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09. Hospital murmur

I wrote this after I spent a day at the SF General with my mother in June 2022. She had been doing well since her hospitalization at the University of Minnesota Behavioral Health Clinic in December 2020 to January 2021 but regressed when she stopped taking her antidepressants later that summer. I think she was hoping that she didn’t need to keep taking antidepressants all her life. Her deterioration was slow, almost unnoticeable when we saw her over Thanksgiving in 2021. By spring 2022 she was as bad as I had ever seen. She stayed with us in San Francisco for three weeks and went back on the same antidepressants as before but showed no sign of improvement. She asked me to take her to an emergency room multiple times but I hesitated because she had been to emergency rooms a number of times and I had accompanied her on many of these trips. She and I knew from experience that a regular medical emergency room would immediately discharge her because she is technically physically healthy. She feels like she can’t breathe but her oxygen level, her blood pressure, all her vitals will show normal levels and this makes her feel worse because she feels ignored. To be admitted to a hospital is actually very difficult but we knew what we had to do. We had to go to an emergency psychiatric hospital where she would have to say her condition may lead her to harm herself or others, in order to be on 5150 hold, to be admitted. We waited for nine hours at SF General’s PES (Psychiatric Emergency Services). In the end the psychiatrist assigned to her took pity on me and admitted her to give me a break for one night. As she was carried away in a stretcher I was instructed to take off her diamond ring and pearl necklace so others in the unit would not harm her. I put them in my bag.

I went home with my head in a blur then sat to write music to process what just happened. The initial intention was to write a piece that messed with the concept of time like the hours I spent at the hospital that felt like forever. There were lots of sounds, beeps, screams, that all sounded like a drone to my ear. I recorded a conversation between two security guards as I sat on the floor of the hallway outside the psych ward door waiting for the nurse who took my mother to come back out to tell me everything was in order and that I could leave for the night. This piece is based on that recording. At the top I use a delayed vocal effect on exclamatory Oh-s for elongated rhythm. I then picked out rhythmic words and looped them. In the middle is the unspliced original.

After that one night at SF General she went back to the University of Minnesota in-patient program. She went through ECT treatment for the second time and got new medication prescribed. This was ten months ago and my mother is doing well today but this piece brings me back to when she wasn’t well, a reminder of what I heard and felt, so that I continue to check in with her. Are you taking your medication? Are you seeing your doctors? So that we may never experience the disorienting hospital drone again, so we hope. 

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