The Ward – a Fictionalized True Story

It was 6:30 a.m. as I washed my face and heard a faint warble.  For the two weeks  leading to Halloween night my iphone had been beeping non-stop with requests from Spider-Man to Doctor Who.  In a Pavlovian response, I scanned the media for meaning.  One stood out.  No Caller ID arriving at 3:00 a.m.

I hate those calls, when all you can think is that somebody died.

The message was from my son.  He was incoherent.  Blubbering that he had fucked up.  I’d never heard him blubber before, but then he was calling from the psych ward at St. Joe’s Hospital.  I was thinking, hoping, maybe he’d finally hit rock bottom.   I know that sounds callous coming from a mother, but sometimes rock bottom can be the place from which your children can rise fully formed.

Driving my SmartCar with Lake Ontario’s bright sparkling water conflicting my day, I realized that I wasn’t panicked.  I could no longer remember, though, if that calm was part of my personality or whether I was like a triage nurse who’d seen it all.

There was a lot of comfort in the fact that my son had called and not the Hospital.  He was alive and I was grateful, but still I had that sour metallic taste in my mouth.  An emotional knee jerk reaction.  Not because he was in trouble, but because I’d been here before with another family member.

You might be thinking, oh maybe mental illness runs in her family, but neither of these ward members are genetically related to me.  After miscarriage and infertility, I’d hoped to give Darwin a good fight.  There was a time when my sisters and I laughed thinking my adoption of children would improve our family DNA, like replacing our flat Scottish bottoms with a real bouncy round derriere gene.

We stopped laughing so much after the deaths of our father, mother and sister.  Half of us were gone and there was no stopping the trajectory of  stomach Cancer in our family.   My goals had changed since the average lifespan in my family was now 57 years.   I just wanted to see my kids grown up and happy.

Emergency was quiet and orderly.  The occasional voice of a wailing child rose and fell with the opening of the pneumatic door into the Juvenile Room.   As I stood behind the yellow line I thought about getting a coffee, but did not want to miss my turn.  Finally with the mention of my son’s name the sliding glass doors opened from the waiting room into the treatment areas.  My reluctant feet knew their way past the thread bare curtained rooms where knees were stitched and bones were set to the heavy door separating the crazies from the almost crazy.

The door had a window.  I did not look in, but leaned against the wall, hand paused above the buzzer.  The last time I was here I made a choice to leave alone.  The memory of the small shocked face of my daughter getting smaller in that same window as I walked away, is difficult.   For seven years that face, that memory, had me chained to hopes and dreams shattered by alcohol and drugs and what comes with it.

What was I committing myself to by walking through this door again? I was alone physically and emotionally with the indecision of loving my son and potentially threatening my own well being.

I pressed the buzzer.  The staff and two beefy security barely glanced up.  Who would though, I’m the tiny WASP blonde grandma.  Not much of a threat.

The control room dominated this ward.  There were no privacy curtains only small locked treatment rooms, a bathroom and a bank of seats.  My 23 year old son was sitting on an orange chair fatigued to the pallor of a 40 year old Bay Street broker with too much credit and no self control.   I let him ramble through a bizarre tale of over-drinking with friends to the point of paranoia.  A mad run, through the neighbourhood he grew up in, from someone who was trying to “kill him”, ending up crouching inside the local convenience store.

He said he’d called out for help, but the store clerk had disappeared, increasing his paranoia that he was in danger.  The next thing he remembered was breaking through a plate glass window only to be faced with a squad of armed officers.   I’m thinking, what was he on to get that crazy and thank god the clerk hightailed it out to call the Police.

Toronto’s finest took him to the Hospital and not the Drunk Tank.  Miracle One.  After a series of tests, the Doctor let him call me, but he said he was terrified that I wouldn’t show.  His father thought we should leave him here to toughen him up.  I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do.

I sat back finally in the chair.  A small Asian woman walked the perimeter of the ward, I thought like a mouse retracing it’s steps, sure that they’ve missed an opening or a morsel of food.

I was sad.  Like my daughter, my son had narrowly escaped accidental death more than once.  What was the universal meaning in this?  I rubbed my face, thinking about what to say.

I wanted to understand what happened, so I queried like Agatha Christie.  Was someone angry at you?  How much did you drink?  Did you mix it with pot?  Who else was there?

I could see truths skirting around the edges of my son’s eyes, but impairment is subjective.  He could be mixing up days of drinking with fears rising like hallucinations.  One tiny piece of information could put the story together for me or break my heart.  I’m glad he doesn’t tell me everything.  Mothers shouldn’t know everything.

A young man with dark hair and dark eyes, who had been lying on a gurney, arm over his eyes, rises.   Boredom, curiosity, or maybe even hope drive him into the bathroom and then to sit beside us.  Shock still in a blue gown, listening to the murmurings of a Mother and son.  Where is his mother, I think.

A smell was now making it’s memory or rather demanding recognition from me.  Not like death, or illness or even hospital disinfectant which were all now in my 54 year old life’s repertoire.   I couldn’t put my finger on it, till I thought, it’s neither pleasant or unpleasant.  It’s just there, like something deciding.

The woman passed again, her competency and speed increasing as her hands stretched out, tracing the contours of the wall.  The kind of person who you would appreciate filling your 7:45 a.m. Timmy’s order.

Having made no progress with understanding my son’s story I went to the nurse’s desk.  I’m that typical Canadian.  Waiting politely to be acknowledged.  Sure that there is something more important than myself  that is keeping them.  The woman now stands beside me and says in no particular direction, “I’d like my toothbrush now.”

The nurse says, “The Doctor will be right with you. ”  I wonder how he knows that.  The phone didn’t ring.  Is it some magical telepathy developed by psych room staff only.  The woman’s voice says confidently,  “I’d like my toothbrush and a change of clothes.”  She is almost standing on my toes, like we could merge into one person to make us bigger, more impressive.  Almost an afterthought, she says, “I’m ready to go home now.”

As they negotiate her surrender, I retreat.  An orderly has offered a tray to my son and myself.  We both take one and I realize that I can’t, being celiac, eat anything on the tray.   My son’s tray of all beige food also stays untouched.  “Why do you take it if you don’t want it.”, I say knowing that we are both food snobs and it is my fault.

Dark Boy asks if he can have the food and says he and the woman are here voluntarily.   He is waiting for us to share the story.  My son is amiable and gentle as they chat.  With this incongruency, I have to stand and stretch.

A man, who looks like all the other staff except for a clipboard, crosses to us.  The Doctor.  After small talk about how my son got here he says,  like I should know, “So you see, he really shouldn’t be here at all.”  “He’s alright to go with you,” he continues as a question.

I am confused, but not really.  He’s asking if I have any concerns about my son’s mental health.  Anything that would necessitate a Doctor enacting the health act which states that my son could be kept if proven to be of danger to himself or others.

The forced practice of the staff to ignore unreasonable requests has the   woman now screaming at everyone and no one.  I shake my head, “No, he’s fine to come home.”  I am not lying, but with only the violent insanity of my daughter seven years ago to compare him to, he is fine.

I stand, but the Doctor has his hand on my arm.  “We found something”, he says.  I sit.

The woman flies by muttering, “I want my toothbrush.  I want to go.  I want …”, then the door to the bathroom slams and the screaming turns to wailing.  On the exact opposite side to the Juvenile ward where the toddler screams, the irony about the fragility of human beings is not lost on me.ColinDrMac

My son is now perfectly quiet, like a sharp intake of breath before you blow out a candle.  “We did an x-ray of his head and found a dark spot on his brain.”  I am thinking, why did they do an head x-ray of drunk boy-man?  Miracle Two.

“I think it’s a brain bleed, but I want to consult with St Michael’s.”,  he offers.  “Is this spot in his brain related to his strange behaviour?”,  I blurt.  I’m ashamed now, but for a nanosecond, part of me was desperate that my son isn’t an addict, spoiled or poorly raised.

I have too much fucking information, now thinking about my mother who survived skin cancer and a brain aneurysm only to die in her sleep from a heart attack at age 67.  Her best friend, Joan, was supposed to meet her for an early supper and she didn’t show.  Joan told us girls that she didn’t suffer.  That she was curled on her side in that way that she sleeps which is so familiar to me.  Was so familiar to us.

I didn’t wait for the Doctor to answer.  Instead, with my palm on my son’s back, I open that heavy steel door with the tempered glass and we walk out together.  Miracle Three.

 

Teen Confessions and 7,200 followers in 30 days

I have to confess that I have not had a very positive experience with teenagers.   I’ve felt that, even in my own family, teens existed just to mess with me.  Two of my sisters were extremely unbecoming in their behaviour and my children, in their twenties, have only just awoken to the real World of self-awareness and accountability.    I finally feel excited and relieved for my children, instead of anxious and fearful for them.

I don’t think any parent should couch today’s teen behaviour by saying that their world is more complicated and dangerous.  The truth is it is not and most teens are jerks.   Selfish, unaware, narcissistic and normal.   It’s amazing that they survive at all.

In past 12 months I uncharacteristically took on the internship of three teens from a local high school.  It was difficult, like herding wet cats ~ and, I’ve mentioned before that it was the most amazing creative thing I’ve been part of for a long time.

Following their “graduation” from my costume business, FeeFiFoFun, and on a whim, one of them started a new blog.  Within the month the blog had almost eight thousand followers.   One month.  Most companies would kill for those stats.

I thought long and hard about whether to reveal the name and location of this blog.  It’s just so incredible, I wanted to share it with the world.  I’ve decided, however, that disclosing it would ruin it.  You see, it’s an advice blog.  Advice given by teens to teens unmediated by meddlesome adults.  Imagine the horror of that you are thinking.

A dear friend of mine suffered greatly when a teen acquaintance of her son took his own life.   One night at dinner with too much wine, she raged that this teen’s school, the counselors, the government hadn’t done enough to help this teen’s suffering.

I begged her to differ.  I’d seen first hand how much is out there to support teens and their parents.  Frankly it’s staggering how much of our tax dollars and private fundraising goes into these efforts.

I can’t blame my friend for not knowing.  I’m actually grateful that she is naive about such things, meaning that her experience was a flicker of anguish compared to a family who lives every day with the cold inferno of a suicidal or mentally deranged teen.  I guess we both feel helpless.

I genuinely believe in holding out a hand to other humans, but my age and experience humbly reminds me that we adults are not all that.  All the anti-bullying campaigns, stranger danger talks, STD pamphlets, karate lessons for girls, bright posters in the hall, waving rainbow flags in the gym makes me cringe because they are purveyed by adults.

I know kids who feel all this brouhaha is not helpful, but actually inflames the very things they are trying to avoid, live through, solve.  Like shining a hot giant spotlight on their acne laden hormonally charged uncertain sexually ambivalent shoulders when they are just about to sneak into class late.

I’m not saying that adults should give up trying, but maybe we are putting too much of our own teen angst onto our kid’s backs.  Hanging on too damn tight in our efforts to spare our children from all this terrible beauty.

Do you remember what it was like to be a teen?  Maybe you did what adults asked of you, but who did you spent time talking with, watching or listening to?  Whose taunts hurt the most.   Whose attention did you crave?  Your peers.  If that’s not telling enough, check these stats.

This blog had over one thousand requests for advice in it’s first two weeks. Subjects ranged from menstruation, A cups, getting into college, cutting, how-to handle parents and being transgender.   I noted consistently [and surprisingly] that good advice was rendered simply, lovingly and in the language of incredible teens.

My hand hovered over Ask key on this blog.  Should I ask a question?  Should I give kudos?  No.  Like the parent who is lucky enough to glimpse into their child’s world without being made out, I will not let myself be seen.  I will hold back my worry.  Just be the fly on the wall.  Listen.  Learn to see a child[ren] holding their own.  A child[ren] making their way into the adult world.  A child[ren] making us proud.

ps the lesson for companies who want a strong following, have a product or a service that people actually need

A Short Story about Book Club

shutterstock_127158032My husband jokingly refers to our Book Club as Chardonnay Club.  I could defend our Club by kicking him in the shins, but I let the joke lay between us unchained by my annoyance.

I wasn’t always a member of this group.  I knew they existed and many of my friends and neighbours were part of it.  It is a rather large group fluctuating between ten to twelve members, but always at least eight, all women, are in attendance.  We meet for nine presentations and a year-end social where the books are picked for the next year.  Each member is expected to present and to host at least once a year.  Books are selected from a myriad of genres with attention paid to styles we have not done before.  We throw coats, catch up, fill plates and pour drinks, but the main event is the author presentation and ensuing discussion.  It’s interesting to note that a high enjoyment rating of the book does not equal interesting or raucous conversation about the book.

I was ambivalent about book club.  I was busy with my parenting group that, as our children grew, became more social.  Also, this was not the kind of club you asked to join.  That would be considered rude.  Not because the women were snobs or because they were looking for “like” kind, you know the people who can’t stand dissension and gather around them people who nod ~ but because like many women’s groups, it was a place with a vibe and a rhythm, where you kept confidence, and where you could make outrageous statements and people would actually entertain them.

Yes, there was gossip and, yes, sometimes the din was unbelievable, so much at times that I felt I needed to, and did, raise my hand like a school girl to express a point.  Men are not built for this din, but then also my husband does not want me at his shinny game and I don’t want him at book club.  Win win.

At the time the invitation came for me to join, I was experiencing the death of my mother, a divorce, a change of homes and one of my children went insane.  I don’t mean clinically insane, but the kind of insanity that comes with being a hormonal teen with divorcing parents and ready access to drugs and alcohol.   It flummoxed me how a teen feigned helplessness at shopping and cooking supper, but proved able to obtain alcohol underage, to swipe cough syrup from the drugstore and mix it with crushed heart medication from seniors to make a potentially fatal cocktail.  Spoiler alert, we all survived.

I’m lucky that a friend down the street let me stay in her home on the rotating weeks when I was away from our family home and my children.  I stayed in their “t.v.” room for which all their children, also teens, should be given a medal.  It was she who got me in the club door and it was the promise of and being in this club that kept me buoyed to an afterlife.  Meaning a life after whatever I was in at that time.

Not because of their sympathy or sandwiches, that too, and not because they understood divorce, they were all married, but because individually they were brilliant, funny, open, and interested in what I had to say.

That’s really important.  The interested in what I had to say part.  For most people who are divorcing, men and women, it’s the disinterest of their former partners that hurts more than anything else.

At the time I began with Book Club, I was a wounded animal, incoherent, dizzy with grief.  When she was alive, my mother called this state of being, my state of being when sad, as the dying duck in a thunderstorm.  My mother also was part of something she called Group.

Group was started in Calgary by friends, including my mom and my Auntie Joan, meeting in a local church, being the only space available to them sans children, husbands and beckoning mangle machines.  They told the Minister that it was a sewing club.  Being the early 60’s they could find no words that would make the Minister sympathetic to housewives with young children who wanted to explore beyond domesticity and their own intellect.  The book they started with was The Feminine Mystique, written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, an American writer, activist and a leader in the feminist movement.  You should check her out.

My mother would be happy that I am part of a Group because together, these women, my Book Club, have woven a blanket of comfort around me and if there is Chardonnay involved, all the better.