If Chickadee had cancer—if she had a tumor in her brain or rogue cells infiltrating her marrow—everything would be different. Well, almost everything. The thing that wouldn’t be different would be the fear and the worry and the what-if-ing I try to only indulge in in the middle of the night.
But people wouldn’t avoid us or say, “I don’t know what to say.” They would say, “I’m so sorry” and they wouldn’t act like we were contagious or whisper about our parenting.
Our health insurance would pay for her treatment, because that’s what health insurance is supposed to do. Even though brain surgery and marrow transplants are much more expensive than the treatment she needs, which they refuse to pay for, because health care in this country is undeniably broken.
And we could be there with her, all the time, and know what the heck was going on.
So here is the thing about paying for residential psychiatric treatment: Our insurance has no benefit whatsoever, and my ex’s insurance has coverage, but further investigation revealed that it’s pretty stingy. Much like the short-term psychiatric coverage we already have, it appears that as soon as the patient says they’re not hearing voices or thinking of hurting themselves, they’re done. Let ‘em go! They’re no longer a danger, who cares about an hour or a day or a week from now! We elected not to go through the hassle of switching insurance when it became clear that the coverage might not really be all that good.
Now I spend a significant portion of my days navigating the Medicaid maze, because theoretically Chickadee is eligible (once your minor child is hospitalized for over 30 days, they can be considered a “household of one” and qualify regardless of your income level), but of course the first time you apply you get denied, and then you have to mount an appeal, and blah blah blah blaaaaahhhhhh I will try not to bore you with this except to say that it sucks. [Except for this: The reason for the initial denial is that I have a joint savings account with Chickie that has more than $2000 in it, which is the max "assets" allowance to qualify. She will not qualify until that account is "paid down" directly to the hospital. Only... it's an online savings account. The only way to get money OUT of it is to transfer it to another account which I own. Which looks like fraud to the government, and could render her ineligible for an entire year. But the bank can't/won't pay the hospital directly and there's no other way to move the money out. The fact that we have already paid the hospital in excess of what needs to be "paid down" does not count; we are not allowed to pay ourselves back from that account, again, because it looks like fraud. I AM SO GLAD THE GOVERNMENT IS SO LOGICAL LIKE THIS.]
In the meantime, one of the factors in choosing the facility which we did is that they will take Medicaid. One of the things which never occurred to me in my suburban white middle-class-ness back when we were scrambling to find the right place was that a facility which takes Medicaid is likely to be fairly heavily populated with foster kids and other children who are—certainly through no fault of their own—in positions of, shall we say, feeling like they have nothing left to lose.
Now. Do I like the doctors at this place? The senior staff, the therapists, the nurses, on the whole? Yes. But getting a phone call back from these people or an email reply is a full-time job. Because they’re busy and understaffed and not a lot of parents are around asking for answers. When we visit on the weekends, there are usually only four other families there for visitation, max. There are a hundred kids at this facility. And it’s the same five families every week, too.
A couple of weeks in, Chickadee was attacked by another patient who had been threatening her for a solid week before it happened, and who had already similarly beat on at least two other patients. This girl threw her down and pummeled her for however long it took for a staff member to call a code, get backup, and pull her off. It could’ve been worse, I suppose; nothing was broken. I mean, sure, my daughter was bloody, bruised, and fucking TERRIFIED, and I had to find out about it FROM HER on the phone that night because the staff “forgot” to call us, but at least when I was trying to grill a nurse on the phone about it she said, “Well, you know, teenagers get into fights.”
Oh, honey. NO. I got so puffed up with righteous indignation and fury when she said that, I’m surprised I didn’t float right on over there to show her how middle-aged mama bears get into fights, too. Instead, I sputtered something about how MY TEENAGER is an honors student who had never so much as raised her voice to a peer prior to being locked up with this particular bunch of hoodlums, and I would appreciate it if she didn’t try to trivialize the POUNDING OF MY BABY’S FACE as something normal and expected.
That time, we got a lot of phone calls back. Eeeeeeveryone called me. No one actually said, “Dear God, please don’t sue us,” but I think we all knew that was the subtext.
They moved Chickadee to a different unit with a younger group of girls. And at first, she was happy and relieved. No one threatened to beat her up, there. The girls seemed calmer. I had my doubts about the move—hey, how about MOVING THE THUG, say, over to juvy?—but we said okay.
And then her stuff started disappearing.
Again, most of the kids there are coming from nothing. They bring nothing. They have a hygiene bucket full of generic toiletries doled out by the hospital staff and a few days worth of clothing. My kid, she has a bucket full of name-brand toiletries because she has a skin condition and we have enough money to buy super-fancy things like Stridex and dandruff shampoo. WOO. It was not terribly surprising to learn that the other girls were pilfering her Stridex. And her tampons.
Then her retainer was stolen. DO NOT ASK ME. Spite? Curiosity? Boredom? No one knows. It’s a locked unit, and they cannot find it. Where did it GO? No one knows. It’s a custom device, and we can’t get her a new one without taking her to the orthodontist for a new mold, so the hospital said they would give it a week and then arrange to replace it. It’s been two weeks.
Then one day her lotion was empty. The thief was caught with a handful of it. Why? It’s unclear.
The next day, her shampoo had been emptied.
Her first stick of deodorant vanished. Again: locked unit. WHERE DID IT GO? Really, maybe Secret’s secret is that it turns INVISIBLE!
The day after that, she found a girl rifling through her clothing bucket. Really? Does she think that maybe she’ll just put on one of Chickie’s shirts and then claim it was hers all along? I do not understand.
One day her roommate got mad at her and hid her glasses. Chickadee is legally blind without them, so that was a real laugh-riot, as you can imagine. They were found shortly thereafter, but she got in trouble for refusing to proceed to a scheduled activity without them. Because she should just… feel her way there? I’m unclear.
I brought her a couple of magazines, last weekend. Girl’s Life, and one of Monkey’s issue of Games. The former was stolen immediately, with a handful of pages returned to her in shreds. No one bothered with the latter—Chickie reports that several of the girls on her unit can’t read, anyway.
Meanwhile I’m calling, every day. Trying to get someone to call us back. As of last night, my daughter’s hygiene bucket is now locked up in the unit office, because hers is the only one that’s ever pilfered. Apparently she’s the only one with “good” stuff.
Chickadee reports that she has two friends on the unit. One is a twelve year old girl whose mother comes to visit, too. It’s funny where you find comfort in a time like this, but her mom and I smile at each other in the dingy little cafeteria during visitation. We are secret allies. Our girls are loved, we are whispering it to them every week, hoping our mere presence reminds them that a better life is waiting for them when they’re well enough to come home. The other friend is also twelve years old… and pregnant. When I gasped, Chickadee’s mouth twisted into a wry half-grin and she added that this child already has a 2-year-old being raised by her mother.
I cried. I couldn’t help it. I don’t even know her. It made my heart hurt.
We talk about moving her someplace else. But the reality is that most residential treatment centers are like this, or they take no insurance or Medicaid at all and cost three times as much.
When I finally got one of her therapists on the phone to discuss the thievery, the nightly crying from Chickadee that her stuff is disappearing, she was unperturbed. “I think that Chickadee likes to latch on to these sorts of things, focus on them and magnify them, as a way to divert attention from the more pressing issues relevant to her treatment,” she said.
On the other end of the phone, I may have rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck. “I agree with you that she is a master of deflection,” I admitted, “But it doesn’t change the fact that THIS IS NOT OKAY. She has a basic right to exist there unmolested, with her belongings intact. How is she supposed to feel like this is a safe space to deal with the scary stuff she needs to address when these things keep happening?” She agreed it was a problem. But half an hour later I hung up unsure about anything actually changing.
It sucks. There’s no better way to put it. You hope that it’s unpleasant enough to give her the motivation to get the hell out of there, but not so unpleasant that she loses all hope and gives up. I’m okay being a squeaky wheel, but at this point I feel like I’ve gone from squeaky to screechy and still, I worry every day about what will happen next. I worry every day she will never forgive us.
And then I take a deep breath, tell her I love her more than anything, and I go buy more Stridex and tampons and make more phone calls.