One of my therapists told me once that when you have a traumatic experience, or a deeply sad experience, the emotions you experience at that time are like beads on a necklace that thread directly to all of the other times you had similar emotions. So, instead of just feeling what you feel from that one event, you feel them all at once. The purpose of this is really to just put it into perspective, I think. Instead of feeling like everything that’s going on is all bad or all good – although, I really think we’re digging into the bad – that this one thing is happening at this one time. It’s easy to feel like it never ends, or that it is so unbearable, but that prevents a person from coping with what is happening now.
Six. We hit six yesterday. Six inpatient hospitalizations since August 2014. Both sides of Washington and northern Idaho.
The call from the emergency room came as I was preparing to go into a meeting about a crisis at work, requesting permission to treat my child. I was half a state away, and they couldn’t tell me why my child was in the emergency room at Children’s Hospital. I had been expecting this on some level. In the preceding weeks, I was informed that she hadn’t been eating much of anything at all. Her weight was dropping, and her heart rate was descending to an unsafe range. If it was too low, she would be taken to the hospital. Instead of being discharged on her birthday to transitional housing in the U-District in Seattle, they will discharge her to Eastern State or Western State. Please God, no.
“I am going to get a job right away,” she had told me that morning. “At, like, a coffee shop or something.”
“That’s great!” I had said. Or something equally bland. I tried to mask the worry with enthusiasm. All changes seemed to push her right over the edge. I worry about every relationship, every plan, every new school year, every new situation, every big dream, every college that sends a letter. Relationships are fraught with turbulent drama, like Romeo & Juliet meets Donnie Darko.
My end gets the myriad of suicide threats and attempts, suicidal ideation, hospitalization, near-hospitalization, months of not knowing what’s really going on because every word that comes out of her mouth is a lie. Every. Word.
I scheduled to fly over that evening, and took my ten-year-old on his first-ever plane ride across the state.
“Hey, kiddo, after a few of these trips, you’ll be all set for our trip to Switzerland!” If I keep it upbeat, perhaps we can avoid the “why are we flying to Seattle?” conversation. Except, Rachel in the hospital is old hat. At least this time, she didn’t have a tube down her throat.
“Yeah, I will!” He smiled, and looked a little relieved we physically survived the plane ride. He made sure I was buckled in, kept adjusting his own buckle. I don’t want to die because I’m not in my seat belt, he kept telling me. Getting up to take him to the airplane bathroom was another panic about dying. You’re not going to die, I kept telling him. I already bought non-refundable tickets to fly out in less than a week because Rachel is turning eighteen and will be discharged from the current inpatient facility. So, we’ll get to do this again next week.
We talk a lot about dying, seems like. At least he doesn’t want to die. That’s a plus.
I walked through the hospital, the same place my niece was just last year recovering from leukemia, and went to the elevator. They just said she was on the fifth floor. The heels from my boots clicked on the tile, the humming of the wheels from my suitcase echoing in the wide hallway. I found the elevator, and my heart lurched a little bit as thick metal doors shut. How are we here again. It always feels like I’m being shut into a panic room. Ah, elevators. Another place to cry. Except, today, I couldn’t.
I have one grandchild trying to live, and one grandchild trying to die, my mother had lamented a year before when my niece was fighting leukemia. The dichotomy was not lost on me. Mom has had a rough couple of years.
I stepped off the elevator, and stopped in my tracks. I thought I was going to a medical floor, like a regular hospital room. I looked one direction. Rehabilitation. I looked the other. Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. Oh, God, not this.
I was asked if I was carrying any sharps, any lighters, any cigarettes, or anything else that could be harmful. No, no, no, and no. I was led into the unit, and informed they were doing intake. The doctor I talked to said they were planning to admit her. Another fun-filled trip to the inpatient juvenile psychiatric ward. Only this time, parents are allowed to sleep over. I guess I’m sleeping in the hospital for a couple of days.
I found my kiddo, hunched into a small bench in a sort of industrial-meets-Ikea-meets-minimalism-with-wood-and-weird-plastic motif. The walls were a natural wood grain, all utilitarian cabinetry, a funky green color and an aquamarine splashed on the walls. The benches and chairs looked like they were made of bright colored plastic. Nothing looked comfortable. I couldn’t decide if the eighties made a disastrous return and threw up in this unit or if somebody was colorblind.
Her face was paler than usual, her features sharp as if cut from stone, and she looked weak. I could see the bones of her legs and shoulders sticking out from her clothes. The worst part of this, is that it feels like a game, and she feels like she’s winning. I cuddled up next to my baby, and cradled her head in my shoulder, stroking her bony little shoulders. The thing about always being scared your kid is going to die, and grappling with the reality that you cannot save them from themselves, is that at some point you stop commenting on it. You stop putting your fear into words to your child. Because that makes it worse.
It’s just another bead.