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Empty Shoes

Empty Shoes

How do you react when your 25-year-old son, during what is later seen as his first acute bipolar episode, kidnaps his teenage sister, drives her to a hospital, and convinces the emergency room staff to admit her because “she’s sick and my parents aren’t taking care of her”?

How do you compute when you arrive at the hospital to rescue your daughter — who has a cold — and you find her hysterical and strapped into a hospital bed?  You ask your son, who is staring straight ahead with empty eyes, “Why did you bring your sister here?”  With logic that reflects his internal confusion, he answers, “Because I knew I needed help.”

What recourse do you have when your son’s health care providers can’t agree on a diagnosis and decide to do nothing?

Whom do you rail against when your son goes through an eight week protocol at Stanford in a blind experiment for bipolar disorder, is seen for the last time with no follow-up appointment scheduled, and is given a slightly altered dosage of his medication?  And, within 24 hours, he’s involuntarily admitted (5150d) to San Mateo County Hospital in a state of acute bipolar psychosis.

Should you be distraught or relieved when your adult child admits himself to the emergency room of San Francisco General because “voices are telling me to kill myself”?

Where do you turn when, as the parent of an adult child with severe mental illness, you’re told, “You have no right to any information”?

How do you reconcile the fact that the state of New York, at New York taxpayers’ expense, hospitalized your son for six months in Bellevue Hospital, and paid his return airfare to the West Coast when he was stable?

In California, on the other hand, where involuntary hospitalizations last 72 hours, on eight separate occasions, judges asked your son, “Are you a danger to yourself or others?” And when he answered “no,” eight different judges released him with no money, no medication, and no place to go.

Do you dare find hope again when, a year after leaving Bellevue Hospital, your son has a job, earns an impressive score on the Graduate Record Exam, and receives a fellowship in creative writing at San Diego State University?

Do you give up your new found hope when, after three months at San Diego State, the attempt to teach, write, work, and conceal his mental disability is too much?  Stress causes a Grand Mal seizure and your son spins out of control.  He’s sicker now than when he was admitted to Bellevue Hospital. 

How do you get a fair hearing when, after five years and eleven involuntary hospitalizations, five of which were within one year, Social Security tells you, “Your son is denied SSDI benefits because he does not meet the criteria for severe and persistent mental illness”?

What do you do when your mentally ill family member doesn't have health insurance and can’t get a job to access group health insurance?

What do you decide when a California police officer asks, “Do you want me to press auto theft charges against your son for taking your car?  Answer ‘yes’ I send him to prison.  Answer ‘no’ I release him to the street.  There’s no time to consult a lawyer.  Tell me now.”

What do you say at three o’clock in the morning, when someone you’ve never met — a friend of your son’s — calls you in California from London and yells, “Get your son out of my house!  He’s destroying my property”?

What do you say at three o’clock the next morning when that same person calls back sobbing, feeling so guilty for having his friend forcibly admitted to a London psychiatric hospital?  Then he describes the scene as his friend, calm at first, fought ferociously as he was bound into a straitjacket and thrown into a padded cell. 

How do you cope when your mentally ill adult child is missing, and your daughter calls you in tears because a newspaper article describes a John Doe who killed himself on the railroad tracks in the vicinity where your son was last seen, and John Doe fits your son’s description? 

How do you process the hours waiting for the coroner’s report to confirm or deny that John Doe is or is not your son?  And in those hours, you pray he is not your son and then pray he is your son, to end his pain and to end yours.  And when the coroner says, “John Doe is not your son,” you take a deep breath but then think to yourself, John Doe is someone’s son. 

How do you forget the wracked faces and bodies you’ve seen while visiting your son in locked wards of prisons and mental hospitals?  What choices do you have when you realize you cannot, you will not erase from your memory their anguish and despair?

How do you live with your disappointment when, after searching streets for days, you can't find your son and you give up and go home without him?

How do you advocate when the world sees a bum, and you see the little boy you carried in your womb, nursed at your breast, laughed and played with, and knew in your heart was the world’s greatest child?  And you know somewhere, trapped inside his brain, the world’s greatest child is lost and trying to be found.

Dede Ranahan 2001



Copyright Dede Ranahan 2017.  All Rights Reserved.

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