Through the Looking Glass

P1010840This post describes probably one of the most stressful days of my life. This all happened on Monday, 5th February 2007, I call it black Monday.

Before I launch into it, I want to make it clear that I am fine, mentally, physically and emotionally. I am taking care of myself. I also want to explain that it does seem as though I am making myself out to be a martyr here. Sometimes it feels that way, but really all I am trying to do is to do the “right thing”. Exactly what the “right thing” entails is complex and ever-changing.

Stephen spent the weekend with his parents so that he could spend time with his aunt & uncle who had come down for a visit. I met his relatives too, that’s a story in and of itself. That Monday morning I went to work with a fully charged phone, just in case things went wrong. I sent Stephen an encouraging text message, because I was worried about him, and settled in to work.

I waited a few hours and received no response, so I gave him a call at around 10am. No response. I checked in with his mother and she assured me she had just spoken to him and he was fine. Still, in my anxious state, I kept calling him and leaving messages just in case.

At around midday, Stephen called me back.

“Is now a good time?” he asked uncertainly.
“Yes, of course,” I responded encouragingly “how are you?”
“Oh, fine, fine” he said, then giggled.
I was unconvinced, that didn’t sound fine to me.
“Have you had any Ativan?” I asked pointedly.
“Oh yeah” he said airily “I had some last night ”
“How much?”
“Well, two last night.”
“And today?” I was getting nervous now.
“Some…” he said cagily.
“How many? Two?”
“No…” he drew the word out as though toying with me.
“You know how I only like even numbers?”
“I… I don’t know.” He faltered

At this point I hung up, requested leave, checked some code in and ran to my car. Once I was on my way, I called him again.

“Hello sweetie, how are you?”
“Oh, I’m good, where are you?”
“I’m at work” I asserted in my most honest voice, “it’s really busy here” I turned onto the motorway with one hand.
“Oh, ok”
“So, what are you doing now?”
“I had some Sake” he said proudly
Sake is Japanese rice wine and Ativan should definitely not be taken with alchohol, ever.
“What else did you have, sweetie?” I asked reasonably, settling into the fast lane. I had to keep him talking.
“Whisky, Vodka and Sake” he said proudly. It doesn’t take much to get Stephen drunk, his mental state was obviously seriously altered now. By rights, the Ativan should have put him to sleep, but he was awake, albeit drowsy. I had to keep him talking, keep him on the line. If I was right he was in a great deal of danger.

Then, I heard a clatter and a scuffle.
“Sorry, I dropped the phone” he giggled.
He dropped it again, tried to pick it up, dropped it, picked it up again and dropped it again.
Then I heard an awful sickening crash bang as though something had just fallen a long way down a flight of stairs.
“What happened? Stephen? Hello?”

There was silence for a while until he regained control of the phone.
“Hehe, I fell down the stairs” he chuckled.
“OK, what I want you to do is to just lie there on the floor OK? Just lie there on the floor, can you do that for me?”
“No, I have to get breakfast” he insisted.
“OK, you can have breakfast, but I don’t want you going upstairs, OK?”

I was half-way between my place and his place now, just keeping him talking and trying to remain calm.

“I feel like I’m going to be sick” he said.
“OK, what I want you to do is crawl to the kitchen, OK? You can be sick in the kitchen but not on the carpet in the dining room, OK?”
If he threw up on the carpet he wouldn’t have to commit suicide, Patric would sort that all out for him.

“Where are you? You better be at work.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m at work” I reassured him again.
With a beep the money on my phone ran out, I added more with one shaking hand and called him again.

“How are you doing?”
“Going to make French toast”
“Ok, good”

Suddenly, he started asking existential questions.
“Who am I?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Who am I!” he yelled into the phone.
“You’re Stephen Atwood”
“Too simplistic, try again”
“You’re my boyfriend”
“Too contrived. Who am I?”
“Too profound”

“Where are you now?”
“I’m near the kitchen. Where are you?”
“I’m at work. Is the door unlocked?”
“I don’t know, are you sure you’re at work?”
“Yes. What I want you to do is go to the front door and unlock it, ok?”
As I drove up to his parents’ house he reached the door
“It’s unlocked”

I burst in through the door and saw him crawling comically on the carpet, his phone in his hand.
“What are you doing? Why are you here?” he looked at me quizzically “I thought you were at work.”
“Come, sweetie, I want you to come with me”
“Why, where are we going?”
“I’m taking you to Green Oaks, they will look after you”
I grabbed him under the shoulders and tried to lift him up.
“No! No, don’t make me go! They took my sister away and she never came back. She never came back!” he started crying pitifully and lurched out of my grasp.

If I were not in such a panic, I would have found this fascinating. It turns out Stephen’s sister Shannon was kicked out of the house when she was 18 over a disagreement about ice trays. She was sent to the marines and Stephen didn’t see her again till he was 13 years old. I didn’t have time to think about Stephen’s childhood trauma, though; I had to deal with the here and now.

“Come. You’re coming with me.” I said firmly and grabbed him around the waist.
“No!” he yelled and started to the kitchen. He was on a mission: a mission to get breakfast. A mission for: instant French toast.

He crawled into the kitchen with me holding onto him, being dragged behind. I knew there was no option, I had no choice. Theresa’s voice resounded in my head “if he won’t go, you can call the police”. I dialed 911 for the first time in my life. As I did so, Stephen popped a piece of frozen French toast into the toaster.

“This is 911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
“My… uh… friend, he’s taken too many pills and alchohol and I think he may be a danger to himself” I tried unsuccessfully to keep the hysteria from my voice.
“Is there a weapon in the house?”
“What? No.”
“Ok, sir, where are you?”
“Uuh, where am I? I don’t know.” My voice rose in panic. Stephen was about to die from alchohol poisoning for want of me remembering an address.

From the floor, with a piece of partially frozen French toast in his mouth, Stephen recited his parents’ address flawlessly, I repeated it to the operator.
“Ok, sir, I am coordinating with the Rowlett sheriff’s department. They will send a squad car right away.”
“Thank you”

When the officer walked through the door 2 minutes later, he couldn’t help but smile. I was lying under Stephen’s prone figure where he had collapsed onto me, breathing shallowly. He was moving and trying to speak but he was mostly incoherent.”

“Hi there” the officer said to Stephen (who probably looked very cute at this moment) with a slight smile “and what seems to be the problem?”

“He overdosed on these” I handed up the pills “and he took some alchohol too. The cop frowned. Who are you? “I’m his boyfriend” I admitted reluctantly.

The cop took some details, including Stephen’s Social Security Number, which Stephen also recited flawlessly. The paramedics rushed in and got Stephen off me, they asked the usual questions “what kind of insurance, how many pills, how much alchohol, where were you, where are his parents.”

“Oh, his mother’s at work”
“Does she know what’s happened?”
I didn’t really want to bother her but I realised I should tell her. So I called her and let her know I had found Stephen on too much Ativan and alchohol and I was taking him to Green Oaks. I never mentioned the cops. No need to alarm her.

They took him away, a very nice, tall black paramedic at his side.
I walked out hazily into the sunlight. There, out in the street was a fire engine, an ambulance and two cop cars. They had pulled out all the stops. I was suddenly filled with a rush of gratitude.

I turned to the police officer and thanked him. “Just doing my job, sir. Now, who is going to secure the house?”
We arranged to close up the house. The officers locked it from the inside and left through the garage door, very resourceful of them. Meanwhile, Stephen’s sister came home and was shocked to find five police officers on her lawn. I explained what was happening and gave her a big hug.

One of the police officers took me aside and explained to me where they were taking him: to a hospital in the centre of town, very close to Green Oaks. They recommended I follow in my car but that by law I was not allowed to actually “follow” the ambulance. He gave me directions and off they went.

I followed down Lakeview parkway, I was trevalling as fast as I possibly could, my eyes fixed on the ambulance in the distance. Suddenly I saw the turn to East Centreville loom in front of me. I dared not mess up the instructions I was given. I screeched on the breaks and turned sharply to the left.

I got to the 635 and stopped dead in the worst traffic jam I had ever seen in Dallas. I almost cried. The 635 was four lanes of solid traffic for at least 10 miles ahead of me. Ever resourceful, I called Dean at work and got him to give me directions. With the help of almighty Google maps we negotiated an alternate route that had me cutting across town on a road called Forrest lane. Forrest lane has since become one of my favourite roads. It turns out that the directions I had been given by the police were more complex than they needed to be, had I stayed on Lakeview parkway like the ambulance, I would have made it to the hospital without much fuss.

So, I was quickly cutting across town, darting between other motorists when suddenly everyone around me slowed down to a crawl. I was still going 40 mph (which was a reasonable speed). Imagine my surprise when I see flashing red and blue lights appear behind me. What now? Broken tail light? I stopped for the police car and another car passed me. The barely post-pubescent driver yelled “doh” out of his window.

Stupid kids… kids? School…school zone!
I was in a school zone and the lights were flashing!

In America, school zones have special road rules. During certain times of the day, you can only travel at 20 mph. I had been literally going double the speed limit.

The officer walked up to my window. “Any idea how fast you were going, sir?”
“Uh, I don’t know, maybe 40?” I said distractedly.
I guess he wasn’t expecting me to admit that.
“So, you have any reason for it?”
It all came out in a torrent. A… friend of mine had overdosed, I called 911 and I was following him to the hospital, I was really sorry I didn’t see the sign but I was having a really bad day. I wished he would just ticket me and let me carry on.

He took my license, asked me for more details, Stephen’s name, etc and went back to his squad car to confirm. When he came back, he handed me my license with a very stern look on his face.
“Are you going to be driving like that again?”
“No sir!”
“Well, off you go then, don’t do it again.”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” it always pays to be polite.

With that I drove off at a sedate and contrite 20 mph. The school zone phenomenon is a strange one. When in a school zone, everyone drives at 20 mph, but as soon as they leave the zone, they speed up to the legal limit. Then, half a mile later, back to 20. When you’re in a hurry, it’s infuriating, but I dared not go even a fraction over. I had too much to lose.

My mind was going a million miles an hour. What if I had the directions wrong? What if they told me the wrong hospital? What was it called anyway, central… something? What if I couldn’t find it, what would they do with him? What would he think when he came to and he was in a strange place with no one he knew beside him?

I was almost neurotic by the time I arrived at the hospital and parked in the emergency parking. I raced into the ward and up to the counter. My heart pounded as the administrative staff looked him up.
“This way please.”

I came upon Stephen lying in a hospital bed, looking relaxed but a little worse for wear. His right arm was bleeding.
“Hi honey, where were you? I thought you’d left me.”
“I came as fast as I could”
He smiled at me with a smile that said he wasn’t all there, part of him was elsewhere.
“He’s been pulling his IV out” the nurse said accusingly, “we had to restrain him”

It was then that I noticed the straps on his arms, holding him down to the bed.

“It itches” he said by way of explanation. The IV was back in his arm and he wanted it out, he strained against his restraints so that he could get his mouth to the IV. The grin on his face said that he saw this as something of a game, something of a psychotic game.

“It’s just a banana bag, it has nothing in it but electrolytes” he said reasonably as he tried to chew through the restraint on his right arm. “There’s no reason for them to have this on me and I want it out”

“Is the IV really necessary?” I asked the nurse.
“Doctor’s orders” the nurse said sternly.
She was a petite Indian woman, the sort of woman who doesn’t take nonsense, the sort who sticks with the rules. Not Stephen’s sort of person.

I tried to hold him down to stop him from getting at the needle. I tried to cajole him and to reason with him, but he was in no mood to be reasonable. Despite my attempts he managed to pull his IV out of his arm. He bled copiously into the bed, leaving a deep crimson stain.

Stephen turned to me “Call Corbin” he said in what can only be described as a state of delirium. “His dad will know what to do” he then gave me his email password and asked me to check his email for a response from Corbin’s dad.

Corbin was Stephen’s childhood friend. His father, Jim, was a licensed counselor who Stephen thought may be able to do some psychology.

A male nurse came around, to see what the commotion was about. He was also no-nonsense.
“Look, I don’t want to have to do this, but if I have to, I will inject you in the foot”
At that, Stephen started a stream of insults, as he continued to strain against his restraints.
“I won’t even remember your name when this is over” Stephen said to the male nurse. I checked his name badge and noticed his name was “Justin”.

He strapped Stephen’s left leg down and injected him in the foot.
“Son of a bitch!” Stephen yelled as the needle dug into his flesh a third time.
“I guess you won’t be forgetting his name in a hurry, will you, sweetie pie?” I said ironically. Justin chuckled.

No sooner had the nurses gone than he was trying to rub the IV out of his foot. I realised it was a control game, like the child in the department store throwing a blue fit, he either wanted everything to go his way or for everyone else to have a really tough time. I called the nurses back in.

They wheeled Stephen out into the hallway so that they could keep an eye on him. All the time I was holding him down and speaking to him soothingly, tears streaming down my face. I was torn between leaving him alone so as not to agitate him and staying there so he knew he was not alone.

This is about the time he started doing one of the scariest things I have ever seen him do: I watched him cycle between different coping mechanisms, looking for one that would fit the situation.

He went all calm and looked around himself bewilderedly: “Where am I? Why am I here? I don’t belong here, please, let me go, I don’t want to be here!”
Then he started sobbing uncontrollably and looked up at me with those puppy-dog eyes. “Why are you doing this to me?” As quickly as they started, the tears stopped and he started grinning. He pulled against his restraints until his entire body shook with effort and the tendons in his neck popped out like cords. “You’re stupid!” he yelled “Why did you bring me here? I was in pain, I was dealing with my pain!”

At one point, he seemed to calm down, he looked up at me directly in the eyes and said: “kill me, kill me please. Go get a syringe and fill it with air, then inject me in the arm.” I shook my head dumbly and carried on crying.

I turned to the man the nurses had indicated was his doctor.
“Um, hi” I said
“Uh, is there anything you can do with, you know, what I mean is.”
“I mean, what’s the next step in the process?”
“We’re waiting on the test results and then the psychologist from Green Oaks is going to come do an evaluation.”
“And when… ” he gave me a look “right… I understand… I’ll wait.” Same story as last time, hurry up and wait at the convenience of the psychiatrist to come and ask the same questions we’d been answering for half a week.

“Look” one of the orderlies said over the sounds of Stephen’s screaming “I know that to you it looks like we don’t care, but we see at least one case like this a week.”
“One a week?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. Don’t worry, this is normal, we’ll take care of your brother for you.”

There was a police officer there, presiding over the whole affair.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked by way of conversation.
“He overdosed on some pills and some alchohol”
The officer shook his head sadly.
“Who are you, his brother?”
“His boyfriend” I said reluctantly.
He raised a critical eyebrow “How old is he?”
“Eighteen.” I said dejectedly. I’ve given up worrying about what people think of me.

Stephen cycled a number of times from scared Stephen to sad Stephen to angry Stephen. Finally, with a cry of triumph, he literally broke the restraint on his arm.

The nurses called in a large security guard to hold him down and they put him in leather restraints instead. When he started biting at the restraints, they put a surgical mask on him to prevent him. I was suddenly reminded of Hannibal Lector.

At a loss for what to do, I laid my hands on him and started praying. That was obviously offensive because after a bit of this, the police officer asked me to leave, so I did. Stephen obviously wanted me back so he yelled for me, calling the police officer (in a colossal twist of irony) a “cocksucker”.

I stood about a hundred meters away down the hall, biting my lip and listening to his screaming as the tears rolled down my face.

The police officer approached me and asked me to leave the ward completely. He assured me that he would personally come and fetch me as soon as anything changed.

I paced around the waiting room then decided I should make a few calls. I had picked up Stephen’s phone from the floor in the lounge and so now I finally had access to his contact numbers. I looked up some numbers of people I needed to contact. When I looked at his phone I saw something that made my blood run cold. Still, I didn’t have time for distractions at this moment.

I first called his mother, to let her know he was all right and what was happening. I then called Kameron. Who is Kameron? Well, that requires a whole other explanation.

Kameron was Stephen’s ex boyfriend. I’d only ever known Kameron as the needy, rather whiney voice on the other end of the telephone. He called Stephen something like once an hour for the first week, even at night. It’s not that Kameron is creepy or anything, just soppy and romantic. He loved Stephen, loves Stephen. About two weeks after I met Stephen, Kameron contacted me online. We chatted a bit and I realised one thing: Kameron had feelings for Stephen, strong feelings for Stephen. So strong, in fact, that I promised him I’d do everything in my power to give Kameron a second chance. Sound strange? Well, yes, it is, but then again, I am strange.

So, Kameron & I had got to know each other quite well. This was the first time I called him though. I called him on Stephen’s phone. I told him about the Ativan, about the hospital and about Green Oaks. He was really grateful to have some information about what was going on. I then called Corbin and got a very confused person who had no idea what I was talking about. For all I know, it was the right number, perhaps not.

Then, I sat there for half an hour, just staring at all the sick people waiting to be allowed through the triage system so they could get some treatment. I suddenly felt very lonely. I suddenly felt like I needed to talk to someone. I needed to talk to someone who knew about mental health. So, I called Jude. She is a psychologist. Well, technically a psychology PhD student, but she was the closest I had. I talked to her for a while and almost broke down a few times.

Finally, after much pacing and hand-wringing, the police officer came and found me. He told me that Stephen had been yelling so much that they had to sedate him. In the back of my mind I realised that Stephen had got what he want, just reinforcing his behaviour. They were going to move him to Green Oaks. The police officer told me how to get to Green Oaks and I walked there from the hospital.

I turned up at the front desk. The receptionist looked at me as though I was about to commit myself. It was around 9pm, and the front office closes at 9:30pm, so I was in a bit of a hurry.

“Hi, you are about to admit Stephen Atwood and I have important information I need to pass on”
“Do you have his pass code?”
By law, they cannot let me see Stephen or find out any information about him without his consent. His consent comes in the form of a number which I need to give in order to gain access to him. I didn’t know this at the time.

“No, he’s only just being brought in now, he’s sedated. I just want to provide you with some information.”
I bullied her into calling through, they had no one by Stephen’s name in the building. So, I walked around to the back of the building to see if they were using a different entrance.
Sure enough, I found him there, sitting slumped in a wheelchair with the cop at his left shoulder and a nurse on his right. They had joined a queue of
“I’m sorry, but you can’t come in here” he said somberly.
He gave me a stern look, so I turned on my heel and left.
I returned to the receptionist and waited a bit, then used the phone at the end of the hall to call through to their emergency room.
“Hi, I am calling about a patient you recently admitted: Stephen Atwood”
“I’m sorry sir, but we can’t provide you with any information…”
“I know, I know. Look, I have important information to provide you with.”
“He’s been diagnosed as Bipolar by Dr. Starla Harrison of the MHMR in Mesquite, he’s on Paxil, Tegretol and Ativan, except he overdosed on Ativan this time. He needs intensive psychiatric treatment, you can’t just discharge him, you have to ensure he gets appropriate therapy. Is there someone I can speak to about that?”
“I am sorry sir but you can’t…”
“Ok, ok, so what’s going to happen then?”
“He’s going to be kept for observation. He’ll contact you and give you his number, then you can talk to him and you can arrange for outpatient treatment.”

So, with that I hung up and left the office at 9:30pm. It was pitch black outside. The parking lot required cash to enter, so I walked around the hospital campus looking for an ATM. I eventually found one, buried in the bowels of the main building.

I made my weary way home, finally getting home at about midnight. I sat down on the bed, my mind buzzing from the day’s events. I couldn’t sleep, not after everything that had happened. Now, at last, I had the time to turn my attention to Stephen’s phone. I opened it tentatively and looked at the very last thing Stephen had done before I found him prone on the floor. It was a text message. The message said “I love you, you are so wonderful” or words to that effect. The only strange thing is the message hadn’t been sent to me or anyone I knew, the recipient was called “Chris”.

I scanned through the past messages, some to me, some to his sister, some to his mother, and some to Chris. They were like love letters, the sort of one-liners you’d see on rose-scented paper. He was having an emotional affair with another guy. He was using similar words to the ones he used on me. Cheesy clichés that any sensible person would ignore, were they not delivered with such sincerity by such an innocent face.

From looking at the timing, he’d sent some of these messages while waiting at the emergency ward in Mesquite, he’d sent some of them while at the MHMR. He’d even sent some of them while in bed with me.

It was then that I realised whatever it was I thought I had with him was a farce. It was then that I realised I would have to break up with him. It was then that I realised love doesn’t really exist, at least not in the guise I expected. I understood why he did it. He needed more emotional support than one person could give him. He needed the endorphins to dull the pain from years of repressed memories and chronic depression.

I curled up onto my bed in the fetal position and cried for a few minutes. It was a nice long selfish cry which allowed me to mourn the loss of a relationship that should have never been, the loss of something that had really meant something. I guess it’s selfish but I have to say that this was the worst moment of the day for me. Then, it was over. I sat up, booted up the laptop and started writing.

I wrote down everything I knew about Stephen’s condition. About his doctors, his medication, his condition, his family history, the contact details for his friends and family, everything I knew that could possibly have a bearing on his treatment. Whatever he had, he needed intensive psychiatric treatment. Whatever he had would require years of intensive talk-therapy with a very good psychologist, possibly even group therapy with his family. I had read about a therapy called “dialectic behavioural therapy”, a version of “cognitive behavioural therapy” developed especially for people who suffer borderline personality disorder (BPD) which was my best guess as to what he had.

I took the next morning off work and continued my writing. I also loaded up my MP3 player with as many of his songs as I could rip. I carefully screened out the songs about depression. I called a couple of times but couldn’t get through. His mother said she was going to visit him at lunch time, but ended up not going. I called Green Oaks anyway and they told me he was still sedated and not in any state to see or talk to anyone, that I should try again that evening.

I went to work for the rest of the day but wasn’t concentrating much. After work, I stopped by his parents’ place and picked up some shoes for him. I took the document, the shoes, the music and a little stuffed toy with me. I must have looked really comical coming in carrying all these things.

They refused to let me give him anything, not even his shoes, though I knew he was shoeless when he entered the place. I commandeered the phone and called through to him

“Look, I would like to talk to Stephen Atwood”
“What’s his number?”
“I don’t have it.”
“Look, he was brought in last night, heavily sedated and I would like to know if he’s compus mentus.”
The legal-sounding Latin must have had an effect, they put me through to the emergency room.
“I’m sorry, sir, but he’s still sedated”
“OK. Is there anyone I can talk to about what happens when he’s discharged? I have important information about his condition here.”
“Someone has already given us the information we need…”
“Yes, yes, that was me, but now I have 25 pages of documentation I need to give to you, is there a doctor I can give it to.”
“No, sir, his doctors are emergency room doctors”
I almost bit the receiver in frustration.
“Ok, then is there any way you can get a message to him?”
“Yes, sure” came the cagy reply
“Please tell him… tell him I didn’t abandon him” my voice broke.

I went up to the receptionist.
“Please ensure this gets to the doctors treating Stephen Atwood” I announced in my most businesslike voice.
“Are you sure there’s no way I can give him anything? Not even the MP3 player?”
“Well, if he smokes, you can give him cigarettes”

Oh, great, he’s not allowed shoes but he can smoke himself to death.
I looked at the time. 10 minutes to closing!
I raced out of the office, to my car and quickly got a pack of Menthol Kool 100’s. I made it back to the office just in time. Even if he doesn’t have any other comforts, at least he’ll have that.

There’s more to come about how I do battle with DeathSTAR in DeathSTAR strikes back.