Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Hospitalization, Part I

In my post of October 12,  When Things Became Even Worse, I explained how Lily ended up in an adolescent psych ward an hour away from home.  The event was traumatic for our close knit, sheltered family.  I was devastated and afraid for my daughter, and guilt ridden because I wasn't with her, soothing and protecting as I'd tried to do for her whole life.  It hadn't yet sunk in that my parenting methods weren't adequate for Lily's needs, that the situation was beyond me.

After phoning my mom, feeling every bit a bereft child, I wandered the unfamiliar streets again, in hopes of finding a place to get coffee while waiting for mom to make the long drive.  I walked for what felt like miles, finally finding an open Safeway with a Starbucks.  I was pitifully grateful for an overpriced latte, but tried not to look the barista in the eye in fear that she'd know I was a negligent mom with a child in the local mental health ward.  Exhausted, cold and ashamed, I walked back towards the hospital and stood in front of a Target store, an easy landmark for my mom to find.

Mom made record time and drove up before I finished my latte.  I got in and asked her to drive to a remote corner of the parking lot, knowing that I was about to lose it.  As she put the car into park, I let loose, sobbing and explaining what had happened.  She held me, like I wanted to hold my daughter, and listened, murmuring her love and support.  My mom and I aren't always close, but she was just what I needed in that moment.

We drove home and I hugged my younger son before crawling into bed for a few hours sleep.  During those hours, my family marshaled forces.  My two older sons set up to tag team care for my youngest.  My sister got on the first flight available to be with us.  My oldest daughter, a child therapist in Southern California, arranged her schedule so she could fly up mid week when we expected Lily to be released.

After a short rest, I rose and made plans for the evening.  The facility allowed visitation only from 6:45 to 7:45 each evening, and I wanted to leave early so we wouldn't be detained if there was a problem on the road.  I packed a change of clothes for Lily, her toothbrush and vegan toothpaste, and my mom and I started out, stopping by the airport to pick up my sister on the way.

Lily didn't want to see anyone but me, but my sis and mom provided some much needed moral support for me.  I signed in with the security guard, surrendered earrings, cell phone and keys before being allowed into the building.  I waited with a small crowd to be let into the locked ward.  During the wait, we could hear disturbing yelling and crying from the ward, along with the unmistakable sounds of someone banging on a wall.  I grew more tense and worried, but worked to appear calm before being admitted for the visit.  I knew that if Lily sensed my distress, it would only add to her struggle.

Lily was happy to see me, and I got a good hug before we settled down to visit.  We sat together in the hallway, on adjacent chairs, as specified by the facility rules.  I asked Lily about her day, and as she began to tell me what her day was like, she grew increasingly upset.  One of Lily's compulsions before being admitted was her head tapping, lightly tapping on her head nine time with a pen every time she heard a word with "ck" in it.  Because pens were considered contraband, Lily was denied that particular coping method when faced with anxious feelings.  Adding to her discomfort, she was in a coed adolescent ward with numerous angry seventeen year-olds.  The word of choice on the ward was of course, fuck, repeated frequently with an escalating emphasis.

Teens have an amazing communication network and their stories were shared in boasts of violence, drug use and promiscuity.  Part of Lily was intrigued by these tales, and part of Lily was frightened by them.  In spite of her struggles, or perhaps because of them, Lily was a young thirteen, very sheltered.  She was gaining an accelerated education I wasn't happy about.  One of Lily's other discomforts was the lack of vegetarian options from the institutional cafeteria.  So she was hungry, frightened, and just beginning to understand that she'd rather be a home.

Lily began to cry and ask to go home.  I put my arms around her thin shoulders and explained that I was legally prevented from taking her home because her admittance was involuntary, a decision made by the emergency room doctor after Lily's 911 call.  I reassured her that the staff would take good care of her, and we spent a few minutes speaking with the evening charge nurse, a warm young man who promised to look out for Lily.  She calmed a bit and told me about her roommates before our hour was up.

When the parents were asked to leave at the end of the visitation hour, I gave Lily one last hug along with a brave smile that even I didn't believe, and told her I'd see again tomorrow.  I blindly exited the building and asked my mom and sis to get me to the car.  I couldn't speak without breaking down and knew Lily might be able to see me through the windows.  I had to maintain a confident facade for her benefit, or I'd never to be able to leave her there.  And I didn't have a legal option to take her home yet.

I was furious and horrified by the chaos of the yelling and underlying feeling of violence on the ward.  I would have to trust the staff at the hospital, but had no trust in anyone's ability to care for and protect my daughter.  The truth was, I didn't know how to help Lily during a state of mania induced psychosis.  I knew her med regimen wasn't working, but had no idea what would work.

We got back to Santa Cruz and I took a sleeping pill, knowing that I'd never get any sleep if I wasn't medicated.  I fell into bed and slept soundly until my ringing phone woke me up after midnight.  The ringing stopped before I got to the handset, but I saw from the caller ID that the call came from the hospital.  I called the number and was eventually connected with the charge nurse who said Lily was upset and wanted to speak with me.  My heart sank, but a brief conversation with Lily somehow resulted in calming her own.  I again reassured her that I'd see her the next day.  I waited until she disconnected before hanging up my phone and crawling back into bed for a restless night's sleep.


  1. I'm not sure if this happened recently or not but in any case, you are very brave to write it and are doing a great service to other mothers in similar situations.

    I wish you, Lily and the rest of your family much health and happiness in 2011.

  2. Thank you so much for your support. It helps to write it out in a way, as a form of therapy. But it also gives me some much needed perspective because it has been a few months. It's also a reminder of how far we've come. I'm counting my blessings and hoping we don't backslide very much. Treating mental illness is a continuous effort.

  3. My heart absolutely breaks for you. But as a mom I know you will find the strength to not only make it through but be a champion for your daughter. HUGE hugs.

  4. Thanks Andrea. I remind myself that our situation could be worse, and try to focus on counting our blessings. We're still together and have hope that Lily will feel stronger and less afraid as time goes on.

  5. *sob* *tears* and more*tears*
    I'm so glad you wrote this luv! No matter how disturbing it is for me to read in the state we are are in now, it makes me even more determined to find a prophylactic for my daughter before it gets this far, IF that is possible! I had no idea the psych ward could still be like you describe here. It sounds like jail! Yesterday, I called for help (Pdoc) and left a message on her cell voicemail, but my daughter heard me and screamed, "Are you having someone come take me to jail?!" Mind you, I said no such thing, just that we had to do something tonight...

    In addition, I am sooooo glad that your Mom was there for you that eve and that your sister could come for support to. She must have a measure or two of insight and assistance for you I hope? Also, I had forgotten that you have 5 kids! What a blessing that they could rally in your time of crisis. I send you continued hope and Grace!

  6. Thanks Mel. The psych ward was a surreal environment - very necessary restrictions as they're responsible for the safety of young people with a variety of issues, and yet they don't always hit the mark. I'll relate more bizarre experiences, a mini riot, teens having sex in the bathroom . . . really not a place I'd voluntarily choose for my daughter. And yet, this is where the important med changes were instituted.

    I'd never have been strong enough to place her here, it was out of my control.

    I am sorry about your daughter. (((hugs))) Lily is apt to yell inappropriate things in any environment. It seems they can misinterpret easily, and then their filter, I suppose for Lily, it's pretty much missing altogether. I so hope you're able to get good treatment before things escalate very much.

    I am blessed with my family. I need to remind myself of that. But I'm so bad at asking for help, that sometimes I still feel very isolated. And it's a mixed bag, as you've found, sometimes the opinions and unsolicited advice is counter productive.