Holding Space In Crisis — Published
I almost lost my best friend last weekend.
She tried to die by suicide. I received her text that she was in the hospital while I was tutoring.
“Call me ASAP.”
“I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me.”
My response: “I know. Still working with a student.”
She: “Ok please get done soon! I need you.”
I: “What hospital?”
She: “I’m at ******. I had a suicide attempt. The nurses know me and hate me here, so they’re doing small mind tortured. Waking me every five minutes–saying duragatory things. They told my parents I’m hallucinating–I’m not, please come stay with me–I don’t feel safe.”
“Can you stay the night?”
I: “Yes, I can.”
She: “With me, please? ***** (her husband) won’t.”
I: “Yes, of course.”
She: “OMG- get here now!! Room **.”
Meanwhile, I am trying to do my online tutoring job. I can see the look of horror on my face on camera while the texts are displaying on my phone. I tell my student I have to talk to his dad. I inform him that I have to leave immediately due to an emergency. I explain while his son is out of earshot. He gives his sincere emotional support. I give a quick run-down of what his son needs to complete for the assignment, then I start packing. I text my husband to let him know that I have to help my friend, then I tell one of my twins that I’m leaving for the hospital.
My brain is racing at the speed of light. I am trying to cover all the bases: what would she need from home that she did not get since she was directly transported to ER? I text her to ask if she needs anything from home before I leave. She would like headphones. I grab my earbuds, but first I have my son help me find an extra set because I would like my own set. After trying a few sets (why is it that teenagers blow through so many earbuds?), I decide to bring my own to share. She might be too tired to listen to music.
I text her to let her know I’m finally on my way. I arrive and remind myself of several things: put on your own oxygen mask first, stay strong, and be her advocate.
She is in the ICU. She has a central port PICC line as well as two IV lines because the medical staff had a hard time getting an IV started. She’s bruised all over. She overdosed on a plethora of medications at her parents’ house while she was housesitting there, including painkillers and her father’s injectable insulin. Her kidneys shut down and the medical staff had to pump her stomach. The medical team pull her labs every two hours to make sure that her levels are improving. Thankfully, the PICC line is a saving grace.
My friend makes comments about the nursing staff. She says that they make comments about her, saying that she OD’d to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her daddy, but when she confronts the nurses about it, they say that my friend is hallucinating. The hospital has a one on one person for suicide watch. This person has to document every little thing that the patient does while under their care. On Saturday night, the one on one person documented all of the unprofessional conduct. While I was there, she said that the nurses were commenting about her again, as well as me. I went up to the nurse and asked her about it. She denied it and said that my friend was “hallucinating and making things up”. I said, “You may say that, but when you talk about patients, others can hear it and that is breaking patient privacy. Everyone else can hear it, and that is not acceptable. It is not professional. You need to stop it.”
The nurse called her supervisor and she came down to talk with all of us. My friend finally voices how she feels. The nurses, of course, covered their butts and say that my friend had been hallucinating from her OD. I interject and say, “Even though that did happen, it is not professional for you to discount how she feels. Nor is it professional of you to talk about her while other people can hear. She does have recipient rights.” The minute I mentioned the term “recipient rights”, the two immediately changed their tune and started apologizing. My friend apologized as well for things (even though in my opinion, she didn’t have to, but it is part of healing the relationship). I asked if my friend could be moved to step down critical care since her levels were improving, and the nurses agreed. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room with a more caring team. Ironically, the bitchy nurse stays after her shift end to help us move.
We get settled in, and my friend finally has the best sleep she has had. Her levels improve so much, her kidneys are normally functioning, and the medical team clears her. The next day, she gets her PICC line removed. My friend keeps telling me to go home, that she is OK. All of a sudden, we learn that Community Mental Health (CMH) is on their way to start the intake process to find her a facility. Things start accelerating at an astronomical rate, and my friend has no idea how to process this. I stay to help her process things and to be her advocate. Her parents come to the meeting, as well as her husband. I ask the CMH representative if it is OK if I stay during the meeting to be her advocate and he said if it was OK with her it was OK with him.
Here is where I see mental health stigma magnified. Thankfully, the CMH person is neutral, asks all the appropriate questions, and takes my friend’s requests seriously. I was floored when my friend’s stepmom was blaming my friend for what happened. She said, “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”
I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I said, “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.”
The stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.”
I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But, you need to understand that constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”
When her parents left, my friend said, “That is the first time that anyone stood up to my stepmom.”
I pack up to go home because my friend’s husband is there. I feel that she is stable enough now. Her husband made the comment, “Well, I would have come earlier, but I had a half talk of gas and no money.”
I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night with *****.”
He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?”
I said, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love ******.”
I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.
Once I got to my car, I video chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It would be akin to being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.
I received a text from my friend’s husband. It read: “Thanks for being such a good friend to ******. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible ok” I responded, “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I appreciate that. We all need to rally around ***** and help her to recovery and wellness.”
This is my prayer. I pray that we work on our recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and remember to put on our oxygen masks first.