Sometimes in life, a phone call will alter the course of your future in a profound way. “Your husband has stage four cancer” is one example. Last weekend, I had a series of phone calls that changed my life. That is why this week’s blog is so late. I have a feeling I will be writing several blogs about the last seven days of events.
On Saturday, I got a phone call from my daughter Emily’s friend in Georgia. It seemed that Emily had drunk a bottle of cough syrup and was acting very strangely. I assumed she had attempted to commit suicide, but I couldn’t get Emily to really answer what her intentions were. Along the suicide train of thought, she was also talking about her will and reminding me that I was supposed to take care of her children if anything happened to her.
There was little sleep for me, and none for Emily or her friend Melinda. By 5 AM, I realized that Emily no longer was making much rational sense at all. The scales had been tipping more and more away from reality and now I was convinced she wasn’t okay.
What to do? I started with what I knew here in New York. I called Crisis Services and asked them for their equivalent in Georgia. Of course I had to call a couple of disconnected phone numbers before I found the right place. But once I reached them, they were amazing. I gave them the scenario, and they assured me they would send a mobile unit as quickly as possible to evaluate Emily. Being in the Georgia mountains, it was at least an hour drive. I was impressed with them from the first call, and they didn’t disappoint me. I got follow-up phone calls when they were en route, calls while evaluating her, and calls afterward.
By this time, Emily was going in and out of coherence. Sometimes she knew her father was dead, other times she didn’t. And the scary part was that when she acknowledged he was dead, she was also saying she was going to be with him. And scarier yet, she started saying that she was bringing her eight year old son with her. He needed to be with his grandpa. Mike was my contact at the mobile unit and he let me know that Emily definitely needed to be hospitalized. The only question was whether she would voluntarily go, or if they would 10-13 her, meaning involuntarily admit her. Voluntarily is always preferable, except that if you voluntarily check in, you can also check out whenever you want to. That was a big drawback. He made another call to me and asked me if I could get to Georgia as quickly as possible. Emily made it clear that she could trust me. He knew I was a licensed mental health counselor, and he felt strongly that she needed a family member other than her husband to advocate for her.
Of course, Sunday was my annual block party. Held at my house, of course. We started it the year Tim got sick and have had it ever since. It’s one of my favorite days and everyone else seems to look forward to it, too. I announced to the party that I had a family emergency but I would feel terrible if they didn’t stay and enjoy themselves. One of my favorite smart alecks assured me they planned to party without me, and would probably trash the place with their wild, inappropriate behavior. I felt much better!
Now I had to book a flight. I found one on Southwest for Monday morning. I forget how much it was, but I was surprised and grateful it wasn’t like a thousand dollars with the late notice. By then, Summer and Karen had come over and were in full swing being the great friends they have always been. I looked at Summer and asked if I should break some professional boundaries. I had a client who is a pilot who might be able to get me to Atlanta sooner. Without hesitating, she said “Get to your daughter as quickly as you can, by whatever means you have.”
I contacted the family and sure enough, within a few brief moments, they told me about a 7:00 pm flight that was highly likely I could get on. You have to fly stand-by so there are no guarantees, but it looked promising. The girls sprung into action. They helped me pack by bags, and make the 14 or 15 calls of cancellations I needed to make for the next week at all my various jobs. The next thing I knew, I was arriving in Atlanta.
Spencer (Emily’s husband) picked me up and we went straight to the hospital. By then it was 1:00 am. This was not a psychiatric hospital, nor did it have a psychiatric unit. The plan was to take her to a hospital that was a mental health treatment facility. We went back to see Emily, and her door was guarded by a police officer. I had to be wanded before I could enter the room. I asked Emily if she knew who I was and she did. She knew my name. But that was pretty much the only thing that was in tact. She knew everyone’s name from her entire life time. The details about their lives though were completely off base.
More in the next blog. Emily has given me permission to tell her story. I have learned an immense amount about mental illness and learned even more about advocating in a very, very poor health system. We both think it could be helpful to educate everyone else in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. But you will have to wait for the story to unfold. I am exhausted beyond belief, and also behind in trying to resume my responsibilities here at home. For now, let me just say that Emily had what is called a psychotic episode. That means she was no longer in touch with reality. There were delusions and hallucinations. Stay tuned for the next several blogs and I will continue to explain how things unfolded…