From the Executive Director of Mental Health for Correctional Services in New York City, comes a revelatory and deeply compassionate memoir that takes readers inside Bellevue, and brings to life the world—the system, the staff, and the haunting cases—that shaped one young psychiatrist as she learned how to doctor and how to love.
Elizabeth Ford went through medical school unsure of where she belonged. It wasn’t until she did her psychiatry rotation that she found her calling—to care for one of the most vulnerable populations of mentally ill people, the inmates of New York's jails, including Rikers Island, who are so sick that they are sent to the Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward for care.
These men were broken, unloved, without resources or support, and very ill. They could be violent, unpredictable, but they could also be funny and tender and needy. Mostly, they were human and they awakened in Ford a boundless compassion. Her patients made her a great doctor and a better person and, as she treated these men, she learned about doctoring, about nurturing, about parenting, and about love.
While Ford was a psychiatrist at Bellevue she becomes a wife and a mother. In her book she shares her struggles to balance her life and her work, to care for her children and her patients, and to maintain the empathy that is essential to her practice—all in the face of a jaded institution, an exhausting workload, and the deeply emotionally taxing nature of her work.
Ford brings humor, grace, and humanity to the lives of the patients in her care and in beautifully rendered prose illuminates the inner workings (and failings) of our mental health system, our justice system, and the prison system.
"In this courageous, intimate account of the troubled intersection between criminality and mental illness, Elizabeth Ford writes with compassion and insight about the most neglected and feared members of our society. Her willingness to engage fully with their humanity stands to inspire us all."
—Andrew Solomon, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology, Columbia University and author of Far From the Tree and Far and Away
"A wise man once advised me that, while unrealistic expectations can sucker-punch us, hope never will. Dr. Ford's exploration of life on a prison ward for the mentally ill pulls no punches, but like the good doctor herself, her story locates hope and compassion in the midst of institutionalized despair. Sometimes Amazing Things Happen possesses the power to open eyes, change attitudes, and affirm the worth of society's most afflicted and forgotten individuals. I was deeply moved."
—Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True
". . . a rare insider’s view of what happens in a mental hospital and on a psychiatric prison ward . . . a must read . . ."
—Benjamin Sadock M.D., Menas S. Gregory Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
"If you have ever been a correctional psychiatrist, no account before Elizabeth Ford’s Sometimes Amazing Things Happen quite adequately conveys the vexing challenge of caring for these immensely complex patients at the cross roads of psychiatry and the criminal justice system. These patients are tragic exemplars of the worst mishaps of childhood adversity, human cruelty, and neurodevelopment run amuck. The simplistic notion that psychiatric patients in jails and prisons are merely displaced occupants of shuttered state mental hospitals is thoroughly dispelled by Ford’s extraordinary account of caretaking for these deeply disturbed men who do bad things. She reveals their human complexity, sadness and impulsive rage, poignantly revealing the struggle of a physician to try to heal enough of what ails them in order to offer a chance at freedom. This is an illuminating account of the lives she encounters, her challenge to humanize the jail hospital environment, but moreover an unadorned exploration of how a doctor maintains hope and perseveres in the face of overwhelming human and institutional dysfunction."
—Marvin Swartz M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine
"A rare glimpse into the inner world of a psychiatrist, whose empathy and boundless passion cannot be easily contained . . . A poignant and powerful tribute to the human relationships that exist between doctor and patient and to a healing process that is often not unidirectional."
—Scott Soloway,M.D., Director of Manhattan Assisted Outpatient Treatment, NYU School of Medicine
"Amazing things can happen if you open your heart and mind to the idea that, even in the most challenging circumstances, dignity and humanity can be discovered, preserved and nurtured to help heal social wounds . . . As the tales unfold, readers are carried away on the amazing journey displaying the resilience of the human spirit and the chance for healing and hope."
—Debra A. Pinals, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Program in Psychiatry, Law, and Ethics, University of Michigan