My first psychiatric aid job was at Pacific State Hospital on a developmentally disabled childrens ward. Pacific State Hospital was a pretty big place with over a thousand patients. I think they even had their own dairy at Pacific State or horses or farm animals. On the unit where I worked, the children were between the ages of about six to ten years old. The day that I was given an interview, while the supervisor was giving me a tour, children started climbing on me. One boy proceeded to take off my belt. The Supervisor acted as if there was nothing wrong, maybe watching for my reaction.
I was resposible for maybe twelve to fifteen kids and followed a regimented routine. I would supervise them while they played in a playroom, some screaming and drooling and others banging their heads on the walls or on the floor. Then at a certain time I was to bring all of them to a dining area and get them seated in their chairs and then bring them their trays. Some would need to be fed.
After we left the dining room, I brought them to the bathroom where there was a row of low, childrens toilets. I would put them on the toilets and there was a platform that I was taught was a place I could put a child to hose them off if they were filthy. I don’t think I would ever use it, though, as I think the water than came out of the hose was usually cold and it just seemed like torture.
After toileting, they were all brought to the sinks to wash their hands. I think they were allowed to play for a little while longer and then I would bring them to where they got their medications and then to where they slept and get them all into bed. Once they were all settled into bed, I was responsible for mopping and polishing the floors with a huge floor polisher. It was hard, exhausting work. I lasted only a month or so before I found a job at Doctors Hospital in Montclair.
Doctors hospital was a brand new faciliity and their psychiatric unit mostly catered to depressed, menopausal women or others that had private insurance. It was an open unit and only rarely were there any actual psychotic patients. I worked the evening shift with another psychiatric aid, who’s name was Booker and it turned out he was gay also and we became close friends. We were both in the closet at that time but both had the “gaydar” even then and we had gravitated to one another and became close friends. Booker was black and had not really reconciled being gay as much as I had. He also had a daughter. The charge nurse on the unit that I was working on and the licensed psychiatric technician were both very religious. It was the year that the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar” had come out and they discussed it being blasphemy. They also discussed homosexuality being an “abomination in the eyes of God.” There was no way to be out of the closet in those circustances.
You can’t go anywhere in Southern California without driving and I really utlized my little red Volkswagon stationwagon. It was really my first car that I actually drove and I loved having the mobility but I knew nothing about cars. I didn’t know anything about having to change the oil. Eventually, one day while driving on the freeway, the engine would freeze up and I would learn about why it’s necessary to change to oil. By that time, the mechanic told me that the oil was thick and clumpy. I couldn’t afford to have a mechanic fix the engine though and so I had the car towed to my apartment complex and somehow got the engine out of the car and into the living room of my apartment where I thought that I could follow directions in a book and could take the engine apart, fix it and then put it back together.
I had never worked on cars or had any interest in cars in my entire life but there were books about the Zen of Volkswagon Repair or something like that and I thought that it wouldn’t be so difficult. I was actually able to take the engine apart with the pieces spread out on my floor. I had a friend from school come over to help me try to put it back together but eventually I had to hire someone to actually put it together.
The year at Valley Vocational was intense. I was constantly on the go when my car was running and then when it was broke down for a while, I carpooled with friends from school. On the weekends I would often go to West Hollywood by myself or with Booker to go clubbing or go to the baths.
Doris Burns was one of our instructors. She wrote on my “graduation” program, “…a fond farewell to one of my favorite ‘sleepers.’ It was true that I spent a lot of time in that class, unable to hold up my head and often falling asleep… or more of a “twilight” sleep, maybe. I don’t think I was ever completely out but I WAS exhausted from classes for eight hours a day, five days a week and then working on top of that.
I was desperate to have a marketable skill and I stuck with the Psych. Tech. program through a lot of unpleasantriess. Some days we were in the classroom and others were spent in facilities, getting real world experience. We went to medical facilities, private psychiatric facilities, a Montessori school, various units at Pacific State Hospital with various types of developmental disabilities and then various Metropolitan State Hospital units with the mentally ill. We spent a week or two at California Rehabilitatio Center in Norco. It was a good program with a wide variety of experiences. Doing bed baths and cleaning up urine and feces and taking care of the basic needs of others can be a humbling growth experience.