Back when Princess was first diagnosed with a mental illness, I knew we'd have a few visits to behavioral health hospitals. Never in a million years did I dream that she'd have her first stay in one when she was just barely eight years old.
Like most parents of kiddos like mine we expect the teen years to bring on even more instability than the average teen. Many teens with mental illnesses have to live for a time outside of the home at a residential treatment center. I was prepared for that.
Placing my child in a hospital behind locked doors before her tenth birthday, I was not prepared for. If your child has never been to one, I am here to tell you that it will be alright.
Let me back up a bit. At the start of Princess second grade year she had a really difficult time adjusting to the start of school. She, like many children on the Spectrum or with mental illness, does not like transitions at all. On her first day back to school she got aggressive with several of the younger children in her multi-age class. Since this was not her home school, the principal revoked her transfer since she was deemed a behavior problem. She advised us to keep Princess at home for awhile until she settled down at bit. She also recommended we look int hospitalization. At the time both her therapist and her doctor were strongly opposed to both ideas. Looking back I wish that we had sought hospitalization then instead of waiting for another year until things became unbearable.
Both of the professionals that we trusted, and still trust to this day, had of heard terrible experiences at these places. Since Princess was only seven when hospitalization was first mentioned, they both felt we should wait a bit longer. For their part they were readily available on many many occasions.I never felt that I had to wait until my next appointment to talk to one of them to figure out what to do during a rage. There was even one time that Princess' therapist talked to her over the phone to calm her down.
Finally though in October of 2012, it was time. I won't say I was fortunate to have been home instead of teaching but God definitely knew that I'd be needed at home during this time so I'd gone out on stress leave just two weeks prior to my daughter's admittance in a hospital 100 miles away. You can read more about my reasons for going out on a stress leave here.
We ended up at the ER of a local hospital with a mental health unit upon the advice of some friendly community helpers. The doctor on call quickly determined that indeed my daughter needed to be hospitalized. On top of her severe mood swings, her OCD issues were making her life miserable. It was around ten o'clock in the morning when we arrived but it wasn't until 5 a.m. the next morning when Princess was completely admitted.
What most people are unaware of is that there is a severe shortage of beds for the mentally ill. Some parents have to wait up to three days for a bed that never materializes. Even though the hospital we went to had a mental health unit, they did not take children as young as my daughter. I was told that the county that I live in has only 13 beds for kids like mine. That is mind boggling considering that I live in a sprawling metropolis. Imagine if this were a stroke victim or someone with a serious medical crisis that needed immediate attention.
When I grew weary of waiting for the hospital to find a bed, I casually strolled over to the nurse's station and asked for an update. I was told they hadn't been able to locate a bed in our county. I advocated for my child and let the nurse know we'd be willing to travel out of county. Finally a few hours later, we were informed that a bed had been located but it was 100 miles away. My husband and I talked it over with our therapist and Princess' personal doctor. While neither one of them had heard of the facility, they looked into it more on their own. The therapist even called down there to see if children were kept separated from the teens. (See why I love this woman?) She was told that they were but we later found out they were on the same floor but had separate programs and only passed each other in the hallway. We even asked God for guidance on this difficult decision. We really felt God's peace on this one.
I am not sure it took so long why but after many more hours of discussions and paperwork shuffling between both facilities and our insurance, we were told that Princess had been approved and that an ambulance was on its way to transport her.
I was allowed to ride in the back with her on her first of many ambulance rides. We arrived at our destination in the dead of night. Princess was checked over and admitted properly. Princess was too tired and dazed to realize that she wasn't coming home with us. I looked at my watch as we left the building. It read 5:00 a.m. My husband and I just gave each other zombified looks in bewilderment. Then we looked up and saw a gift from God. It was a hotel directly across the street. The amazing thing about this is that it is located in an industrial park. I didn't even want to think about how much it cost, I just wanted a place to rest my weary head for a few hours.
Sure enough I was up shortly after the crack of dawn since we'd been told we could see our baby girl in the morning before heading home. Once nice thing about the hotel we stayed at was that it served a fairly decent breakfast that was included with the room rate. While I was chomping at the bit, my husband slept a few more hours. On my way out of the dining hall, I grabbed him a muffin from the breakfast bar while he made himself a cup of coffee in the room.
At the hospital we were excited to see Princess but she was not thrilled to see us. In her mind, we were the jailers locking her up in prison. She desperately wanted to come home with us. I remained brave and left after only the briefest of visits. The hardest part was watching her through the closed doors as she cried out to my husband and me. It was one of the best decisions I ever made though because this hospital gave her the help she needed in a loving but structured environment.
My husband and I gathered our things from the hotel room and drove home in silence and tears. We were shell shocked to say the least.
Princess was discharged about a week later but was placed on partial/outpatient hospitalization. Again there were no places near our home, so we chose to keep her where she was. We determined that I would book a room at a nearby hotel because even though we loved the hotel across the street we could not afford an extended stay there. My husband took the train home as he was coaching at a private school that needed him.
With a partial program the patient is in a facility for the majority of the day but then spends the evenings at home. In our case it was a hotel.
I was pretty sure Princess wasn't ready even for the partial placement and was proven right on a Saturday after her first week in it. On this particular weekend we stayed near the facility instead of driving home as this was the advice of our beloved therapist.
Princess became upset with me at a local park so I told her that we'd be going back to the hotel. She got in the car but opened the car door as I was driving off. I quickly closed the door and locked it while driving back to the hospital where Princess spent another week inpatient.
She then spent another three weeks at partial at this same facility after her second discharge. She was at the behavioral health hospital a total of six weeks.
Friends from our adult fellowship at church were extremely generous and gave us money to offset some of our hotel and gas expenses.
What I learned from all of this was that we were taken care of. Princess was taken care of by kind souls who showed her a lot of compassion. We survived.
As I close I wanted to share two poems with you. The first, Welcome to Holland, has been around awhile and is widely quoted by Special Needs parents. The second, Welcome to Beirut, is written from a mom of an Autistic child but I can relate to much of it. The good times are even sweeter after being in a war zone