Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Save a Life - Conclusion

As of tomorrow, it has been one month since my son was discharged (AMA) from the Aurora Hospital for the Psychiatric treatment of children.  When I left the hospital the night of his restraint and sedation, I told him he was stronger than he knew.  I told him he had the kind of fight in him to beat this.  And within 48 hours he had proven his stability, his stamina and his determination.  They had no choice but to release him, back to my care.

As we left, I used my cell phone to take photos of the conditions of the facility.  Just because my son had to endure this, didn't mean other children should be subjected to it. As the last photo was taken, I was caught by one of the nurses.  She charged up to me and told me I wasn't allowed to take photos.  Other staff members rushed to the scene, calling security, threatening to take my phone.

I asked them if they cared enough to let me report the conditions, to let me champion their cause, to allow me to shed light on this so I could cause change, funding, books, games, cozy chairs and real beds to come their way.  They defended themselves.  We have books for him to read.  Okay, please show me exactly which books you feel are in his best interest.  Would it be the Golden Book series or perhaps Dick, Jane and Spot that would appeal to him more? 

I was then promptly escorted out by security with my cell phone evidence firmly in hand.

Over the past month, I have seen a remarkable, if not revolutionary change in my son.

Here is the main thing.

He smiles. 

The angst, the confusing rage that had suffocated him for his entire life has been replaced by a logical thinking, loving yet still feisty and opinionated pain in the ass to his sisters, but nonetheless happy little boy. He is thriving on our structure, committed to his school work and looking forward to all of our winter plans, including family game nights, sledding, ski lessons, band concerts and lots of sleepovers at our house with his buds. 

We have come to a place where he can talk to me about missing his dad.  He has opened up and allowed me to assure him of the good things he and his dad had and will always have.  He finally laughs at my silly jokes, cuddles with me, lets me stroke his hair and listens to reason without rage.  He has accepted my love, my encouragement and my boundaries.

But most of all.

He smiles.

The smiles of a boy who finds joy and happiness in the everyday, mundane, silly life. 

The very same life he wanted to end during the darkest of days, restrained in tight leather bands, pleading for someone to end his life, hoping to kill everyone who put him there, lost and confused by the abandonment and betrayal he had suppressed.  His scream was released to the cold, black sky until it was all gone. Just as the sky had rejected my scream, it opened up and swallowed his, capturing the desperation and placing it in the only place such ultimate pain could go. Back to the beginning, to the primordial scream.  To set the universe right, returning him to me whole - for now, lest we forget, we have many roads yet to travel before we sleep.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Save a Life - Part Two

I followed the three men down the hall who were carrying my screaming son.  They took him to his room, gave him a paper shirt and shorts to sleep in and introduced him to his cell.  This was nothing short of a prison. White walls, institutional green vinyl mattress, thin blanket, no natural light, bare floors and a smelly restroom. This particular facility, run by a power house health care organization known as Aurora, is one of only two in the greater Milwaukee area with a specialty, an expertise or even a remote ability to treat children and adolescents. One would think being only one of two, you would have distinguished yourself, wiped out your competition as it were.  Or one could drift into an abysmal nightmare where only one of two means you have NO competition, no reason to make your patients comfortable, no concern over real life mattresses, books for them to read or competent professionals to treat them.

I truly don't know if this is a nationwide epidemic or if it is just here in Brew City but child Psychiatrists are as rare here as a street corner without a pub or tavern situated upon it.  Too much controversy over the candy dispenser approach to doling out psycho-pharmaceutical medication to the wee ones, combined with unholy high malpractice rates has driven them out in a pied-piper fashion. Can't really say I blame them as most of the medications these shrinks prescribe carry a black box warning on the label to be alert to the highly likely possibility your patient may very well want to kill themselves shortly after ingesting.  But this is not my path to take.

My path was to complete this blind leap of faith and walk out of that facility leaving my son behind. I was simultaneously exhausted, numb and tormented with fear and anxiety as I passed through those locked doors, feeling a part of my soul die in the process; yet, hoping with the smallest bud of hope imaginable that this might be okay.  With each step, I repeated to myself, he was out of control, he was hurting, he was in pain and I got him help.  He was out of control, he was hurting, he was in pain and I got him help.  Step after step after step until I arrived at my car, looked up to the sky and with a cold, freezing rain blowing across my face I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came.  Only me in an empty, cold, silently still, lonely parking lot wondering if the black sky had sucked away my scream the way a tornado indiscriminately picks up a house and tears it to pieces until it is unrecognizable.

The next day, I arrived for a scheduled "family" therapy session, which was set for noon.  The appointment was made as we were checking in so we both felt some level of comfort knowing we would be immediately seeing each other tomorrow morning, face to face, in therapy, to get down to business.  I was escorted to a therapy room where I was greeted by one of a long list of psychologists who would routinely rotate in and out of his treatment and the grand doctor himself, the endangered species of Milwaukee known as the child Psychiatrist.  Actually, the psychologist was taking medical history from me when the doctor burst in, dismissing all conversation and sitting down in front of me to ask a) the same questions I had just been asked and b) questions pertaining to another patient as I gradually figured out, he wasn't looking at MY son's file.

I expected the question and answer session to take 10 to 15 minutes, then we could bring the Commando in and do some real work.  Instead, I was given a quick diagnosis, assured of the percentages of children who are in the same situation and offered a treatment plan of one week full inpatient care with a battery of medications to ensue.  After I persisted, I was finally told I would not be seeing my son for the first "family" session; and you call it a family session because.......?  I then told Doctor Incompetento he had the wrong file and oh by the way, this boy is not a percentage for your charts, he is my son.

On the other side of the unit, my baby boy (who knew it was noon) was being told his mother was there and he would be able to see her before she left.  I was told he was in therapy and I would have to wait until visiting hours at 5pm to see him.  They let me walk out the door when several nurses and clinical workers knew how hopeful he was to see me.  Within three hours I received a call at my office that he had become violent when he found out I left without seeing him.  He threatened harm to the staff, inflicted harm to himself by banging his fists into the wall and was subsequently restrained - for over an hour, given a shot of Ativan and still restrained for another thirty minutes before he became calm enough to release.

I arrived at 5pm to find him stumbling about, dry mouthed, incoherent and sporting deep ligature marks on both wrists and both ankles.  Though they had made it abundantly clear upon intake, this was a voluntary admission and I was free to take him home at any time, when I went to the front desk to ask for his release I was denied on the grounds he had now been classified as a threat to himself and others and would need to be held for another 48 hours (under control) before he could come home, by law.

We went into his prison cell and I laid down with him carefully explaining what had happened and why he couldn't come home.  I repeated the same story over and over and over.  Sweetie, you have to be calm, you have to cooperate, you have to show them you are okay, you are in control.   He nodded in understanding but I could tell from his glazed over eyes, it wasn't really registering.

And so for the second night in a row, I had to leave him there, screaming for me to take him home. Angry at me for not seeing him when I was there earlier in the day and feeling, I'm quite certain, as lost and abandoned as any boy could possibly feel.  I was told he went to sleep within an hour of me leaving while I remained awake all night, pouring over the laws, determining my rights as a parent, speaking to his therapist and sure as hell I wanted to get him out of there before......

My God.  What if I have made the worst mistake of my life? What if instead of saving him, I have lost him forever.  Even his therapist told me she was worried he might never come back from this.  In this hour of darkness, I turned to my soul mate, a little bird who has been on my shoulder for a lifetime.  I told her of the horrifying experience. She paused, gave it a great deal of thought and then bravely came back and assured me I was doing the right thing.  For, she speculated, if either one of our parents had had the strength to intervene as I had, maybe our brothers would still be alive.

(To be continued......)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Save a Life - Part One

Many have speculated.  There has been much conjecture among the ranks. What happened to The Commando? Why did he miss school for a full week? Only a handful of people know the truth. I have sought to protect him; yet I realize what happened to him was a normal reaction to the circumstances of his life.

He was targeted, even as a toddler by his dad who was intensely jealous and insecure about the allegiance his son might possibly form with me. God forbid, a child should bond with his mother. It drove him insane when the wee child was sick and called for his mommy.  I remember him pulling my precious baby off my chest in an effort to dissuade him from needing me.  It went back to his own perverse childhood where he and his siblings were placed in the care of an unstable grandmother while his mom pursued her life goals. His older half-sister was selected by the drunken grandmother and repeatedly told her mother didn't love her.  Later, he and his sister were forced to choose sides in a bitter custody battle between his dad and mom. No coincidence, his older half-sister ended up in prison as well.

I knew what was behind his sickness, but he didn't.  When our son was a baby, Dad was busy cavorting about, having multiple affairs, impregnating an underage drug addict and running our business into the ground.  There came a point when I  discovered these affairs, I cut him lose, changed the locks, set his things in the front yard and told him to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

The separation seemed to force him to one of those crucibles in life. He wanted us, he wanted our family, he wanted to come back and make things right. The crack whore had an abortion and the yellow pages sales woman with the enormous fake breasts was summarily dismissed and he turned his life over to God.  But, we needed a change.  Let's break all these ties and move to Wisconsin.

Once we settled in, we became active in a local church, he enrolled in college full time (in spite of the fact I had just given birth to our twins and was trying to hold down my full time job) and he began to work his way into the ultra conservative, in your face, anti-everything-I-stood-for-political arena.  At the age of three, he had our son wearing Bush tee shirts and telling all of his preschool friends how his dad was going to go out into the world to defeat all those bad people who wanted to hurt daddy, i.e., the Democrats.

He surreptitiously spun tales of these criminals who wanted to take daddy's money away.  He twice ran for office, sending our son off to school on election days to tell everyone how his daddy was going to win; 100% certain his dad would win against those vile, monstrous Democrats. Can you imagine what his teachers must have been thinking? Then the little guy would come home to find out the world was not going to be saved because daddy lost. Does this mean the bad guys are going to take our money, daddy? Seriously, who does this to a child?

I didn't truly understand the depths with which he would go until I found out he convinced our son to switch his loyalties from the Packers to the Vikings soon after Brett Favre began wearing a purple jersey.  How can you be a life long Packer fan, then switch over to the sworn enemy then have the moral ineptitude to express that to your son as if it were the law?  Everything with Troy (Mr. Sunshine) was the law, in the eyes of his impressionable son.  The son he fought so hard to win over, he was even willing to tell him horrible tales of how his mom left him/them, didn't love him and how daddy would be the only person he could ever count upon subsequent to our split.

The manipulation had no end and the devastation on this impressionable, trusting young man had no end when the hero he knew as his father was convicted of felony fraud and sent to prison for two and a half years. Who are the bad guys again, daddy?

The little guy's counselor and I knew he was repressing his feelings, staying tough, being a strong guy, acting as if this had no real effect on him.  Yet on the Tuesday night before the Thanksgiving holiday, after a counseling session where he was asked to focus on his feelings and deal with his grief, he exploded.  I had made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner with garlic bread and broccoli.  All things he loved.  He walked into the kitchen and told me if I didn't make something else for him, something more along the lines of REAL food, something he could actually eat, he would tear our house apart and hurt both me and his sisters.

I immediately phoned the counselor to see what they had talked about that day.  As I was speaking to her, he was running through the house, demanding I go get him some food, knocking everything over he could find, breaking doors, pounding fists into the wall.  He wouldn't let me hold him, he wouldn't let me reach him.  I knew what was happening, the lid had finally blown off the pressure cooker and the anger had surfaced.  The counselor told me to take him to a behavioral unit for the treatment of children but I refused. 

We continued through Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with virtually the same behavior the entire time.  Even inviting his best friend's family over to celebrate Thanksgiving with us resulted in a refusal to wait for the prayer, a demand for rolls before anyone had been served and later, a fight with his buddy that ended with a precious painting by my dead brother being destroyed as he unleashed his anger on his best friend. By Sunday night, I had had enough.  I told him he needed help beyond what I could give him, he needed a higher level of care.  He responded with the same abject tone and vicious stare he had used on me for days....."you don't have the guts to take me there. I'll put my shoes on right now, let's go, let's see if you will really do it because I don't think you will.  I don't think you have it in you to do that.  C'mon, I dare you. I'm ready to go.  I will go anywhere to get away from you."

Summoning all my strength, I made up my mind.  If I call him on this.  If we get in that car, there is no turning back.  He is hurting and he won't let me help him; in fact, he is blaming his hurt on me.  I found that fortitude that comes from being a mom, the one where you are willing to put them through something painful to bring them back to you.  Just like the hernia operation when he was a baby, or fighting against their dad to have the girls get tubes in their ears to stop chronic infections.  A mother knows when it is time to take evasive measures. A mother knows when it is time to call in the Calvary and save their child.

But a mother could have never imagined the depths of pain she would experience in watching three men: An orderly, a nurse and a security guard, carry her baby boy away while hearing him wail for her to stop them and just take him home.  "I will be good now I promise, I will be okay, I didn't mean all those things I said, just take me home mommy, please don't leave me here."

Another nurse pulled me aside and watched as I fell to my knees, begging her to let me take him home.  She reminded me of the anger he had built inside of him as she grabbed my face, pulled it up, wiped my eyes and said, "you're doing the right thing.  If you don't intervene now, you will never be able to reach him when puberty hits.  This IS THE TIME to save him and you are strong enough to do it."

This was the same nurse who had interviewed us previously, a woman who had shocked me with her ability to write, as she didn't have any hands.  It was those very gentle, yet highly effective hand-less stubs,  placed upon my cheeks that allowed me to stand back up and face my own reality. I don't think I would have listened to any other person at that moment.  Only someone I knew had faced and overcome great challenges of her own had the power to lift me up.

But the next day, I stormed in there will my full will and might and demanded my son be released, after I discovered what they had done to him.

(To be continued)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fasten Your Seatbelts, It's Christmas

In the midst of all the struggle, in the depth of this dark time, I am fortunate to receive daily doses of unconditional laughter. Whether it's from a work mate who does spot on impersonations of some of the bigger personalities in our office or from my delightfully brilliant children, who all have unprecedented vocabularies combined with fully developed humor, understanding of puns (and how to use them) and even, at times, a subtle sarcasm that may not make me laugh but certainly makes me appreciate their command of the English language and the nuances of which, many will never fully master.

(This is not meant to sound like one of those frothing at the mouth Christmas letters, they do language well, that's all I'm saying for now.)

My kids know how to use words, for the most part correctly and creatively.  I spend a lot of time with them spinning words and throwing out clever uses of synonyms, homonyms and antonyms as well as contrasting the differences between similes and metaphors. I realize they are 12 and 8 but truly, it's never to early to give your children what very well may be the one and only gift you, yourself have.  The gift of wordsmithing (which according to spell checker, is not really a word).  Maybe I should be teaching them about the meaning of the word irony instead.

My precious little minions know how I delight when they come up with an example to show me their understanding of word usage.  Just a few days ago, one of the twins put her brown, furry glove on one hand and left her other hand uncovered.  I watched as she proudly held them up in front of her sister, one of her 3rd grade friends and her parents.  She exclaimed, "Look, at my hands.  Get it?  I have a bare hand and a bear hand!"  Her sister and I were thrilled.  The other little girl was busy watching the words fly over her head while her parents gave one of those half-smiles you get when they are obviously thinking, oh shit, I think we might need to be reading more books to her.

Tonight, as we finished our third batch of Christmas cookies and put them ever so delicately into our tree shaped cookie jar.  I spun on my heels, looked them all square in the eyes, motioned them to come closer to me so they would know I was serious and said, "I need to ask you all one very important question. Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?"

I love these moments when they realize you can draw people in, make them wait in suspense, then deliver a dose of laughter to break the tension.

Finally, perhaps the best story of the week came from the younger of the twin girls (by four minutes, no less).  As we were pulling out of the driveway, she asked if I had noticed her buckling her seat belt without having to be reminded.  It has been one of those things that I have struggled with since gaining full custody of them.  Apparently their dad and grandma let them sit in the front seat when they were too young and let them sit unbuckled in the back seat at any age.  I never got much argument when we were sharing custody but in my full time care, they somehow feel they deserve such ridiculous privileges. 

Can I ride in the front seat?


Why not?

Because it's against the law and it's unsafe.

But dad let us do it all the time.

I'm sorry honey, I'm not willing to risk your lives, I'd rather have you alive than have you happily sitting in the front seat right up until the time we crash and you are taken from me forever.  Not gonna do it.  Now sit down and buckle up.

I can't believe you stopped at that yellow light mom.  Dad used to run yellow/red lights all the time.  One time, when we were late for church and we were with Sherry and her kids, he actually ran over a train track when the lights were flashing and the gates had closed.  

Again kids, I'm sorry - that doesn't make it okay.  Mommy is not willing to take those risks with you.  I want you to be safe.  Now sit down and buckle up!

Back to the original story, here I was with one of them telling me she has decided to buckle up on her own.  And believe me when I say, this is not the child I would have expected to give up without a much longer battle.  Think Braveheart. I frequently look at her and imagine her with blue paint smeared upon her delicate cheek bones.  She is nothing, if not dramatic.  So I intrepidly ask, "sweetie, why are you buckling up without mommy reminding you?"

Oh, that's easy she says.  You know how it's Christmas time right?  And at this time of year, if you were to write a story about a horrible car accident with a family inside, it would have to be the youngest child who dies, I mean right?  It's Christmas so it has to be horribly tragic, it would be the youngest to be written out of the story because that has so much more meaning.

In perfect harmony, her twin sister and older brother unbuckle their seat belt and yell "Woooohooooo".

What is a mother, a writer, a proud mother-writer or writing mother supposed to say to this?

"Sit down and buckle up, all of you".  As I drive away with a smile knowing my kids are already thinking in terms of what could make a good story.

Yet simultaneous fear and dread ascend,  knowing they know how to tell a good story, perhaps even good enough to fool me one day.

Merry Christmas to you all and make sure your youngest children are always buckled up safe and sound, at least during the holidays.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Strength of a Woman and Two Aleve Tablets Per Day

Sometimes I feel like an overused cliché.  Life isn’t about the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away.  

Fuck that shit. Sometimes all I can do is take another breath, surviving breath by breath and when my breath is taken away, it’s only because I’m too fucking tired and numb to feel myself actually breathing.

I was given two hugs yesterday.  Two hugs before noon.  The first was from my daughter’s third grade teacher.  I had forgotten to send lunch money with the girls so I had to get out of my car with my camouflage pajama leggings, black furry boots and yellow furry teeth from not yet brushing.  My bright red coat drew attention to me, like a Christmas tree, topped off by a flagrant display of bed head.  I delivered the money and had almost made a clean getaway when the teacher approached to ask how my son was doing.

Instinctively I told her enough without telling too much.  Watching every word as they floated off my tongue, I painting with a brushstroke large enough to cover the entire canvas with one swipe, recanting how my 12 year old son was struggling with anger, hurt and resentment from having his ultra conservative, right-wing Republican, ex-politician (wannabe),”I will save the world for you” father sent away for a two and half year stint in federal prison for fraud.

The highlights of my lowlights reduced her to tears and induced her to hug me, there in my pajama bottoms, as the kids were making their way to class. She went on to ask if we were “okay” for Christmas. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant.  “Okay for Christmas”, I asked?  “Yes, do you need help with presents for the kids?”  Aside from the obvious, i.e., me looking like a cleaned up version of a disheveled street person, I was a bit taken aback by her offer.  So many people have come forward to help us.  All friends, no family; family has been busy looking after the convict.  I have had help from other moms and dads willing to pick up the kids, feed them dinner, take them to Brownie meetings….but help for Christmas? No. I had already explained to the minions, Christmas past was gone.  This year, we are going to be about family.  This year, we are volunteering our time to help with moms and dads and kids who are less fortunate than we.  This year, we learn the true meaning.  In other words kids, this year, you aren’t getting what you are accustomed to getting.

“No, we are fine.”  We won’t need help for Christmas, but thank you so much for thinking of us (insert hug here).  “This year, we will be a gift to others.”  I walked out the door, holding my head a bit higher and praying like hell I wouldn’t encounter another person above the height of five feet on my way to the car.

After quickly showering and attempting to present myself with some sort of professional modicum; a little make-up, a pair of heels, I am off to work for a few hours before my dentist appointment.  For the past six weeks, I have opened my eyes each and every day to a cocktail of Diet Coke and Aleve.  The soda is my coffee and the Aleve is to get me through the day without the right side of my lower jaw feeling as if a voodoo sorcerer has decided that side of my face needs to fall off.  The use of rusty instruments, dull from centuries of neglect was, in my opinion, totally uncalled for.  What was my unsuspecting doppelganger dolly supposed to do? But I say nothing because the Aleve works and I know I’m seeing my dentist in December.

Tall, dark and Greek dentist walks in after his assistant has taken it upon herself to ex-ray my roots to oblivion.  I am expecting the worst: Root canal, tooth extraction, partials, retainers, braces, TMJ, TMI, fuck it – you’re just getting old and need new teeth, etc.  He pushes and prods. He pressures and pokes. Then he looks at me with those big brown eyes and says, “Sweetie, you have never had problems with your dentally boring teeth. Are you experiencing a particularly high amount of stress in your life right now?”

And just like that, I gave into my pain and I lost it, in a dental chair, just before noon on a Thursday. I thought I was being so strong to stand up to these pressures but my teeth gave me away.  It’s the fucking holidays so let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.   Second hug was administered, immediately, with love.  Without knowing the financial strains on me, doc said the ex-rays and biting device, yes I said biting device, as in I am clenching my teeth, would be an early Christmas present. You know that shit only makes me cry harder, right doc? I am known to have the world’s ugliest cry face which is made exponentially worse when accompanied by a bib and goggles.

Once I’ve pulled myself back together, the dental assistant continues with her cleaning, simply shaking her head and saying to me, “the strength of a woman, the strength of a woman, it constantly amazes me the strength we have as women, you know?”  With my mouth open, I give her a nod.  “And the fight in a mother, there is nothing like it.  By the way, don’t worry about the gums bleeding, that’s just stress too, you are going to be okay."

Breathe.  I am breathing, and yet I am bleeding from my gums and my heart and my liver and my vagina and from the deepest, most indistinct fear that resonates within my soul that perhaps, I am not enough. 
But Friday arrives and I realize we’ve made it through another week. Give me breath, and I will give you life.  Life that doesn’t have to come from my body, but life I will sustain nonetheless, as a mother. Those moments that take your breath away are not always the happy Hallmark times; sometimes, they come in the form of unthinkable challenges and struggle for basic survival.  Either way, with the strength of a woman, I continue to breathe. 

(Cross posted from another blog where I collaborate)