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......)


  1. My palms are sweating and my heart is pounding and I feel like I'm gonna throw up


  2. Tears now. I just want to hug you both, all, up and hold you.

  3. I am so sorry. I am praying for you at this very moment. May God give you much wisdom at this most excrutiating time. Much love to you.


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