The remainder of our drive gave Chris’ parents time to make phone calls and prepare for what would come next.
After our arrival, we all sat down together in my in-law’s living room. Replaying it in my mind, it was almost fake. Like something you’d see in a movie. Son and daughter-in-law arrive and you all sit down for a Very Important Discussion before Your Whole Life Changes. Surreal doesn’t do it justice.
I was next to the coffee table and his dad was opposite of me. Chris was on the couch with his mom across from him. With a small note pad in her lap, she looked at her son and said, “Something is wrong. We don’t know what. Do you agree?”
“Are you willing to get help?”
I didn’t know the plan, but I trusted my mother-in-law implicitly. She was so gentle and brave. So direct and purposeful. Whatever phone calls she made, they were the right ones.
We took Chris to a stand-alone psychiatric intake facility, one associated with a major hospital in the city.
Let me just stop for a minute.
Would you ever honestly think your spouse, the person you love so dearly, was having a real, actual, nervous breakdown? While I could not believe it, I had NO OTHER explanation. He wasn’t anxious, he was distant. He wasn’t mean, he was compliant. But he wasn’t thinking. He’d start to talk and stop. He was lost in his head. He was completely reactive, initiating no emotions or conversation.
I couldn’t believe this man, the one I’d known since I was thirteen, whose confidence made him particularly attractive, didn’t possess the mental strength to get through his thesis defense.
Yet, I also knew something major was wrong. It was so out of character. Being a mental/emotional fortress was his thing.
There isn’t much to say when you watch your husband take off his shoes, belt, and watch and hand it over to security. When you watch him walk into a locked room in his socks. Please understand what that means. It was standard operating procedure—for his safety. I remember sitting down, not sure if I would be sick or if my heart could handle what I just saw. They needed to make sure my husband wouldn’t hurt himself.
First, he was interviewed by a young woman. She came out to talk with us and report her findings, while the psychiatrist went in to talk with him.
“He says he’s anxious, but he doesn’t have any real symptoms of anxiety…It’s strange…It doesn’t really fit. You know, the late twenties/early thirties is a common age for a schizophrenic break.”
What?! Who in their right mind would say something like that? I knew something was wrong with him, but DearLordInHeaven, I knew this wasn’t schizophrenia. My face went hot and my heart started to pound, “I’m sorry. What is your training?”
“I have a degree in psychology.”
At what level?
Oh…Well. Don’t you think it’s a little premature to be lobbing words like schizophrenia in the air without an evaluation by someone trained to make that kind of statement?
I couldn’t even look at her.
The physciatrist came out and I went in to sit next to Chris. She returned with more questions.
What I found fascinating was when she asked open ended questions, Chris couldn’t answer. And when he couldn’t answer, she led him into an answer.
How are you feeling?
You say you’ve been stressed out about your thesis?
Do you feel anxious?
His anxiety looked like a bored child staring at a wall.
After more inconclusive interviews, since his “symptoms” didn’t fit any psychiatric diagnosis, they advised a medical evaluation. He needed a CT scan of his brain.
Of the two large hospitals I worked for by that point in my life, both had psychiatric emergency intake as part of their regular medical emergency departments. A quick medical work up would happen before they would go onto any psych evaluations. In retrospect, I wish we went right for the medical evaluation…but what’s done is done, right?
As strange as it sounds, I was relieved at the idea there could be something in his brain. Something physically wrong was horrible, but made sense. Managing some physical abnormality, especially if surgery was involved, was what I knew.
(Something psychological, on the other hand, was petrifying. It was a beast I knew nothing about. A diagnosis with which I had no experience knowing if you could ever fully recover.)
Security escorted us through underground walkways and locked doors until we reached the emergency room of the hospital. We had to be escorted by security. Again, reading between the lines, it wasn’t only because we didn’t know where to go. Chris was still a psychiatric patient. Psychiatric patients, until cleared not to be a threat to themselves or others, need security.
In a curtained section of the ED we met a new set of doctors. There were multiple physical exams and a plethora of questions.
When it was time for the CT scan, his parents waited and I got up to go with him.
“Oh, you don’t need to go, honey. It doesn’t take long,” the nurse said.
“I know. I’ll go anyway.”
“There’s no place for you to sit.”
“We really don’t need you to come.”
“I know. I want to come anyways.”
And so we went. All of us silent.
As a nurse, I know this drill. Frankly, it’s annoying. Family members need to wait where we tell them and stay out of the way. Let us do our job. The patient is fine. No one is going to die.
But as his wife, I didn’t want to leave his side. He was having trouble coming up with words. He wasn’t able to complete a thought. I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to know what was going on.
She wheeled him into the radiology suite and I leaned against the wall in the hallway. A Head CT takes just a few minutes. The longest part of the process is transferring the patient to/from the table and waiting to see if you got adequate pictures.
I was squatting with my back against the wall when the nurse swung the door wide open.
“Oh, Honey. Here. Here’s a chair. Have a seat.”
Silent, I took it and sat.
“Are you okay? Are you comfortable?”
The abrupt change in her demeanor and behavior towards me told me everything I needed to know. They saw something. (And based on the timing, it was a big enough something that a radiology tech and a nurse didn’t need a doctor to tell them it didn’t belong in his brain.)
It still fascinates me to think how easy it was to read what was happening through the nuances of words and behaviors of the medical professionals. It was like being in a foreign country, one where you’ve studied their language for years, but they talk around you as if you don’t know what’s going on. Knowing the system has it’s advantages. But it was also terrifying.
Back in our curtained off area, “awaiting” the results of the scan, I heard the nurse and the security guard talking. He was securing three patients in this room. (My husband one of them.) But a new patient came in and another guard could come soon, but they needed to move some patients around. She called the doctor over and they all spoke in whispers.
Overhearing it all, the doctor said, “19 doesn’t need security anymore. He’s medical now.”
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