Dressed in a hospital gown and my shoes, which thwacked against the linoleum with every step because the laces were confiscated, I was escorted onto the ward by a nurse. She showed me my room, furnished with two twin beds and matching nightstands. It could have been a dorm room on move-in day, except the beds were already made and there was a bathroom in the tiny room. A curtain could be drawn for privacy between my roommate and me, who I dreaded meeting.
The nurse handed me a small, cellophane-wrapped styrofoam tray. It contained travel-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a cheap plastic comb. The fluorescent tubes above reflected on the shrink-wrap's shiny surface.
Thin blue bedspreads, faded from age, matched the institutional blue paint on the walls. Brown water stains dotted the soundproof ceiling tiles. The only window was reinforced with wire and looked onto an alley where trucks were parked, the drivers rolling canvas laundry bins, large as love seats and filled with soiled linens, up the ramps.
The bathroom mirror was manufactured with a polycarbonate glazing to keep patients from breaking it. I stared at my reflection, at the black crust in the corners of my mouth left behind from the activated charcoal, thick as a milkshake and the color of licorice, that the trauma nurses made me drink. I'd refused until they threatened to pump my stomach to cleanse me of the prescription medication on which I had overdosed, so I held my breath and swallowed the concoction that would neutralize my stomach contents.
Under the dim yellow light of the bathroom, I showered, combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and put on my gown, stained black in the front with dried charcoal and saliva. This was how I prepared to meet my fellow patients. I had no idea it was only the first of many hospitalizations to come.
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