just told him that I didn’t know what I needed. I added that I did just want to make sure I was ok but that maybe I should just go home. He said that I might as well stay since I came all the way here in the cold. I agreed. He asked to see my wounds and I showed him the one I was concerned about. He said it looked like it was healing so I should be fine. Inside I wasn’t fine because he was the first person to see fresh wounds in years. He took my blood pressure and then he showed me into the ER.

The ER is locked. Only staff can let you in and out with a key or their ID badge. The sign on the door says “AWOL Risk” and tells staff to keep the door locked. My anxiety increased. If I wanted to leave I would have to knock on the staff office door and ask them to let me out. They can say no. I was so afraid of them telling me know that I never asked to leave. I never left my chair until my name was called. I sat in the corner of the waiting room and tried to read. It became impossible to read as time went on because more was happening in the ER waiting room.

One man was yelling, “Fuck you! I don’t want medication” and then tucked his shirt in by dropping his pants right in front of me.

A girl began crying recounting her pain to the friend who had come with her. She later jumped on a woman who was there with a very sad looking man. I overheard her say to a nurse that she tried to resist when the voices told her to jump on her.

Waiting for 3 hours really sucks.

Two men, not together, were pacing. There was so much pacing.

Another woman was brought in my police and was crying saying repeatedly, “I wanna go home” followed by wanting to go to the bathroom, food and a cigarette (CAMH takes all cigarettes away from clients and provides nicotine replacement therapies instead. You get your pack back if you get to leave).

I watched 3 people (the man who didn’t want medication, the woman who wanted to go home and another woman) be wheeled away on gurneys which is policy for when a client is being admitted to the inpatient program.

It’s a little scary and intimidating.

My mood went from neutral, to angry, to sad and just plan stressed out. I was hungry, alone, anxious and it was becoming very clear to me that I did not belong there. Everyone there seemed in need of something whereas I could have not went in and would have been ok. Still, what if they didn’t let me go home because I had so recently self harmed?

After 3 hours I was seen, first by a medical student, and relayed a similar story as I had during intake. Again, had some laughs (I always mange laughs but it’s also because I was uncomfortable). She also asked to see my wounds and said the same thing as the nurse. She told me that I should keep going with the polysporin like I have been. I explained that I felt a renewed desire to take care of myself after my slip and coming to the ER was part of ensuring that I was ok. She said that I seemed fine and applauded me for coming in and taking care of myself. She went to go get the doctor for the final chat and I asked if I had to go back in the waiting room. She asked if I wanted to stay in the room and I said yes, that waiting out there was too much for me. She said she understood and went to get the doctor.

The room we were in was essentially a cell. Yellow walls, dull tiled floor, a table, 3 chairs, a telephone, kleenex and I noticed a bit later, a camera high in the corner behind me. I’m being recorded. I understood why this was needed but knowing I was probably being watched was creepy. Even though I knew I was getting out, I had proven I wasn’t a threat, I felt trapped.

I wanted out!

The doctor came in, gave me information on counselling services at my school and told me that if I ever needed to come back to do so because it’s always better that I come then not. She asked me if I was ok and I said yes, that I was just hungry and very stressed out about everything going on in the waiting room. She laughed, agreed and quickly walked me out to the door to let me out. I thanked both of them and told them to have a good night.

I was in a very mad rush to get home. I was so stressed, shaken up and realizing how wrong I was in thinking that I ever needed to be in a hospital. I, especially at this moment, do not belong there. I was grateful to get home and jump in the bath to calm down.

Some people didn’t go home that night. They went to the inpatient. I hope that they are ok and can be in a better place when they leave.

I don’t ever want to go back to the CAMH ER. I’m glad it’s there but I don’t want to go there again unless I’m in serious danger.

For some of you this experience may not be new to you but it was for me. It was very overwhelming and one I don’t think I’m going to forget any time soon.


29 thoughts on “CAMH Emergency Room

  1. If you would like to share the password I would appreciate it. Was speaking last night to a young woman who had been a cutter. She was now happily married and had a young daughter. She also had no shame about her scars. Stay strong. You will be OK. Read Grain Brain by neurologist David Perlmutter and give up the gluten and the sugar. Many many people get glum over the holidays – part of this is because of what we eat. Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2014 02:33:38 +0000 To:

  2. Good that you were taking care of yourself. If the cuts had been worse or you’d been suicidal, you would truly have needed to be there. Better safe than sorry. And part of healing is to be aware. I’m glad you went .

  3. You had a lot of courage to do what you did, and I think you were wise. If you hadn’t gone, you may have had increased anxiety for different reasons. I’m so thankful the med student and doctor were kind, understanding, and encouraging. You deserve all that and more. I’m proud of you.


    • I was surprised actually at how nice they were. I’ve heard the horror stories. I came prepared to defend myself but the med student actually acknowledged the stigma around borderline personality so I felt good talking to her. I wish I could tell her supervisor that 😛

      Thanks for the support!

  4. Hi there, waiting rooms are awful at the worst of times I think. But add on to that the exact situation, and it must have been terrifying. When I was released from my first spell in a psychiatric unit my first thoughts were “I never want to go there again!” So those similar thoughts are understandable. I hope that you’ve managed to relax a little bit more since typing this. Best wishes

  5. You should be so very proud of yourself that you wanted to take the best care of you possible, and that you were able to keep yourself together throughout all of that. You are precious to more people than you know, Kristen, and I am so glad you played it safe and made sure you were okay.

  6. I’m sorry you went through all this and whatever happened that led to the cutting. If you want to share the password I’d be happy to read it. Definitely those places are stressful, especially locked down areas. I hope you’re doing better now.

  7. That sounds really heavy!
    I do recognize a lot of the things youre writing. I’m glad you were taken seriously though.
    Would you feel okay with emailing me the password aswell? ( (AT = @ )

  8. It sounds very stressful, but I was applauding you for going. It’s better to get that double-checked and, as you say, I think it was part of the recovery process The waiting room sounds like hell, but the staff seem to be good, which is reasuring if you ever need to go back in the future

  9. It is very different than the US healthcare system. We have only one ER, and the hospital I go to is not in a very good area– the ER is often put on lock down because of a patient stumbling in with gunshot wounds. There is one are of the ER where they put the psych patients, anywhere from getting approved for inpatient, suicide attempt treating (both in acute and non-acute situations), psychosis, and panic attacks. Often there are not enough rooms so you lay on a bed in a hallway. You wait till you are stabilized and a bed opens at an inpatient facility, the wait can sometimes be a couple days. While there are 1 social worker and 1 psychiatrist– on one else has any psychiatric experience other than they may have done in school.
    The experience you describe reminds me of one experience I had at a county hospital (for the un-insured) just for mental health treatment. They called it “triage” where you were evaluated for admission. Patients were continuously being brought in by police, there were beds but only available for sleeping hours… I got there at 3am so had to sleep in a bolted down chair till they woke up the patients at 7am and locked the rooms. People were screaming they’s rather be in jail, one guy jumped a counter and started assaulting staff, I got sick from their food and they eventually let me lay down in a room after I threw up in their hallway. It was horrible, all because a insurance mix-up where I was later transferred to my usual inpatient facility covered by my insurance.
    Being in an inpatient facility or around others with acute-moderate symptoms can be both a good and bad thing. Sometimes I find comfort that I’m not alone and find like-minded patients and stay near them and exchange stories (I even found some at the county place) where other times it is scary or reminds you that you don’t belong in that setting. Which sometimes is an eyeopener in how far you have come.
    I’m glad you went and got yourself checked out and the wounds are okay. While slipping up sucks, we learn a lesson in everything. I think you handle the situation extremely well and the setting may have given you a reality check on where you are on your journey versus where you have been. I’m busy writing a series of posts on this very topic, and it gives me pride even though I still have a ways to go.
    I would like the password if you are willing to share:

    • I sent you the password.

      That sounds like a horrible experience. I see what you mean by being with like minded people. While I was sitting there I was reminding myself that if I was in the ER during my slip I would look very similar to them.

  10. I’m proud of you that you are taking care of yourself. I’m sorry that you were in such pain that you had to cut. I know what you mean about psych ER–I’ve been there too many times and I never want to be there again. Be well, take care, heal…

  11. I don’t think we have any hospitals like that left in BC, if we do I don’t know where they are, but it doesn’t sound like anything like the psychiatric units here based on the description. The major hospitals all have psychiatric units, so mental health issues just intake through the normal ER, once there you see a medical doctor first generally (after triage nurse) to make sure your medically clear, then you see a psychiatric nurse or psychiatrist, if your admitted, you wait in the ER until a bed opens on the psychiatric ward.

    The wards are open as well at most hospitals, and all the one’s I have been at, its mostly all honor system here, if the doctor says you can’t have off ward passes, you don’t leave the ward, but never seen a ward get locked to where you need a nurse or doctor to let you in and out, only ward I saw that here was the ward that deals with the criminally mentally ill who are there for treatment but under the control of the justice system.

    I am glad you went for some help, sometimes just going and talking is what we need, glad you realized you should go before you slipped too far.

    Is CAMH part of the healthcare system? Like does OHIP cover it?

    • To my knowledge CAMH may be the only hospital in Canada that is specifically mental health and has an ER. I could have gone to a regular hospital but they would have sent me to their psych ward anyways so I figured I’d just go straight to psych.

      CAMH is cover by OHIP.

      • BC Government shut down our only sole psychiatric hospital, now the regular hospitals handle it all, most can’t though, demand outstrips supply. But Vancouver General is finally getting a new ward and facility thanks to a generous donation from a community member.

        Hope your feeling better.

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