Well, I had my wallow. It was deep and wide and dark and there’s a certain comfort in just opting out for a while. It’s not sustainable, though, because eventually I have to pack lunches and help with homework and say something to my husband other than “I just fucking hate this all SO MUCH.” (“Your husband sounds like an angel,” my therapist commented last week, as I sat on her couch, sniffling and leaking tears, and that was enough to make me smile. “He really IS,” I said. “I don’t know how I got so lucky.” And that helped, because he is and I am and not EVERYTHING is terrible, after all.)
I located my mythical bootstraps (mine are made of sweet potatoes!) and became the squeakiest wheel that ever did squeak. Which is how I ended up spending an hour on the phone with the hospital CEO yesterday.
Granted, everyone who works with my kid probably now refers to me as “that annoying bitch,” but whatever. I have never had a problem advocating for what my kids need. I’ve never had a problem standing up and possibly making myself unpopular. What I realized, though, was that in this situation, I had been handling each mini-crisis individually, always willing to say “this particular thing is not okay, let’s fix it,” but for some reason I had been holding back on saying, “This is ALL BROKEN. I want answers.” And I’m not sure why that is.
I have some ideas, of course. Really confronting the magnitude of some of these problems leaves me worried that we made a mistake placing Chickadee there in the first place, and that’s a horrible possibility to confront. I mean, yes, at the end of the day we can only do the best we can do with the information we have, and sometimes you have to pick the least awful of several really crappy options. Intellectually, I know this to be true. Intellectually, I know we made the best decision we could at the time, and even if this hospital has problems, we very likely saved Chickie’s life by placing her there. Emotionally… oh, God, that could be a novel on its own. Emotionally, all I want is my daughter protected and healed. Emotionally, every failing at this facility is a whisper in the back of my head, born of my own fears and uncertainty, suggesting that we did the wrong thing.
So I handled each issue as it came up, as best I could. When my daughter was beaten up, when her belongings were stolen, each time I was told of yet another meal where she was served a pile of boiled or deep-fried side items and told to “make do” (or—better yet—actually served the meat entree she will never eat), I made my calls, I rattled cages, I squeaked and squeaked until the matter at hand was supposedly resolved. Until the next time.
The email I finally sent went all the way back to the day we admitted her. I painstakingly catalogued every failing of this facility, and how each instance was handled. I was able to list every time we were told “we’ll take care of it” and whatever “it” was happened again. I detailed the “treatment meeting” in which treatment was not discussed, options were not presented, and we left feeling we’d been told, “Yeah, good luck with that” instead of helped.
The bottom line is that hospitals like this exist to HELP people, and my daughter isn’t getting the help she needs. So I laid it all out as calmly as I could and then I closed my email by saying that I seriously doubted this was this facility’s vision, and I hoped we could fix this.
To the hospital’s credit, the CEO gave me an hour to go through everything point-by-point, and this was AFTER they had an internal meeting for data collection on the issues I’d presented (like I said, I’m sure everyone there just LOVES me right now). Mistakes were acknowledged, and apologies—sincere, I think—were issued. Solutions were proposed.
Was there spin? Yeah, a little. When discussing the repeated drama over OH GOOD LORD HOW FREAKING HARD IS IT TO FEED A VEGETARIAN A VARIED DIET, I was told that Chickadee’s report of having been fed lasagna for 13 dinners in a row was “unlikely.” I bit my tongue and managed to suggest that be “further investigated.” A food log is being put in place, moving forward, and the future menu would be emailed to me right after our call. Funny, a few hours after the call, I did get an email, but it didn’t have the menu, because “upon review, I feel this menu doesn’t have enough variety and requires revision. A staffer has taken Chickadee to Trader Joe’s to do some food shopping, and I will get you the revised menu tomorrow.” I didn’t say “I told you so” but YES, my kid WAS fed lasagna 13 days in a row. And even though TJ’s prepared foods are still, you know, prepared foods, at least instead of nothing but lasagna she’ll have spanakopita and veggie pizza and tofu and bean burritos and fake vegetarian chicken nuggets, now.
Instead of being told “she is resistant to treatment” (um, please show me the teenager who is NOT resistant to treatment…?) her team will present quantifiable goals. Communication loopholes will be closed. The psychiatrist has been duly chastised for swearing at my child (OH YES HE DID), and that will not be happening ever again. It’s absolutely FINE with me if everyone there thinks I’m a stark raving bitch. I’m the stark raving bitch who will make them treat my child the way she should be treated.
At our last family therapy session—shortly before I allowed myself to check out and wallow for a couple of days—the therapist leading the session asked an already-angry Chickadee if she feels that I’m supportive enough of her. “What do you mean?” she asked, all suspicion. The therapist repeated it, changing the wording a bit: Do you feel that your mother is emotionally supportive of you, most of the time? “No,” Chickadee said, “she isn’t.” I was struck silent (and you know that doesn’t happen often).
Not five minutes later, Chickie was complaining that the “only” reason she’s not been able to get her crap together is because I’m always meddling and solving things for her before she even has a chance to prove she can handle it herself. This time, I laughed, which was the wrong move because it made her furious. I pulled back the laughter but pointed out that the times she’s gotten angriest with me are when I have told her she can handle it and I back off. “But let me get this straight. Everything is all my fault because I am not there for you enough, but at the same time, I do everything for you even when you don’t want me to. Okay.”
The therapist quietly pointed out that this is the conundrum of being a teen—magnified, of course, in this case, by Chickadee’s illness. “So basically, there’s no winning?” I asked. “Everything I do is wrong?” There was some rueful chuckling.
So… I get it. This road we’re on is a long one, and a terrible one, and it’s not fixed with Boca Burgers or a reminder to my kid’s doctor that he’s not John Wayne. On the other hand, I did what I needed to do to be able to sleep at night (well, maybe sleep a little more at night, anyway).
Last night on the phone, Chickie was bubbling over with excitement about her food shopping trip. “You did something,” she finally said. “You talked to someone. You’re trying to fix it for me.”
“Oh no, not me, I would NEVER do that,” I said. “I don’t wanna be ALL UP IN YOUR BUSINESS. You can take care of yourself, I think I heard that somewhere.” She giggled, and then I did, too. “You sound good, honey. Better. What’s going on?”
“I dunno,” she said, at first. A pause. “Well, I’ve decided I don’t want to live here. I want to come home. And that means I have to do some stuff, and that kind of sucks, but then I get to come home, which does NOT suck.”
“Good plan,” I said, hoping my voice sounded neutral and hid the internal victory dance I was doing, just to hear her saying that.
“But at least I have some decent food until then,” she continued. Then, quieter: “Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome. Now excuse me, I have to get back to being my regular unsupportive self.” I’m pretty sure I could hear her rolling her eyes. I was chided for ruining what could have been a nice moment, to which I of course responded that THAT’S MY JOB, and then before we’d stopped laughing, it was time for her to get off the phone.
If all goes as planned, Chickie will get to come home for a night this weekend. I will shovel as much home-cooked food into her as she’ll let me, and continue to muddle through this business of holding her up while letting her go. We’re nervous, all of us. We’re all figuring it out.
All I can do is keep squeaking as best I know how, and hope she gets the grease she needs. (You know, the magic one, ethically harvested from moonbeams and rainbows, and animal-cruelty-free.)