Monday, January 26, 2009

Been there, done that

Blogging has become a wonderful tool for parents of disabled kids. While exploring Blogger, I have discovered so many fascinating blogs where parents celebrate their kids’ achievements, grieve their losses, support other parents on their journeys, vent their frustrations with the medical and educational establishments. They have created a network of support that spans the globe.

With my kids all grown up and mostly on their own, I admit to having a feeling of “been there, done that” at times. I remember my outrage at insensitive or condescending doctors. I remember the ache I felt when my kid was left out or teased. I remember my sweet sense of victory when I successfully fought to have my daughter with severe cerebral palsy educated in regular classes (the first time our school district had mainstreamed a student with such severe disabilities). I remember my pride at accomplishments, big and small.

I also remember that we had it a bit tougher back then, just one generation ago. Accessibility was not yet the law of the land. I had to bump my kids’ wheelchairs up and down stairs hundreds of times. I often had to leave my daughter’s wheelchair outside the tiny restroom stall and carry her in. Most children had never encountered a child with disabilities in those pre-inclusion days, so we endured so many stares and hurtful comments. For that matter, most adults had had limited exposure to disabled kids, and I often had to challenge their stereotypes as well.

But, when I start feeling smug or patting myself on the back for being such a pioneer, I catch myself. Over the last year or so, I made the acquaintance of a woman whose daughter is my age (56) and has cerebral palsy. We have spent a lot of time reminiscing about the 50s and I am struck by how nonchalantly she talks about raising a child with disabilities in that time. She mentions her daughter‘s stint in Girl Scouts: “Of course, I had to be the leader so she could participate.” She talks about signing her up for dance lessons. She tells me matter of factly how her daughter had to manage the stairs at school on her crutches. She recounts how her daughter was almost not allowed to graduate from high school because she couldn’t participate in PE (finally the family doctor, who was on the school board, intervened and got them to allow her to substitute another elective). And she proudly talks about how her daughter went off to college about 300 miles away, with an adaptive bike her dad had made for her to get around campus. I am really in awe of this woman, who, by her own account, was just a “country girl,” who assumed her daughter would have a normal life and made sure that happened in an era when it wasn’t easy.

So, when I read these blogs by parents who have only been on this journey one year, four years, or nine years, I may initially have that “been there, done that” feeling. I may feel somewhat smug or amused: “What? They think they’re discovering something new?” But then I pull myself up short. Yes, they are discovering something new…something that’s new for them. And it’s in the discovery that it becomes real for them.

Friday, January 23, 2009

If only...

For three or four months I have watched Gabriel get worse and worse. In October the psychiatrist at MHMR took him off clozapine, the medication that is the “gold standard” in treating schizophrenia. Within a week, I knew it had been a mistake.

I called MHMR many times, telling them with rising desperation that Gabriel was getting worse by the day. Sorry, I was told, the doctor is booked, the doctor got sent to another clinic on the day he was supposed to see her, the doctor is on vacation for 3 weeks. Meanwhile, the voices became unbearable, the hallucinations were frightening, he paced and laughed for hours on end.

I took him to the psychiatric ER five times. He told them he saw aliens who were trying to kill him (and that sometimes he thought I was an alien); they sent him home. He told them the voices were bothering him a lot; they increased one of his medications and sent him home. He told them he was scared because the mafia was trying to kill him; they put him in the hospital at his request, but discharged him a week later without changing his medication. He told them he sometimes thought about stabbing himself in the head to make the voices stop; they changed his medication, told me to hide the knives, and sent him home. He told them he saw assassins, the mafia, and Jesus; they admitted him to the hospital as a voluntary patient.

Yesterday I learned that they had gotten an Order of Protective Custody, ie, he had been committed. He says that the doctor told him he will probably be sent to the state hospital next week.

I am so angry! If only the doctors at MHMR or the ER had listened to us, if only they had tried to understand how bad things were, if only they had acted to get him back on track early on! We would have been spared months of pure hell AND Gabriel wouldn’t have regressed to the point that he has to be committed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


She was


She knew that the people she met

Simply looked right through her,

As if she were invisible.

She was


Her humor, ideas, opinions

Were met with blank faces, ignored.

Soon she alone listened to her inner voice.

She was


Her darkest fears, her dearest dreams,

Remained unspoken, held within,

Nourished in her secret garden.




Yet somehow she was reconciled to this existence:

Better to be unseen than to only see outer appearance,

Better to be unheard than to speak nothing of substance,

Better to be unknown than to be an open blank book.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush's note

So George W Bush left a note in his desk for President Obama. I wonder what it said????

Monday, January 19, 2009

1/20/09 The day we've been waiting for

Tomorrow's the day. We will finally wake up from the nightmare of George W. Bush's two terms to a new day. Unfortunately it will take many, many years, if not decades, for this country to recover from the damage this man has done to our country. In my opinion, he almost managed to do what Osama bin Laden couldn't: destroy this great nation.

I will be glued to the TV to watch the inauguration. I expect that the greatest highlight of the celebration will be President Obama's inaugural address. The second greatest highlight, at least for me, occurred yesterday at the inaugural concert, when Pete Seeger led the crowd in "This Land is Your Land." At age 89, Pete's voice has faltered a bit, but his spirit is as strong as ever.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back in the hospital

I'll keep this short, since I did another all-nighter with Gabriel at the psych ER last hours. They admitted him and are apparently going to try to get him back on clozapine, which is the medication that he really needs. I'll keep you all posted.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

One minute

I left my camera on this morning and this is just one minute of video it captured. You may find it annoying. You may find it disturbing. You may find it very sad. However it makes you feel, keep in mind that it is only one minute.

Now, multiply that feeling times 60 minutes per hour, up to 12 hours per day, for much of the last 4 months. This is what Gabriel and I have been enduring all that time.

According to the doctors at MHMR, the psychiatric ER, and the inpatient hospital, this is an acceptable outcome for Gabriel. Six months ago he spent his time talking with me, researching stocks, downloading music, playing basketball, going to the movies. No one should have to spend their life like this!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Please help Gabriel go to Johns Hopkins!

Dear Friends,

I am asking for help from everyone I know to help Gabriel get to Johns Hopkins for a psychiatric consultation. If you've been reading my blog, you know that things have been very bad for Gabriel for several months, with very little help from the doctors here. I talked with a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins today and he felt that a consultation there would be helpful.

I am currently on short term disability again, due to back problems. After missing a lot of work due to my heart attack, my mother's stroke, and Gabriel's condition, money is pretty tight right now. So any help towards reaching our goal would be greatly appreciated.

Here's the link to our fund raising site

Saturday, January 10, 2009

To Gabriel

At the bottom of my desk drawer, tucked inside an envelope, is a small collection of my favorite photos of you. Looking at them, I can’t help but smile. What a little imp you were: exuberant, mischievous, curious, happy.

Today those times seem very far away or as if they belonged to someone else. It seared my soul to hear you say that you sometimes want to stab yourself in the head to make the voices stop. I feel so helpless, unable to silence the voices or chase the visions back into the shadows. I would give anything to give you some peace.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Another night at the ER

Maybe the psych ER should just reserve two chairs for Galen and Gabriel in the waiting room. Monday night we spent yet another night there. Gabriel came to my room about 11 PM and said he needed to go back to the ER because the voices were really bad. By this point, I have become the devil's advocate when it comes to seeking "help" there. Once again I reminded him that when he's gone there before, with exactly the same complaint, they haven't done anything. I suggested that he put on his headphones and listen to the radio to drown out the voices, as he usually does. He said he'd try. A few minutes later, he was back, again complaining that the voices were really bad. As I had heard the doctors ask so many times, I asked him what the voices were saying. "They say they're going to kill me...or that I should kill myself." OK, I knew we had to go.

At the ER, the waiting room was full of folks with very tired faces. Listening to the general conversation, I learned that some of these people had been waiting since 2:00 that afternoon. Sigh...I knew it was going to be a very long night. It was a pretty typical crowd. There were a couple of middle aged ladies with teary eyes, a young woman with her boyfriend, a teenaged boy with his mother who compared experiences in prison with another ex-con in the next seat, an intense young man, a homeless man who apparently had just come to get out of the cold rainy weather to sleep someplace warm. For a while we had to deal with an obnoxious woman who had come with her sister and somewhat elderly father, announcing with dramatic flourish that she had come to commit herself. When she wasn't granted immediate entrance to the exam area and was told to fill out the required registration forms, she started complaining loudly in a string of obscenities. "F-ing fill out f-ing forms? No wonder people f-ing jump off f-ing bridges!!" A staff person at the window told her that they'd get to her in a few minutes. So she went downstairs to smoke a cigarette and, when she returned, she was outraged that they didn't take her right back to the exam area, and her ranting escalated, with her family members hovering around her, trying to calm her down. Far from being sympathetic, I was getting more and more irritated. I'm not a psychitrist, but after all these years of living with my kids and dealing with lots of psychiatric disorders, she struck me not as someone who was suicidal, but as someone who had borderline personality disorder, who was there for one simple reason: the drama. She wanted to stir up her family and she wanted the attention. Sitting there, knowing the severity of Gabriel's problems, I was further irritated that she was demanding to be seen ahead of him and all these other folks who had been waiting up to 10 hours. I finally couldn't stand it any longer and spoke up: "You know, other people have problems, too, and some of these people have been waiting since 2:00." Oops. All eyes were riveted on me, and the woman instantly turned her wrath and her obscenities on a new target. I thought she might come barrelling across the room for me. After several minutes of verbal assault, she left with dramatic flourish, shortly before two security officers showed up.

The rest of the night was uneventful. Several folks finally stretched out on the floor to sleep while they waited for their name to be called. By the time they called Gabriel back to see the doc, it was 6:30 AM and we were the only ones left in the waiting room. The effete resident doctor sat aloofly at his desk, reading through the notes from Gabriel's hospitalization last week. He asked Gabriel about the voices. He asked Gabriel if he felt like hurting anyone else: no. He asked him if he felt like hurting himself. I was stunned and frightened by his answer: "Yes, sometimes I think about stabbing myself in the head with a knife to make the voices stop." Now, a couple of weeks ago, I would have been outraged that they didn't think Gabriel should be hospitalized as a danger to himself or others, but, knowing how worthless the latest hospital stay had been, even in terms of observing his behavior and mental state, not to mention adjusting his medication, I accepted the decision to send him home. I did convince the doctor to try Gabriel on a first generation antipsychotic medication, and, with prescription in hand, we left.

Fortunately, as of Monday, I'm off work on short term disability due to my back problems, so I can observe Gabriel on the new medication. As I write this, he's had 2 doses of this med that he is to take 3 times/day, and he was actually talking with me a bit last night. So there is a glimmer of hope...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The best health care in the world?

"Seven years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th. More recently, the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data. Its latest report, issued in May, ranked the United States last or next-to-last compared with five other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — on most measures of performance, including quality of care and access to it. Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light. "-New York Times, August 12, 2007

Many Americans suffer under the delusion that our medical care is the best in the world. Maybe they're equating "most expensive" with "best." Perhaps they're talking about the care the wealthiest, best insured among us receive. Most assuredly they're not talking about the uninsured, the folks on Medicaid, the folks with chronic physical or mental illness, the people who happen to live in states where human services are a low priority. Anecdotal evidence might not give a complete picture, but it's a telling part of the whole...

First, there's Gabriel's continuing sad story. I convinced the hospital not to discharge him on Tuesday, when they had done absolutely nothing for him. I asked the doctor directly, "What was the point of his being there, then, if you weren't going to try to adjust his medication?" I also pointed out that Gabriel himself had asked to be admitted (since doctors seem never to read the charts, I thought this fact might have eluded the doc). He agreed to start Gabriel back on Clozaril. But Friday he called to say Gabriel had not tolerated the drug due to a high heart rate, so he'd taken him off it and was discharging him on the same medications he had been on when he was admitted. I was SO frustrated. I asked him, "So what you're saying is that he will have no life, that he will never be functional again?" The doctor assumed a condescending tone of voice and began lecturing me: "He'll never be normal, he'll never be able to hold down a job..." With great exasperation, I replied, "I KNOW about just being able to carry on a conversation, or do something besides pace and laugh all day?"

Well, I ranted in my car all the way to the hospital and was sinking into despair the rest of the day. Saturday morning I got online and started researching antipsychotic medications and alternatives to Clozaril. I made two important discoveries. Gabriel takes an injectable form of Risperadol and an oral medication called Invega. It turns out that basically they are the same medication! As one article on the oral med was titled, "Invega-Can You Say Patent Extender?" No wonder the combination of the two meds isn't helping's just a huge dose of a single medication, packaged differently. The second thing I discovered was actually some information I had caught in passing on NPR a couple of years ago. The NIMH did a clinical study of the efficacy of different second generation antipsychotics, but at the insistence of some scientists on the study committee, one first generaton antipsychotic medication was included in the study. Now it is a common belief among psychiatrists that the second generation drugs are far superior to the first, but in this study, a moderate dose of the first generation drug was found to be every bit as effective as the newer (more expensive) ones. Plus the old drugs don't have the same serious metabolic side effects as the new ones (weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc). So why have the old drugs fallen out of favor? According to that NPR report a couple of years ago, it boiled down to the aggressive marketing by the drug companies.

Anyway, if you've managed to read through all of that, the point is that I'm going to ask his doctor to try him on one of the older drugs. He's never been on one before, so maybe he'll do just as well, or better, and might be able to lose some weight and get the diabetes under control.

Second anecdote concerns that pain I've had in my legs for at least 4 years that has severely limited my activities. I used to walk a couple of miles several days a week, even jogged part of the way. Then this pain began, getting so bad when I walk or stand that by the time I walk around the grocery store, my legs are killing me and are numb and I have this tightness in my hips like spasticity. Over the last 4 years, I've become less active out of necessity, gained a lot of weight, developed diabetes, and had that heart attack. Meanwhile, I've been telling every doctor I've seen about this pain, hoping that they would find out what's wrong and do something to help me. One doctor wrote it off as diabetic neuropathy. My current doctor tested my segmental blood pressure, to make sure it wasn't PAD. When it wasn't, she stopped listening to my complaints. Last spring, when I took the boys to the arts festival, the pain and tightness in my legs was so bad, I thought I wasn't going to get back to the car! So the next time I saw the doctor, I asked her if she would order an MRI. I had done enough reading online by then, that I was pretty sure I had spinal stenosis. I had the MRI (she still didn't get it, ordering it because of "back pain" and wanting to check for a disc problem). When I finally got a hold of the nurse for the results, she told me the MRI just showed "normal wear and tear." Shortly thereafter I had the heart attack, so I never followed up with the doctor about the MRI, until the last time I went in. I finally thought to ask her, "Are you sure that MRI didn't show any signs of spinal stenosis?" She checked my chart and said, "Yes, it showed moderate spinal stenosis." I wanted to cry. After suffering this pain for 4 years, not to mention seeing my activities so limited and my health deteriorating, I had finally been diagnosed and the diagnosis had simply been filed away!

So, I did more research and found that 3 years ago the FDA approved a new, minimally invasive procedure for this condition that has given a lot of people back their mobility and their lives. Tomorrow I have an appointment with an orthopedist who does the procedure and am fervently hoping that he thinks I am a good candidate for it.

My point is this: if we have the best health care in the world, why did no one listen to me all those years while my health deteriorated and why did I have to ask for the MRI and why was I told that I just had "normal wear and tear" and why did I have to find the possible solution online and refer myself to an orthopedist? To those who oppose any changes to our health care system, just remember, it might be working for you, but for many folks, it isn't working. Some people are driving a Lexus or Escalade, but many others are driving an old jalopy, others are riding the bus, and millions have to walk.