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Just Another Tuesday

I accompanied one of my best friends to St. Luke’s behavioral hospital, Tuesday.  I knew that she had been depressed for a long time, but I didn’t realize how awful her life felt to her.  I had called “June” on Monday to arrange a get together for Tuesday of that next week.  It felt like she had dropped out of my life, she didn’t answer the phone much, and returning my calls was sketchy at best.   We hadn’t seen each other in a while and I missed her.  During the phone conversation, she casually mentioned that she wanted to check herself into a psych unit in order to get some help managing her abysmal lows.  She has poor people’s medical coverage and couldn’t get a doctor to prescribe antidepressants for the last year.  When I asked her when she planned to go in, she said “I haven’t been able to find a good time, there’s always some kind of crisis”.   “June, I think that’s kind of indicative of part of your difficulties, you always put everyone else’s needs before your own.  The kids will continue to have crisis, they need to learn to depend upon themselves more” I told her. “what are you doing tomorrow?”  I asked.  “Nothing, that’s all I ever do anymore”.  “How about if I come pick you up tomorrow, and we’ll get this process going?”  “Thank you, that might be best”, she said in a sad voice.

It’s easy to get so caught up in my own life that I don’t see what’s right in front of me, sometimes.  June was not her normally boisterous or dramatic self when I arrived at her house the next day, she was more subdued.  We stopped at Circle K around 10:30 am for a couple of hot dogs and some water.  She had told me that it was going to be a long day.  She had accompanied several family members to the same facility, and I have worked in an emergency department, I took her word for it.  We packed our picnic and headed to the hospital.  The waiting room of St. Luke’s was clean and bright.  It felt small, it seemed out of proportion to the number of people that I imagined could use their services.  There were about 7 people or so in the waiting room, when we arrived, none of them drooling or throwing things.  I think that’s one of the scariest things about being in close proximity to mentally ill people, I don’t know what to expect, they are moved by forces outside the usual realm of decorum.  Most of the patients-to-be, looked like anybody that you’d see at a bus stop. There was one man in his mid 20’s, there with his mother, and a female friend of his mother’s.  It only took a moment or so to know that he was off balance.  His voice was very loud and poorly modulated.  He was obsessed with the whereabouts of his wallet, and his bag of medications. His mind would be lured away from that subject by his mother for maybe 5 or 10 minutes, then he’d be back to the discussion of how he lost them and where they might be, all over again.  This went on for hours.  I was so impressed at how patient his mother and her friend, were with him.  They would reassure him that they would go and look in those places that he had specified, “in just a while”.  I imagined that these items were locked up at the group home that he had come from, or in some other safe place, as there was no urgency on the part of his mother to locate the “lost” wallet.   When June went up to the window to register that morning, they told her that they probably wouldn’t get to her before 5pm. We looked for a place to light, there weren’t two seats together, so we started to take chairs about 5 feet apart.  An older man (with the ruddy complexion of a serious drinker), asked if we’d like to sit together.  We thanked him, and we took him up on the offer of his chair.  We settled in and started slowly churning through the hefty pile of newspapers and magazines that I had brought.  When we had finished with them, I would set them out on the table in front of us, and the other waiting folk would pick them up.  It was kind of nice to have that little connection with the other people, a reason to interact in this awkward situation.  Maybe it was only awkward for me?  I imagine that the woman there with her son, may have burned through any embarrassment that she had started with, earlier in her life.  You know, that fear of calling attention to one’s self, being viewed as different, menacing or weird.  She had probably been dealing with his breakdowns for years, and no longer had the luxury of being concerned about how others thought of her, or her vulnerable son.  We really have no idea of the horrors, sorrows, humiliations and hardships that those around us endure.  No wonder people may turn without signals, borrow your things and never return them, or take a job and then never show up for it…It was disconcerting to see a room ebb and flow with people, waiting patiently to stop the merry-go-round of their lives, hand over control, and try to get a new start.  I had a similar feeling the day that I went to my younger sister’s funeral, back in 1985.  I was wracked by grief, riding in the back of a stretch limousine through the streets of Daly City, CA.  My whole world had been painfully, irrevokably altered; yet life went on.  People were driving cars, the sun was shining, people were going to work, kids were playing.  It was the weirdest feeling, I felt like I was in slow motion or under water, apart from others, and removed from my usual reality.  I realized that life Does go on, and priorities can change on a dime, despite the sameness of the spread of the days ahead of me.  No matter how tightly I feel yoked to my job, relationship, chores, or hobbies, the ‘Have To’ quality of life can dissapate instantly in the face of some unforeseen disaster.  Like what June was facing, this Tuesday.  She asked me to come into the room with her for her interview, when they called her name at 4:15 that afternoon.  The woman who asked her about her history, was soft spoken and kind.  Nicer than I would have hoped for.  When answering the interviewer’s questions, June was more direct, less sarcastic than she tends to be.  They threaded their way through her family history, the basics of who she lives with, and what she had been experiencing over the past year.  I felt deeply saddened to hear of my friend’s dispair and hopelessness.  Who else around me is suffering and I don’t even know it?  How different am I from most of those people in the waiting room?  How much can I help others without falling out of my own little, fragile canoe?  What do we owe each other?  I think I can only know those type of answers, day by day, because they change, day by day.  I will support June the best that I can.  sometimes it looks like reading old newspapers and magazines, side by side.