Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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From Neurosis to Psychosis

Part two.

I left off on my last blog when I arrived at the hospital at 1:00 am. Spencer (Emily’s hubby) had told me on the phone earlier that it was like someone had possessed his wife’s body. I was about to see firsthand what he meant. Emily recognized me. She knew my name. But there was no response to seeing me like she understood I had just flown in and I don’t usually get to see her this time of year. The interesting thing, was that she used names of actual people from her life, but just didn’t associate them with correct reality-like details.

One of her favorite repetitive phrases at this time was, “You gotta go,” accompanied with a wave of her finger. One hospital staff would come in and she would tell them they were much too fat and they had to go. (They were not necessarily overweight in reality.) She also complained repeatedly about the filth she was seeing in the room, and there many filthy people who “had to go” as well. She would point to the floor and say, “Don’t you see that? Don’t you see that?” Only there was nothing there to see.

She knew her four-year-old Aubry’s name and age, and she knew her eight-year-old Parker’s name and age. But then she would explain to me that it was crucial that I understood that each of her children were in actuality herself and Spencer. Again she would ask me, “Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” And of course, I couldn’t understand. I had known from training that you don’t ever support a delusion or hallucination. The right thing was not to agree. But at the same time, it seemed equally insane to argue with a person about reality when they were clearly not in touch with it. So I mostly just listened, didn’t correct her, but admitted I didn’t understand when she asked me directly.

One of the saddest moments of all for me, also serves to best explain the level of her confusion. Eventually we will all chuckle about it, but at the moment it was purely gut wrenching. I was watching my daughter suffer emotionally because of what she believed was happening. She was weeping and telling me about Henry. “Darcy, you just wouldn’t believe what they are doing with Henry. They are treating him like a dog. Like a dog. Like a damn sheep dog. It’s horrible and we have to help him.” And she was so distraught because of the injustice to Henry and was genuinely sobbing for him. The problem? Well, Henry is her sheep dog. He really is a sheep dog.

When the ambulance came to take her to the treatment facility, at first she was not going to cooperate. I asked them what would happen if she didn’t go voluntarily. I was told they were not allowed to touch her. If she didn’t go with them, she would have to be police escorted. They would handcuff her and the whole affair would probably be extremely traumatic for all of us. Thank God we were able to reason enough with Emily that she eventually got up and moved to the stretcher without incident. We said goodbye to her in the parking lot and went back to our car. The hospital she was going to was an hour and a half away from where they lived. We were told we would not be able to see her until the next day, so there was no point in following the ambulance. They did however, say they would do their best to get the hospital staff to call us when they had her checked in. They couldn’t guarantee they would, but they would try.

So we went home, disturbed, worried and scared for the woman we love so dearly. Of course, the treatment facility never called me. Unfortunately, that would turn out to be the least of the disappointments we were about to be encountered with. I had looked at their website on the way home and told Spencer I was really happy with where they were sending her. It was a real treatment facility, not just a stabilizing place. She would have an impressive treatment team with several different professionals helping her, and most importantly family involvement was a key part of their protocol.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a facility so totally and completely false in the representation of themselves. But more to come in part three.


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Calls That Change Your Life

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…