Wednesday evening Beth and I were on a Zoom call with North and North had just asked if I’d been writing about them on Facebook or my blog this week. I said no. They said not to post anything on Facebook, but as for the blog, “You can say where I am but not why.” So that’s what I will tell you.
Admission: 21 Hours
North is in an adolescent psychiatric ward and has been for eight days. On Thursday of last week during a routine quarterly visit with their psychiatrist, they said some things that caused Dr. W to recommend we go to the emergency room. She called ahead, approving North to be admitted, thinking this way we wouldn’t be waiting all night in the ER. We did get out of the ER in a relatively swift hour and a half, but instead of spending the night there, we spent it, and most of the next day, in the psychiatric screening area where patients wait to be admitted to the children’s or adolescent psych unit of the hospital or discharged home. We’ve actually been to this screening area before, about three years ago—I never blogged about it. That time, we decided to take North home in the middle of the night.
This time around, once we arrived in the ER, North stopped speaking, though they would communicate through gestures and writing. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you might remember when North stopped talking for six weeks in third grade. That time, they felt physically unable to speak above a whisper, though there was no organic cause and when it got better, there was no clear reason. This time is a little different as North can speak under some circumstances, but I’ll get back to that later.
It wasn’t clear why the admissions process took so long, as North had been pre-approved and there were beds available, but if you’ve spent much time in hospitals—and I hope you haven’t— you know how mysterious and excruciatingly slow everything can be.
The screening area, which we started to call the bardo, consisted of a hallway with a desk and chairs for staff and more chairs for patients and parents who were waiting, and five exam rooms and one restroom branching off the sides. Each exam room had one bed, some chairs, and a tv. There was a cutout in the door so staff in the hall could see inside. If you turned off the lights, the room was dim but not dark. North got an exam room right away and didn’t have to wait in the hall. After they changed into a hospital gown and we were briefly interviewed and a nurse had taken blood and they’d provided a urine sample and taken a covid test, North was able to sleep, but Beth and I sat in plastic chairs all night. You aren’t allowed to bring anything into the area, so we didn’t have our phones, or books, or anything to occupy ourselves and once North was asleep, we couldn’t even talk to each other because we didn’t want to wake them. It was a long night.
At one point after a shift change one of the staff who didn’t know that North is using catheters—yes, that’s still going on—saw them go to the bathroom holding one and asked me if we’d gotten it from a nurse, and I said yes. I wasn’t intentionally lying—I was exhausted and misremembered, but we’d brought them from home, and soon no fewer than four hospital staff were swarming around North and their illicit medical device. So, now we know how to get people’s attention in the hospital.
Kids were arriving and leaving all night and the next day, sometimes sent up to the inpatient unit, sometimes sent home. I left the screening area a few times, either to go the locker with our belongings so I could use my phone to scan the glucose monitor on my arm or in search of food, because while they feed the kids, they don’t feed the parents. When you leave and re-enter you must be screened, and it can take a while for security to arrive to do it, so I tried to keep my excursions to a minimum. By Friday afternoon I was starting to wonder if Beth or I should go home and get some sleep and then come back and relieve the other in case it was going to be another night, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave, and Beth wouldn’t either. As far as I could tell, North was the only kid there with two parents in attendance and at least half of them had no parents accompanying them.
For much of Friday we watched a lot of truly dreadful daytime television—one of those shows in which people are suing each other (not Judge Judy, but similar) a crime drama with bad writing and acting, and The Young and the Restless. I paced the length of the little room for over an hour and a half, which made Beth so nervous she went out into the hallway, but I kept at it for a while after she left because it was having the opposite effect on me. Finally, we found a channel that was playing nothing but consecutive episodes of Friends, Beth came back to the room, I promised not to pace anymore and climbed into North’s bed with them, and we all watched several episodes. I haven’t seen Friends since it was on the air, and I’m sure there must be some episodes that haven’t aged well (that’s certainly true of Buffy) but from the ones we saw it seems to have held up. It was just what we needed, distracting and funny and North seemed to like it. It even made them laugh a few times.
Finally, at four o’clock Friday afternoon, almost twenty-one hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, North was taken up to the inpatient unit. Beth and I went with them but weren’t allowed past the lobby. We stayed there for another hour and a half, mostly waiting for someone to come talk to us and filling out paperwork. And then we left our baby there, went home, ate, showered, and fell into bed at seven. I slept for eleven and a half hours.
The Home Front: Weekend Plus Halloween
The next day was Saturday, the day of the Halloween parade. North hadn’t been planning to attend anyway because it was the first day of tech week for the school play and if they’d been home, they would have been at rehearsal. Last year Beth and I went to the parade without North (who had the same conflict) just to watch because we love it. We hadn’t decided if we were going this year and I’d completely forgotten what day it was until Beth asked me, tentatively that morning if I wanted to go. I didn’t. It seemed impossibly sad. I went out on some errands that afternoon and I ended up near downtown Takoma shortly after the parade must have ended because there were a lot of kids in costume, including an unusual number of skeletons, wandering around. In the Co-op, a small Buzz Lightyear was in line in front of me and told me he got his balloon sword at the parade.
Halloween proper was sad, too. We did our civic duty—put out the rest of our massive stock of decorations, lit our jack-o-lanterns (which we’d finished the night before we took North to the hospital, all cats this year in Xander’s honor), and gave out candy. I found seeing the costumed kids at the door alternately cheering and unbearable. To distract myself, I started awarding them prizes, (unbeknownst to them) on Facebook. Here’s what it looked like:
Steph thinks the best trick-or-treater in the 5:00 to 6:00 hour was the “unicorn witch,” even though she wouldn’t have known that’s what the tot was without the voluntarily offered clarification. But it made sense—she wore a unicorn headband and a long black dress.
Best costume in the 6:00 to 7:00 hour: Flower in flowerpot. Second place, hot dog.
7:00 to 8:00 hour. Elaborate homemade piñata costume. Second place, witch with cauldron for candy and stuffed cat familiar, for attention to detail and impressive use of the word “familiar.”
8:00 to 9:00 hour: Marshmallow. And that’s a wrap. Blowing out the pumpkins and turning out all the lights.
When it was all over, I told Beth this year was sadder than the year North missed trick-or-treating because of the sixth-grade Outdoor Ed field trip. “Way sadder,” she agreed.
Hospitalization: Eight Days and Counting
Earlier in the day on Halloween I delivered some homework to North, copies of The Glass Menagerie and The Doll’s House and questions to answer about the plays. (They will have to do this in crayon, as no other writing implements are allowed.) We’ve been going to the hospital frequently to deliver clean clothes and other items, though frustratingly, sometimes it takes days for the items to make their way to North. It was a week before they had a hairbrush, even though they were allowed one. We even brought a second one, thinking maybe the first one got lost. The same day they got to brush their hair, they got Muffin, their stuffed monkey. This required special permission, so it made a little more sense.
When one or both of us go to the hospital, usually Beth drives, but when I brought the plays on Monday, I took public transportation and the hospital shuttle so she could get some work done and so I could see North through the glass of the lobby. Whenever you come into the unit, they bring your kid out to wave at you.
On Wednesday afternoon I got to visit with them for an hour in the classroom. I delivered some art homework and a note from Zoë and a crocheted bee she made for North, a Zobëë, she called it. At North’s request I brought the cards and tokens for Love Letter so we could play (they beat me 7-0) and the Iliad. I read the beginning of book 12 out loud. This isn’t even homework. North got interested in it after they read the Odyssey last year and they’ve been reading it on and off since last summer. Somewhere around book 7, I started reading it to them because they thought it might go faster that way. (After room inspection that night both the card game and the bee were confiscated.)
We’ve also had at least one phone or Zoom call every day they’ve been there. At first it was kind of ad hoc and it was hard to get through but once we got on the schedule for every weekday evening at seven, it’s been easier. It’s good to see them once a day. We can see their room, which has a view of the Capitol, the Howard university bell tower, and the reservoir, and a dark blue wall with white silhouettes of whales and sharks. They’ve been doing a lot of adult coloring book pages with the ever-present crayons, and they are taped to the wall, along with Zoë’s note. We can have these calls because North will speak to us when no one else is around.
We get a call from Dr. D, the main psychiatrist who is working with North, every weekday except Wednesdays, and one day we had a family meeting, which was a Zoom call with North, Dr. D, and a coordinator. In this call North communicated by writing and holding the paper up to the camera. This is what they’ve been doing in group and individual therapy as well, though they have been working on saying a couple words per session.
We’ll have another family meeting on Monday, which if Dr. D is right, might be near the end of North’s stay. No promises, but she says she’s cautiously hoping it will be “early next week.”
At Home: Five More Days
Meanwhile, Beth and I have been working in the day and watching A League of Their Own or Abbott Elementary at night, plus Licorice Pizza on Friday night. I was writing postcards to voters in Kentucky and Georgia until the mailing deadline passed and on Friday, independently of each other, Beth and I took our ballots to the drop-off box near the community center. Beth also took North’s because in Takoma Park, you are allowed to vote for municipal offices at age sixteen. It seemed a little sad they couldn’t have the satisfaction of dropping their very first ballot into the box themselves, but it was good they’d already completed, signed, and sealed it.
On Tuesday I had lunch with my friend Megan. We’ve been good friends since North and Megan’s daughter were in preschool together, so she knows pretty much all of North’s long backstory. It was nice to talk to someone who didn’t need a lot of explanation. In other self-care, Beth went kayaking this morning and we went to Brookside Gardens for a walk this afternoon.
We very much hope North will be coming home soon. They’ve asked us to leave up the Halloween decorations, so we have. I’ve even left the Halloween cats dish towel hanging from the oven door and my black cat, bat, and vampire-festooned pencils and Mummy eraser out on my desk. We’re planning a little Halloween do-over for our reunion. We’ll watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and eat Halloween candy we saved. I am looking forward to that.