Monday, October 11, 2010
Against our will. Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.
“I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this.” –McMurphy, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Life had become a nightmare for Rebekkah. Her husband of 20 years was divorcing her, and was continuing a pattern of abuse. He was trying to get full custody of their 13-year-old daughter. And Rebekkah’s mother, who lived with the couple, had just passed away.
But the chaos going on in Rebekkah’s environment was nothing compared to what was going on inside her mind. I had been noticing Rebekkah’s decline over several months each Sunday she came to church – she was losing weight, looking unkempt and chain-smoking. But it wasn’t until she called and invited me to her apartment that I knew how bad things had gotten.
Grabbing her pack of Newports, Rebekkah ushered me out to the lawn where she whispered, “Be careful what you say. He can hear you.” “Who?” I asked. “My ex,” she said. “He’s got microphones in the trees and bushes. He’s very powerful. Last week I was late to an appointment at my lawyer’s because he called his connections to cause a traffic jam on the expressway! He knows everyone in town. He can do anything he wants.”
I suggested Rebekkah talk to a therapist. “He knows all the therapists,” she said. “He has contacted every one in town and told them about me. They try to give me pills, but he has put poison in them.”
Rebekkah’s mental and physical health continued to deteriorate. She began to forget where she lived, and would walk for miles in the wee hours in the winter cold, asking to sleep on friends’ and relatives’ couches. Her sister found her wandering in traffic, murmuring to herself. She was arrested twice for driving under the influence of Hydrocodone. And she began making references to suicide. A half-dozen people (including her daughter) came to me – as the minister’s wife – asking me to “DO SOMETHING.”
Finally one day after church, I did. I asked her to come with me in my car, where she could smoke and chat, and I drove her to the hospital. Of course, when we got there, she appeared quite lucid. She knew her name (Rebekkah), her race (black), the year (2007). “I’m not crazy,” she informed the staff. “My ex husband is telling people that I am, but I’m not.”
“What do you want us to do?” The doctor asked me (when it came out that Rebekkah lacked health insurance). “Can’t you just take her to your house and watch her?”
I explained that I worked full-time and had a family to care for, and Rebekkah needed round-the-clock attention to make sure she would not injure herself. I fought with the doctors and administrators for almost two hours. Finally I exploded. “If I take her home with me and she winds up dead,” I said, “It’s on this fucking hospital! And don’t even THINK there won’t be a lawsuit!”
Rebekkah was admitted – over her loud objections – for a “72-hour hold.” At the end of that time, her sister and I were asked to attend a meeting at the hospital, where we both presented testimony in favor of keeping Rebekkah there for a period of time.
Rebekkah was livid. “You’re turning against me,” she shouted at us. “My ex has gotten to you too! They’re feeding me poison pills in here! They want me dead. I’ll beat them to it!”
About two months later, my husband and I received a phone call from Rebekkah. She and her daughter had moved into a new apartment, and she was having a housewarming party. Rebekkah looked beautiful in her native African dress. Her hair was styled and her makeup was flawless. She talked about an upcoming voyage to her hometown in Africa, and not a word about hidden microphones. The old Rebekkah was back. “Thank you,” she said to me as she handed me an expensive bottle of wine. She didn’t have to say any more.
The decision of whether or not to hold someone in a psychiatric unit, or whether or not to require them to take medication, is a difficult one. I knew that Rebekkah was in a world-class facility; I was also very sure that she was likely to be injured or die without 24-hour care. But I had to risk her anger, and I had to take the chance that I was wrong.
I know a lot of people would still say I was wrong. But if I faced the decision again, I have no doubt what my choice would be. And I would hope that someone would do the same for me.