THE CHAPLAIN Series

 

The Scream (detail), 1893, Edvard Munch

As for Me and My House

“Hello, world. My youngest daughter, 14, is spending the night, maybe longer, in the hospital adolescent mental health unit! She broke down sobbing at school, saying she was hearing voices, seeing her deceased sister, dreaming of dying and burning in hell. I picked her up and took her to my emergency room. After interviewing her, the ER doctor admitted her. Apparently, she has not slept through the night for three or four weeks because of nightmares. The psychiatrist thinks the hallucinations are ‘biologically based’ due to sleep deprivation. They are going to monitor her and give her something to sleep. My God.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                           -- Lydia's Diary

The chaplain has had a rough day. While waiting in the emergency room with her own daughter, Lydia was beeped to baptize a newborn infant who arrived in this world with all of his intestines and liver outside his body. The surgeon was going to try to stuff as much as possible back inside the baby and then wait for the child’s body cavity to grow large enough so that more of his insides would fit. Gazing at the little being, Lydia saw the baby’s perfect little hands and toes, and as much of his little face that the tubing and tape would reveal. His torso was covered, but Lydia knew what was hidden from view. She felt like her insides had been ripped from her body, as well, but no one could see. She baptized the infant, sent him off to surgery and prayed for his and her own survival.

Before leaving the building, she was called to the critical care unit to be with a family as their 18-year-old child was disconnected from the ventilator and allowed to die. The chaplain’s child was in mental anguish, but she was alive. Lydia held the message tightly as she drove home.

It was 11:30 PM. Her youngest remained at the hospital in a chemically-induced sleep. Lydia wandered through her house waiting for her internal organs, like those of the infant in surgery, to regain some equilibrium. Wondering just how the rest of the family could actually go to bed and doze off, she went to the kitchen, finished off a half-gallon of old-fashioned French vanilla ice cream and stared at the wall. Her lungs settled down and her heart resumed a more traditional beat. Then her eyes filled up and her body began to quake.

~~

“Life goes in cycles and we are definitely in a downward spiral at the moment. My child is still at the hospital; still hearing voices (muffled now); and is diagnosed with ‘psychotic depression’ on the patient census sheets.

Me? Well, I checked on the baby. All his guts fit into his little body cavity on the first try and

he is doing well. Hopeful sign. Thank you, Lord.                             -- Lydia’s Diary

The chaplain was about to get a taste of The System and how it relates to the parents of hospitalized children. On the third day after the onset of their child’s illness, Lydia and her husband met with the psychiatrist. He reported that the insurance company would discontinue their daughter’s coverage unless he prescribed anti-psychotic medication. 

Lydia was a mental health chaplain.  She understood the ramifications of bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, hallucinations, chronic depression. Anti-psychotic drugs carried their own brand of ravaging side effects.

“No. Under no circumstances are you to give our daughter anything like that,” Lydia flatly stated. Her husband agreed. The shaken mental health chaplain was struck cold by this first mention of the variety of serious mental illnesses which could be plaguing her child.

~~

Later that evening, Lydia visited her daughter. The girl’s chart was hanging on the door, so the mother read it.

“The voices may be secondary to sleep deprivation,” the doctor had charted.

“More sleep, fewer voices,” Lydia said hopefully. “No drugs.”

Makes sense, opined the Presence. Might take a while, though.

“Where have you been?” Lydia asked accusingly. She had experienced a Spiritual Presence at her side since childhood, but now realized she hadn’t felt or heard it since she first learned of her daughter’s condition.

I’ve been here, Lydia, came the Voice.  You just haven’t looked up.  I’m here.

“I’m scared,” Lydia said.

I know, the Voice responded.

After the visit, Lydia drove home. On entering the house, the phone rang. It was her 27-year-old married son, calling from across town, terribly upset.

“Mom, I’ve heard voices all my life. Nightmares and visions, too,” he began. “I never wanted to tell you about it. Is she going to be all right?”         

“Yes, she will be okay,” Lydia said as reassuringly as she could. “Do the voices still bother you?”

“No. Not anymore,” he answered. “It might have been the drugs,” he laughed, a little embarrassed.

“Yeah, maybe so,” Lydia groaned. “Go visit your sister. Maybe she’ll talk to you about it. Tell her you don’t hear the voices anymore, if that is true.”

Two children comforted, Lydia checked on the rest of the household. Her husband was asleep. Her 17-year-old daughter was resting, after spending the day in tears. She broke down every time she saw or spoke to anyone. Her younger sister had frightened and embarrassed her deeply at school: screeching, security, ambulances. Questions from classmates.  Sorrowful stares from teachers.  It had been a bad day.

“What is the difference between a schizophrenic breakdown and some saint hearing the Voice of the Lord?” she asked the Presence. She felt her face redden and emotionally sank into a nearby wall.

Screeching, security and ambulances, for one thing, the Presence began. The difference between a sense of calm and a sense of chaos.  Good versus evil. There are some biological differences, too, Lydia. What your daughter is experiencing is not a sense of calm or divine understanding.

“I don’t care,” Lydia said out loud, “I will not authorize my daughter to be treated for a disease she does not have – especially not to appease some damned insurance company! This all still could be a wild, one-act play. Hang in there with me. God, we’re on quite a roller coaster ride.”

Here we go, the Presence answered.

No anti-psychotic medication equals no continued hospitalization. The sleep-deprived girl was sent home under the care of her apprehensive family. It was not a successful re-entry. Screaming, blaming, tears, name-calling, and kicking the floor; both daughters vying for the title of Most Seriously Afflicted.

The German exchange student stayed low and took notes on her experience with an Average American Family.

It seemed to Lydia that family counseling might be in order.

~~

Family systems theory is out of vogue, the psychologist explained to the mother, father, and two sisters. “We don’t believe in that anymore.” This psychologist used to teach family systems theory, so he should know about its current standing.

“They know nothing. Fifty percent of what they say has some merit; the other fifty percent has no merit at all. No way to tell the difference,”Lydia hissed to the Presence, who followed her everywhere, even here. “I’ve always had what I’ve considered a healthy skepticism regarding psychiatry.”

Now, now, the Presence responded. Just listen for now, reflect later.

“It’s not the family’s fault the child is hearing voices,” she heard the psychologist say.

“That’s a comfort,” thought Lydia. She decided to listen. She was not to like what she was about to hear.

“The problems between the two sisters are intense, and their relationship as they knew it before is gone forever,” the professional offered. “Your oldest daughter now has a sister with a handicap and she can no longer treat her as if she was ‘normal’,” he added.

“We must be sensitive to your oldest daughter’s losses. She no longer can expect a carefree senior year of high school”

The girls seemed to like the session. Lydia was speechless. Another meeting was scheduled. The intervening week was filled with school activities, hospital issues, and examples of faulty family dynamics.

Time for the second family therapy session. The psychologist seemed to have slid back into his old, broken, family system theories.

“Your daughters have zero conflict resolution skills,” he explained, “because their mother was an only child. Conflict bothers an only child and the only child has no opportunity to build conflict resolution skills. Therefore, such a mother passes on her lack of skill in resolving conflict to her hapless offspring.”

Lydia’s husband immediately agreed with the analysis. The girls were too busy fighting to notice that the focus of the conversation had switched to someone other than themselves.

The solution? A piece of cake, saith the professional. “We’ll bring in a couple more females experienced in the art of conflict resolution to balance out the female energy in the room and every one will have their own therapist for the next session, no extra charge.”

Instead of despising each other,Lydia was told, the girls would learn to live into each other’s love. All this in three months of therapy; twelve weeks was all the insurance company would allow.

Lydia sagged back in her chair and sighed. The Presence shook its head. The girls were too busy fighting to realize how fun this was going to be.

Somehow, contrary to the psychologist’s initial expectations, life continued and the girls’ relationship did improve over time. Everyone finished the school year – with honors, actually. Her girls were intelligent and talented. They were kind and generous, to everyone save each other. She was proud of each of them – even the foreigner.

The word “schizophrenia” was never spoken again, at least not in relation to her child.

“We survived even this,” she whispered to the Presence. “Thank you.”

You are welcome, came the response.

 

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