Sunday, April 8, 2012

Alex's Hospitalization: Admission

In my last blog entry, I explained how an especially aggressive outburst had led us to bring Alex to St. Anthony Hospital’s emergency room for a psychological assessment. Although we were able to calm him with a shot of Ativan before we left home so that we could travel to Michigan City without incident, he had another even more aggressive meltdown while in the emergency room that required another shot of Ativan along with a shot of the sedative Haldol. With both medications in his system, Alex was drowsy and no longer agitated, ready to be moved to the Behavioral Medicine Department, where he would be admitted.

When LeeAnne, the nurse from Behavioral Medicine, came with a wheelchair to get Alex, she told us that she couldn’t take him up to her department until someone from hospital security came to accompany us. She explained that this was hospital policy for everyone’s protection, and knowing that we would have a security officer with us in the hallways and elevator was comforting to me, rather than upsetting, because we would have someone to help if he became agitated again. With the arrival of a Michigan City police officer, we began the trek up to the third floor, where Alex would spend the next several days.

For safety reasons, the Behavioral Medicine Department is a locked ward with limited access to visitors. Once we arrived there, LeeAnne unlocked the door and then locked us inside. As someone who is claustrophobic, I had to fight my own anxiety about being locked in someplace and focus on getting Alex settled. She took us back to a kitchen area, where she weighed Alex and asked us dozens of questions needed to fill out required paperwork. From all the sedatives he had been given, Alex was drowsy and kept laying his head on the table, but contently grinning. LeeAnne explained that while the ER had to use strong medicine to sedate him, the goal of the Behavioral Medicine Department was to use medications that would make him calm yet alert, which was comforting.

One of the concerns that the nurse in the ER had raised came up again as we went over paperwork for his admission to Behavioral Medicine; we did not have legal guardianship of Alex, who is twenty years old, nor did we have a medical power of attorney document for him. Since he is legally an adult, he has the right to make decisions for himself, but his earlier behavior clearly indicated that he’s not capable of making important decisions on his own. Moreover, to protect people from being committed to a mental health facility against their will, rules are even more stringent than with other medical procedures. However, the emergency room doctor agreed to sign a document granting a 72-hour emergency psychiatric hold, which allowed them to admit Alex into Behavioral Medicine for initial treatment. We knew that he would likely need to stay more than three days, and we knew that we would have to have the legal papers drawn up quickly to assure that he received the treatment he desperately needed.

As LeeAnne asked us various questions about Alex’s autism and his habits, I began to realize that he was going to have some adjustment issues since he’s always lived at home with Ed and me, who had always attended to his various needs and idiosyncrasies. For instance, Alex hates getting water in his eyes; therefore, he always takes baths instead of showers. However, they only had showers, so this was going to be a major change for him. LeeAnne assured us that someone would help Alex with showering. Also, Alex’s restrictive gluten-free and casein-free diet could pose another problem, but she told us that they would alert the dietician and find foods that Alex could eat on his diet. (My fears of his allergen-free diet being compromised while he was in the hospital later came to pass as he was unknowingly given foods with glutens and milk; I’ll detail that in a later entry.) Another concern we had was what Alex would do all day since he wouldn’t have his books, handheld games, and computer, nor would he be allowed to watch television as he pleased. LeeAnne assured us, as she did with every concern we raised, that he would be kept busy with various activities and that they would take good care of him.

Although I had packed a bag with a change of clothes, LeeAnne told me that he only needed a change of underwear and his toothbrush and toothpaste; they had things for him to wear. She took him to change his clothes while Ed and I talked with the psychiatrist, a kind man who reinforced our belief that we had brought Alex to a place where he could get the help he needed. At one point, I looked out the window in the door to the hallway and saw a tall, handsome young man dressed in surgical scrubs. I wondered if he was a doctor when I first saw him, and then I realized it was Alex dressed in scrubs, looking rather professional, especially considering the terrible night he had endured.

After we had given all of the necessary information and had been given information about visiting hours and the numbers we could call to get updates on Alex, we knew the time had come to leave Alex there. I remembered how I felt the first time I dropped Alex off at special education preschool, and this felt exactly the same way: I was entrusting my baby to other people and praying that they would take precious good care of him. Both times, Alex didn’t seem fazed to be left, but I was teary-eyed while trying to be strong in saying goodbye to him, knowing this time that we wouldn’t see him until the next day. LeeAnne again reassured us that they would take good care of him and added that Alex would likely sleep most of the rest of the day from all the sedatives he’d been given. With that, Ed and I left our son, met my parents who had adamantly insisted that they would stay in the waiting room and support us, and began the walk to our cars in the parking lot as Sunday church bells tolled from a church down the block from the hospital.

Once Ed and I got in our car, I began to sob the hardest I’ve probably ever cried in my life. Ed comforted me and commented that I’d been saving that up for a while, and he was right. I’d been as strong as I could through that entire ordeal, and now I was emotionally spent. Beyond fear and sorrow, the tears also came from relief. For years I had feared that we would eventually have to put Alex in the hospital at some point. As upsetting as it was to leave him there, I was relieved that we had found a place where he could get the help he needed, and I knew we were doing what was best for all of us.

In future blog entries, I’ll detail Alex’s hospital stay and recovery in the Behavioral Medicine Department. As we celebrate Easter today and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I thank God for sending His Son to save us and for His healing power to save our son.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16


Lynn Mayden said...

Thank you so much for posting this story. I am positive it will help other families. I hope things in your life are calmer now.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Lynn,
Thanks for your nice comment. I'm hoping that sharing our experiences might help other families so that some good can come from the challenges we've faced lately.
Take care,