I almost lost my best friend last weekend to suicide. She tried to take her own life.
She texted me while I was working: “Call me ASAP. I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me. No joke.” I informed her that I was still working with a student, which she understood, and I went back to work until she explained why she’d been admitted to the hospital: she’d attempted suicide. I felt the wind knocked out of me. Frantically she texted me to come as soon as possible, as she believed the nurses in the ICU were waking her up to say nasty things to her. These nurses even went as far to tell her family that she’s hallucinating; and my friend didn’t feel safe. She begged me to stay the night as her husband refused.
I could see the look of horror on my face on camera in between her texts. I realized that I needed to be there for her, so I ended the tutoring session then and there. After I explained to my own family why I was leaving, I took off, my heart and brain both racing as I began driving, trying to understand what had happened. Did she need anything from home? I stopped to get headphones for her, thinking she might enjoy some music.
When I get there, I put on my proverbial own oxygen mask so that I can be her advocate as I walk into her ICU room. Immediately I see that she’s got a PICC line, the staff had a hard time inserting an IV and she’s bruised up one side and down the other. I finally get the story from her: she’d overdosed on a number of medications – including painkillers and insulin – while she was housesitting her parents home, resulting in kidney failure. One pumped stomach later, the nurses draw her labs every two hours to make certain that her kidneys are indeed working as they should be.
She complains that the nursing staff is abusive; they’ve make comments about her, saying that she’d overdosed to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her Daddy. When she confronts the nurses about their poor behavior, the nurses deny it, brushing it off as a hallucination. As she’s on suicide watch, the hospital provided her with a sitter, a one-on-one person who has to watch her at all times, documenting every thing that she does, noting all the unprofessional conduct by the medical team before I arrived.
Once I got there, she informed me that the nurses were still commenting about her…and me. When I asked the nurse about it, she denied it, saying my friend was hallucinating and fabricating tales. I didn’t believe a word of it and explained that due HIPPA, it was illegal to discuss any patient care within earshot of others.
The charge nurse called her supervisor who came down to talk with all of us. My friend explained how she felt. The nurses, of course, covered their misbehavior, claiming that my friend had been hallucinating. I interrupted their stories and explained that no matter what, my friend does have recipient rights, which are something we have in Michigan. These rights protect and promote the constitutional and statutory rights of recipients of public mental health services and empower recipients to fully exercise these rights.
The minute I mentioned “recipient rights,” the two nurses apologized, and we began to discuss moving my friend to a step-down unit as she was medically stable. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room where we got settled in. Her kidney function went down to normal so she was medically cleared for transport to an actual mental health facility.
We learned that Community Mental Health (CMH) was on their way to start the intake process to find her a mental health facility – that’s when things started accelerating at an astronomical rate. My friend had no idea how to process this, so I patiently helped her. Her parents and her husband arrived for the intake meeting.
This was when I saw mental health stigma magnified.
Thankfully, the CMH person was neutral, asked all the appropriate questions, and took my friend’s requests seriously.
When my friend’s stepmom stepmom began blaming my friend for what happened, I was floored “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”
I couldn’t hold back, I was so angry, and interrupted, saying “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.
Her 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 constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”
When her parents left, my friend said, awestruck: “That is the first time anyone stood up to my stepmom.” I began to pack for home once I felt she was stable, and her husband had arrived, stating that he’d have come earlier, but he’d only had a half a tank of gas, she was stable now,
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, I cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night.”
He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?” I explained, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love her.”
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 ‘s like being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.
I received a text from my friend’s husband: “Thanks for being such a good friend to my wife. 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, okay?.” I thanked him for keeping me in the loop so that I could help rally around her, to help her recovery and mental well-being,
This is my prayer.
I pray that we work on our own recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and to put on our oxygen masks first.