By Georgia Lee (updated post)
April 2014 – I’m crying as I write this.
Yesterday, Easter Sunday–visiting hours at Peachford Hospital. My son is in complete lockdown. Maximum security unit for the most severely disturbed mental patients.
Sean (not his real name) is 26. Scraggly beard (no razors allowed) wrapped in a sheet over baggy gym shorts and flip-flops (no shoe strings or drawstrings allowed) Suicide risks.
Alone at an orange table, he stabs a plastic “spork” into a tangerine. Not to eat it. He’s searching for poison, examining strings. He doesn’t look up at me.
I brought an Easter basket. The front desk searched and transferred contents into a brown paper bag. They “wanded” me through metal detectors, kept my possessions and sent me to my car, where cell phones must be locked.
“Easter Bunny came,” I set the bag on the table. Inside are jokey gifts. Super-Hero socks. Origami paper. A journal with an ancient map of the new world.
He’ll either lose or throw it all away, but I wanted him to have something. He smiles a little at the Batman socks, examines the journal’s uncharted territories.
Talk to him, I say, knowing it will be harder, MUCH harder than communicating with a two-year-old.
I’ve phoned the ward each night, always answered by a different attendant. Not one has heard of him. “I.D. Number?” before I get out his full name. I recite a memorized “&^*^x4.”
“Oh, he’s fine, just fine,” they say. If they don’t know his name, how do they know? Isn’t “he’s fine” a HIPPA violation?
Below, read how “just fine” he is:
HIM: I’ve calculated the numbers of our birthdays into a formula for our exact dates of death. Mine is next Tuesday. I’m working on yours. It’s genius. Are you ever going to explain why you’re on ADULT FRIEND FINDER? (sex site) Dad’s running a “girlfriend experience” site. His girlfriend is on it, and my ex-girlfriend’s mother is too.
ME: I don’t even know…I begin and stop. (He won’t hear me)
HIM: I saw your picture. I’ll never trust you again. And Gracie? (our 10-year-old-cat) She’s pure evil, bad juju. You put her down. When you get home, kill her.
He covers the suspicious tangerine poison, without touching, inside a brown napkin.
HIM: The government is a prostitution ring. Aliens control the ecology of religion. Vladmir Putin controls aliens. Michelle Obama wears the God Helmet. My ex-girlfriend’s father is pimping her out.
He stops, softens and breaks into a toddler’s world. Head hangs, bottom lip trembles, baby tears spill.
HIM: My granddaddy used to take me to the park in the truck. We’d listen to…Hamlet. But when I fell off the go-around on the playground I got…scared!
His granddaddy, my father, recently died. Sean is convinced he killed him but breaks down when he speaks of it. He jumps up, runs to the refrigerator, returns with a chocolate milk and leans back in his chair. Grandfather forgotten.
HIM: I want to stay here, not out in the world that’s killing everybody. But I see those cameras over there. (I don’t) I can’t stay here, so I want to be homeless. No. I just want to die.
ME: I understand. But I think you’ rather get well and feel better. Too many people love you. How would your sister and I feel without you? What would your grandmother (who died two years ago) think?
HIM: She’ll be glad to see me. I want to go to my heavenly home. (a phrase he’s never used)
ME: Can I hold your hand, please?
Suspicious, he flattens his hand on the table. I cover my hand over his cold fingers.
ME: I’ll always be here. You’re going to get better. Just take the medicine the doctor prescribed. It’ll help.”
HIM: What doctor? I haven’t seen any doctor around here. I’m not taking any poison from anybody.
ME: Everybody wants to help you.
He jerks his hand away, reaches to slap my face but misses.
HIM: “GET OUT OF HERE, GET OUT, NOW – NOW!!!”
He yells and bats his hands at me like shooing flies.
HIM: Your face is black oil underground. You’re melting into him, the devil. Evil.
“VISITING HOURS ARE OVER, MAM” Across the room, a 300-pound woman yells.
Leaving here rips my soul. Puke yellow doors clang behind me solid as the prison that this is. I press my face into the cold metal.
I hear screaming inside. “Help me! Oh God, please, somebody help me. I’m dying. Help Me.”
It’s him. My baby. Crying, yelling, alone. Nobody helps. I’m helpless, locked out. Now I can’t breathe. Heart. Bursting. I run through winding halls, no way out and no way in.
Through empty halls, I stop the first “badged” person in sight.
“Please, can you help me?”
“Well, I’m late and in the middle of something,” she says, matter-of-fact.
“But I can’t drive home. I might be having a heart attack. I can’t breathe.”
“I’ll find somebody. Just wait there.”
She goes into a room, shuts the door.
I wait 45 minutes, an hour? The wall is lined with 12 paintings, one for each of the 12 Steps. I study them, one by one. I could recite all these steps and a dozen books on them. My son can beat that. He’s memorized the entire Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Which step gets us out of here?
I slide down the wall, head on my arms. Not one person notices me. I’m invisible. There is no help.
I push up to my feet. Through the maze, I spot a red exit sign. I hope the alarm does goes off. That might get someone’s attention. The door opens, no problem.
Outside, in luminous sun on tulips, pansies, and azaleas, I rip off my VISITOR sticky badge and throw it in the garden. I don’t remember driving home.
I’ve suffered severe depressive episodes for decades. If I thought Peachford, or anywhere, would help me, I’d check right in. If I had the insurance or money to pay for it.
But they wouldn’t take me. Not suicidal, homicidal or violent, I won’t qualify for even an overnight stay. The E.R. would put me in a room with a cot on the floor and a urinal for at least eight hours, then release me with instructions to exercise and eliminate stress. See a psychiatrist. Good luck finding one that takes insurance. The latest Trump care repeal/replace of the ACA proposes to eliminate mental health care coverage and/or allow insurance to charge higher premiums for that pre-existing condition.
That summer of 2014, Sean was hospitalized eight times, for 7 days each, the precise time prescribed by insurance. Hospitals “stabilize” patients, through groups (patients treating patients) then dump them on the sidewalk with a “homeless packet” of charity shelters with red tape and waiting lists. Imagine a psychotic patient with no family/support, transportation or money navigating that list. They don’t call it a “homeless packet’ for nothing. Look around parks, intersections, under overpasses. Homeless in America.
Private treatment is outrageously expensive. (My family spent well over $250,000 on six residential treatments for short-term benefits and afterward, relapses.
For-profit treatment is a racket, with groups (again, patients curing patients) like AA meetings, free on every corner. Still, rich people get rehab, poor or middle-income get jail. Insurance won’t consider this illness worth paying for. The U.S.A. – richest country in the world. No mental health care, but hey, you sure can get Viagra or Cialis.
UPDATE: 18 months after staying at The Extension, a (free) residential program that helps men stay off drugs, find jobs, contributing 30 percent of income for room and board, Sean is healthy, sober, working and in school. He’s sees a psychiatrist on a sliding scale. Before stumbling on The Extension, I’d spent hours searching for residential treatment, averaging $1,000 PER DAY.
My only son, firstborn child could have been homeless, imprisoned or dead, as several of his friends are. I’m not naïve, religious and don’t believe in miracles. Yet I rely on an amorphous Amazing Grace that I don’t understand. The serenity of the words comfort me.
Yet our health care/insurance/government industrial complex shows little grace, compassion or common decency. If you find this appalling, visit www.nami.org. Resist the repeal of the ACA. Contact your congressmen relentlessly. Vote.