Sunday, March 13, 2016

In the beginning ... the cataclysm (chapter 1)

August 8, 2010 – 11:00 a.m.

The handsome young man visible on the screen in the control room of the Military Police’s headquarters at West Point appears quite normal at first glance, but there is something very wrong with his grin and his posture given the circumstances. 

With his feet on the table and his chair rocking backwards, one has to look more closely to notice the handcuffs, the smirk or the occasional chuckle at some inside joke that only he is aware of. 

The Sergeant Major, an impressive man of imposing size and height, glances at the screen and turns away angrily, not realizing that my world is crumbling as I take in my son, aged 19, who is so far gone and out of character that he is clearly suffering from what I think of as a “nervous breakdown”. 

I had listened patiently, if fearfully, to the description of what had landed Scott here in handcuffs. I wanted desperately to just limit the repercussions, get him ‘off the hook’ and take him home. Then we could deal with whatever was going on with him. 

“Here’s one thing you should know,” the Sergeant Major had told us forcefully when he came out to speak with us in the lobby upon our arrival. “Your son was almost killed today. My men broke with protocol when they did not press the button that brings up the barrier capable of stopping a speeding truck. The barrier comes up in an instant and he would have crashed into it at 70 miles per hour: being killed on the spot.” Unlike the other officers who are in uniform, the sergeant major is dressed in sweats and had apparently been called in from the gym on his morning off upon being informed of the incident.

We make understanding, sympathetic noises. Thank goodness they used their common sense … I don’t know what has gotten into him … this is not like him at all … he hasn’t been himself recently. Our murmured reassurances continue, but we just want him to let us get to Scott; to take us back to where he is being held and to get him sprung with the least amount of damages possible. 

We simply have no idea that we have stepped through the looking glass and are entering a world so foreign and terrifying to us that we will be completely unprepared to deal with it.  

As my husband speaks reassuringly with the Sergeant Major and the others at MP Headquarters, I alternatively listen to their conversation, glance over at the holding room where they have Scott locked up, and walk outside to wipe away my tears. We are waiting for the New York State police to arrive, who will take custody of Scott. My older son is here too and he has been texting with a dear friend, who is also a wise attorney, to whom we had turned when we first found out the reason Scott had not returned from picking up a friend at West Point. ‘Admit to nothing he counsels’. Good advice. But there is nothing for us to admit to. We know nothing, and understand even less.


It will be months before Scott will be well enough to share with us what he thought was happening that day: a training exercise for the CIA. Driving the 15 minutes from our house to West Point, literally at 100 miles per hour, he believed he was part of some type of operation. Since he thought that all the other cars on the road were part of the training exercise and employed by the CIA, he knew that they would watch out for him and were timing his speed. Approaching the control point at the gated entry to West Point, rather than taking the path that requires cars to stop and hand over ID cards while the car’s trunk and underside are inspected for bombs, Scott took the lane that was open and is reserved for Army security personnel. He floored it and my BMW, which he had taken when he asked if he could give a friend at West Point a ride over to our house, responded accordingly. As he blew by the entry checkpoint, the MPs hit the alarm and quickly scrambled to pursue. When he pulled up in front of his friend’s house, the cars that had been in pursuit stopped as well, and his friend opened the door to find Scott being placed into handcuffs and under arrest. All part and parcel of the exercise he thought …

Same day – 7:00 p.m.
We are in the Emergency Room of the local hospital. It is Sunday and there are only a few other patients, but I hardly notice them. It is hard to ignore the man on the other side of the curtain from us, who appears to be a drunk and is quarreling very loudly with a family member over what has landed him here tonight, but my awareness of him fades in and out. My heart is beating so rapidly that my breath is shallow and a sharp pain somewhere in my chest seems to be causing my vision to malfunction. 

“Yes, he is hearing voices. Looks like schizophrenia.” The ER doctor tells us matter-of-factually. Scott has been taken for a cat scan of the brain and the doctor has stepped into our curtained hell after speaking with Scott privately, to share his medical conclusion with us. He walks back out. 

My husband and I are left staring at each other, at a loss for words, trying to grasp what we have just been told. I type schizophrenia into Google on my phone – but at first I can’t spell it. Google helps me and I scan the results, looking for something that will tell me he can have a normal life, even as a schizophrenic. What I find is less than reassuring. We wait for Scott to be returned and when he is, we try to act calm and normal. 

By the time the New York State police officer had arrived at MP Headquarters, we had had enough time with the Sergeant Major for him to understand that this was not a case of a kid acting like a punk. Scott was not drunk and was not on drugs. He had seen the doctor two days ago and clearly needed to be seen again. We promised him we would be in touch with our doctor as soon as we got Scott home. We shared the fact that we believed he had been abusing 5-hour energy drinks for many days. “Legal crack” is how the sergeant major referred to the drinks. Of course we also thought that he had been taking psychedelic drugs, but this we did not share. His behavior was too odd to explain otherwise.

We had needed to rush home two days ago from what had been a planned weekend getaway in the Adirondacks. Scott’s behavior on the phone had been so bizarre that I found myself wondering if he had a brain tumor. We asked his older brother to drive him to the doctor’s office, while we made the four-hour trek back to the house.

Once home, chatting with Scott, trying to keep him calm and dig a little deeper as to what was going on, he told me how incredibly good he was getting at Lacrosse. His brother had coaxed him into a game of catch as a means of distraction while waiting for us to return. He added that his coach would be very proud of him, which was out of character for Scott who is normally his own greatest critic, but nowhere near as odd as when he mentioned that he thought he was getting help from the “spirit of the house”. Who is the spirit of the house I asked. “Whomever is controlling the weather” he replied calmly

At that point I asked him if he was taking hallucinogenic drugs, and he replied that he would really like to know the answer to that question. He thought maybe somebody had been giving him some without his being aware. The doctor had taken blood and urine samples that morning but we would not have the results until Monday. We believed that all we had to do was keep an eye on him over the weekend, while we waited for the blood work to come back. If we kept him home and stayed with him, all would be fine. When he asked on Sunday if he could go pick up his friend at West Point so they could hang out together back at the house, this seemed like a safe thing to agree to as West Point is only a short drive from our home.

But these thoughts are far from my mind as we sit, frozen in uncomprehending fear at what is unfolding before us, in our curtained space of the ER on Sunday night. A call to our pediatrician after the debacle at West Point had landed us here. At first I get his service and when they ask if it is an emergency, I hesitate but then say yes. When I get the doctor on the phone and explain of Scott’s arrest and his charging the entry gate, he tells me in his calm and gentle manner that he agrees it qualifies as an emergency. Scott needs an emergency psychiatric evaluation he says. He recommends a couple of hospitals: Four Winds and New York Presbyterian. 

Since it is Sunday I can’t through to the latter, and the former tells me to take Scott to our local emergency room. We comply. It seems simpler than dealing with a psychiatric hospital anyway. We’ve been to the ER many times with Scott already for sports related injuries: X-rays, dislocated fingers, stitches … a trip to the ER with him seems almost familiar, and given how bizarre and scary life feels at the moment, familiar is good. However, it was a decision that turned out to be a big mistake on our part. 


I lose track of the number of people who have asked Scott if he knows who the president is. The triage nurse, the ER nurse, the first doctor, possibly the attendant who came to wheel him away for the CAT scan. Scott thinks it is a lark and by the second or third time, he replies jokingly that he is not sure, but it might be Richard Nixon. At first alarmed, they eventually realize he is not serious. 

Once the doctor makes his pronouncement about Scott and the schizophrenia, they post a security guard outside our curtained enclosure, and refuse Scott the right to go to the bathroom. He might hurt himself, they say. What is he supposed to do, hang himself with toilet paper? He has to go so they roll in a potty and he has to squat. So much for preserving patient dignity. 

The security man standing guard is aged and looks like he would have a coronary if he had to break into a sprint. Given Scott’s six-foot frame, 180 pounds and speed on the field, he seems like a very unlikely person to provide security of any type. But during the long hours where we wait interminably for the next step in the process to happen I am surprised when I see the guard casually walk up to man who has entered the ER and quietly ask him for something. The man produces a large switchblade. Catching the guard’s eye, I smile tiredly, and he tells me he can spot them right away. Good for him, I think. I certainly had not noticed anything.

Time ticks slowly by. We are not sure what we are waiting for. But we wait. Scott has been medicated with tranquilizers so for the most part he rests fairly quietly. However, he is pretty amped up for somebody with that much medication in him. 

His ER nurse is sweet and well intentioned. She is also very pretty. She has a name like Mindy or Candy. I see an article on the wall that mentions her and her “high-energy competency in the pressure cooker setting of the ER”. I’m glad that they apparently have good nurses at this hospital, since so far I have been completely underwhelmed by the doctor in every way. 

As it turns out, Scott thinks that this trip to the ER is a ploy that we (or somebody) cooked up so that he could get laid by a nurse. God knows what type of things he has said to her when she escorted him off for an interview ‘in private’. Since Scott is over 18, they keep taking him away from us to question him. This makes us very uncomfortable since clearly Scott is not is his right mind, and we are not feeling very reassured by the medical staff and their decision-making.

At some point I speak with the nurse to ask her about her assessment of his condition. She looks sadly at me and concurs with the doctor’s evaluation. She sees that I am having a hard time processing this diagnosis, so she shares with me that her brother was diagnosed years ago as a schizophrenic, and it is good that we are finding out now about Scott. Now he is in a safe place she tells me. Looking desperately for straws to grasp onto, I ask her how her brother is doing now. I want to hear that he is doing fine. I want to hear that with medication he is living a happy and normal life; that he is married, has kids and a job that he loves. She shakes her head and glances downward. He’s no longer with us, she says with the tone of a person who often deals with fatal outcomes. He killed himself. Well, now I feel so much better. I am so glad she decided to share this life event with me. I walk away quietly.

We were told some time ago that we would need to wait for a ‘team’ from another hospital to come and do an evaluation of Scott. The ER doctor is a medical doctor and in spite of his pronouncement of schizophrenia, the hospital needs a psychiatrist to make an assessment. Apparently the hospital doesn’t have a psychiatrist on call. I find this hard to believe. Their procedure under these circumstances is to call for a traveling ‘team’ (they keep using this word, so we assume there is more than one person – how many people does it take?) from Westchester Medical Center. It is about a 45-minute drive, so we wait, and we wait. 

Hours go by. The wonderful, pronouncement-making, brusque ER doc has gone off-duty and is replaced by somebody else. The other doctor does not poke his head into our little enclosure. We see him sitting in the middle area in front of a computer, but he ignores us. We wait. 

Eventually I decide to call our pediatrician. It is by now 11 p.m. and we want his input on what is going on. We are a ship afloat without a rudder and it should have occurred to us to call him much sooner. He calls the ER doc on duty and speaks with him. He then calls us back to tell us that he is coming in and will be there soon. God bless him for leaving his comfortable home at this late hour of the night to deal with a crazy kid and his overwrought family in the ER. He gets there shortly and comes in to chat with our son. Scott appears overjoyed to see his doctor. He is grinning ear to ear. We are pleased to see him this happy since his mood has been volatile and we are trying to keep him calm. We don’t realize that his mood is completely out of line for the circumstances and tips off the pediatrician that something is seriously amiss.

Our pediatrician pulls us aside and fills us in that the ‘team’ was not dispatched. There was some problem getting them mobilized, and the ER is preparing to transport Scott down to the county hospital where he will be ‘housed’ overnight. Because he has been deemed a risk, he will be handcuffed during transport. As we try to process this information, he tells us that he has taken the responsibility for discharging Scott to our care, thus overruling the orders of the ER doc, with the promise that we would bring him to a psychiatric hospital first thing in the morning. He has his back turned to the central control area where the doc on duty sits, and tells us lightheartedly that the ER doc is offended, and most likely has his nose bent out of shape. 

Given that our pediatrician is on staff at this hospital and will no doubt have to work again with this doctor, it is wonderful and amazing that he cares enough to have taken these steps to make our lives and Scott’s experience slightly better.

Hallelujah! We feel reprieved, as if an angel has touched down and been embodied in this wonderful man, who has been our pediatrician for all of Scott’s almost 19 years, and for my older son’s 22 years. 

He speaks with us out of earshot of Scott, and cautions us to take the situation very seriously. We must remove all things that he could use to harm either himself or us. Kitchen knives, scissors, pills … Even these words of gloom do not dampen our relief at getting away from this ER and being able to take Scott home.

No comments:

Post a Comment