Waiting For The Unknown

We waited at the Emergency Room. That’s what Emergency Rooms are for, it seems.

We waited for a mental health evaluation for my middle child who a short while earlier had threatened suicide to anyone who would listen. We waited with knotted stomachs and interminably slow clocks.

And I personally waited with the audacity to hope that things could change, that she could ‘get better’ and stop skipping school, stop wearing torn black clothes, stop wearing her hair covering three quarters of her face, stop believing that she was a doomed failure, stop reading and writing and drawing about nothing but blood and death, and stop carving her body to help relieve the anguish she was feeling.

My daughter was understandably distraught and confused. And of course, how else might a teenage girl initially feel when armed police officers walk into her bedroom and announce that she will be going in for an emergency psychiatric evaluation? She alternated between tears of remorse and bursts of frustration, then her anger began to flare as the realities of the situation became apparent.

girl on bed

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Her cell phone had been taken upon arrival, along with her clothes and shoes. She wore oversized maroon-colored scrubs as she endured the aggravation of not being able to communicate with her friends beyond the few messages she had frantically texted before the phone confiscation.

I had known that her peers were firmly intertwined in her self-destructive and dysfunctional behaviors, and her inability to communicate with them during this crisis annoyed her greatly. (Okay, that’s a major understatement.) When her younger sister came to the ER after a while, she secretly asked her to contact certain people for her, to give them specific messages.

After several hours of waiting and evaluation, of tears and apologies mixed with empty promises and accusatory adolescent eyes, I was only partly taken aback at the announced possibility that my daughter might simply be released from the ER and sent home. She’d said that she no longer wanted to be alive and wasn’t at all averse to ending her own life. But she had not formulated a specific plan.

In an emergency room that’s apparently a pretty big distinction.

I wanted my daughter be admitted on a mental health hold. I had watched her descend into darkness over the previous months. I had been the recipient of so many of her rages. I had cleaned and bandaged her self-inflicted wounds. I had seen the black emptiness in her eyes as she spoke of the hopelessness she could not crawl out of, the blackness she’d seemed to learn to surrender to and eventually embrace.

I knew that if she went home nothing would be different. She would still carve through her skin, she would still rage and make threats that included suicide, she would still be failing school, living in the dark despair that had become her reality. Our home would still be held hostage in turmoil, and I would still fear for her life. Every single day.

I could not help her to stabilize. We needed someone else to facilitate that. So at my insistence, the decision was made to admit her. I believed without a doubt that, as backwards as it might have seemed or felt, it was the only chance for her overall long-term safety and wellbeing.

medical chart

(Photo Source: Google Images)

There was no room available in the mental health section of the hospital we were at, so calls were made to “find a bed” for her. A freestanding behavioral center with available space was located halfway across town, and we began another wait for her second ambulance ride of the day.

It was nearing midnight when my daughter was once more loaded into an ambulance. By this time my car had been brought to the hospital, so I got directions to the facility where I was to connect with them after transport and sign the consent for a 72-hour mental health hold.

My ex-husband had left and I traveled a couple of interstates alone to a multi-story building I’d seen many times off the highway. I parked my car and hurried to meet the ambulance as my daughter was once more offloaded and taken inside.

This facility was secure, meaning that no one could get in or out the glass front door without the lock being ‘buzzed’. I learned that no bags or purses were allowed inside, so I returned mine to my car. Again, the emergency personnel were sympathetic and considerate. They conversed easily with my daughter and offered their best wishes as they departed.

We were led to some elevators and up to another floor. We approached an area with yet another set of secure doors. These were large, locked, wooden doors. No going in or out without an electronic passkey, which only the employees were permitted.

locked hospital doors

(Photo Source: http://keyeslifesafety.com/)

And this was it. This was the unknown that I had both feared and longed for, the place where I trusted my daughter would not be able to self-harm or act on her suicidal thoughts. This was the place I hoped she could start to find safety and stability.

This was the psych ward.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

At The E.R.

The ambulance driver and I made small talk as he transported us to the Emergency Room. Lights and sirens were not used on our drive, and I was thankful. He told me that, in his experience, drivers did strange things when they saw an ambulance on the road.

Most notably, he said, when a situation is emergent (using lights and sirens) people tend to not see him or just don’t move out of the way as the law dictates. Ironically, he noted that when there are no loud sirens or flashing lights, other drivers tend to give him a wide berth.

I tried hard to stay engaged in the conversation. It helped to fight the rising nausea in my stomach, the indistinguishable thoughts in my head, and the constant threat that my heart kept making: that all of this was simply and ridiculously too much, and it would soon just give up and shut down.

My daughter was a few feet behind me in the ambulance, separated by the cab wall, but strapped safely to a gurney and attended to by competent emergency personnel. I could only imagine what she was experiencing, how scared she must be, if she – like me – was wondering just how all of this had happened and where things went from here. Did she too feel a sharp mixture of fear, dread, relief, and hope?

I wanted to be with her, to reassure her that she was not alone among strangers, to promise that I would not leave her to fend for herself. After all this time, I still wanted desperately to know that I could hold her and make everything okay again. I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold her, and I couldn’t make everything okay. But I so wanted to.

ER Ambulance Bay

(Photo Source: Google Images)

We reached the bay doors of the ER and I watched my daughter, on her gurney, come out of the back of the ambulance. She was wheeled in through the automatic doors and I followed closely behind, gratefully noting the kind interactions and well-wishes of the EMTs as they spoke with her and shared their goodbyes.

She was taken back to an evaluation area set up for situations just like ours. There were a few patient rooms with large windows for easy observation. Mini-blinds were sandwiched inaccessibly between two panes of  (presumably unbreakable) glass and doors were double hinged to prevent tampering and escape.

The rooms were Spartan in their appearance, leaving nothing to chance when it came to patients who were making physical threats or experiencing suicidal ideations or other mental health crises.

There was a small central area which the rooms surrounded, a place where nurses and guards could keep a watchful eye on those who were unstable, who were a very possible threat to themselves or others.

It was sobering to realize this was a necessity at our local Children’s Hospital.

I remember walking out to a large, public waiting room to call my daughter’s therapist. I needed to let her know what was happening, and to cancel the next afternoon’s appointment.

Hospital Waiting Room

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I dared to wish for understanding and empathy from another adult who grasped the intensity, depth, and true severity of my daughter’s plight.

How grateful I was when she offered words of sympathy and encouragement. I was comforted by the fact that she wasn’t surprised by our current turn of events.

It helped me understand that I had not failed, that I was not incompetent and thus unable to keep my daughter safe at home. I was reassured to know that the professional who knew my daughter best agreed with my assessment and decision to call 911 and take her to the Emergency Room for a mental health evaluation.

My ex-husband had arrived and we began a long wait. I think we likely both felt a natural though unrealistic hope that now that we were here in the ER, now that she knew this wasn’t a joke and when you threaten suicide, adults take it seriously … now she would just come to her senses and stop with the crazy talk already. Unrealistic indeed.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013