Emergency rooms, security guards and silver linings

silver liningAs Children’s Mental Health week begins, I find myself thinking about my journey into the mental health world.  Almost 17 years ago, my husband and I adopted triplet sons. They were 2 days old the first time we held them.  Their birth mother handed them to us on Mother’s Day.  Since that day, I have always proudly proclaimed, “You will never meet anyone who received a more incredible Mother’s Day present!”  I still believe this.  What I didn’t know then was what an adventure the coming years would be!

From birth, my sons have been high need.  They were 6 weeks premature and were delayed reaching their milestones.  They displayed signs of sensitivity and hyperactivity very early on and were all diagnosed with ADHD combined-type before the age of 3.  In preschool, we noticed that they were not typical learners.  They were all diagnosed with dyslexia prior to the start of first grade.  Since then, they have all been found to have dyscalculia, dysgraphia, delayed processing, short-term memory deficits and, two have Tourette Syndrome.  We began advocating for their educational needs very early on and continue to do so almost every day.

They were also followed by a behavioral pediatrician who prescribed various medications for their hyperactivity and focus.  These helped sometimes and other times, the medications just exacerbated their behavioral problems.  Children with learning disabilities often experience anxiety and depression and this was the case with 2 of my sons.   Tourette’s has also caused “rages.”  Throughout the years, I have sought help from mental health providers who, at best, were unable to help and, at worst, just stopped returning my calls, leaving me feeling frustrated and helpless.

Three years ago, as my sons were dealing with adolescence, things began to unravel and eventually “blew up.”  One of my sons went into a prolonged depression, refusing to go to school, rarely eating or talking.  I desperately tried to find some help for my son.  His behavioral pediatrician felt she couldn’t adequately support his rapidly escalating mental health needs any longer.  Finding  an outpatient psychiatrist became an insurmountable task.  Most providers did not accept our insurance and the few that did, did not have openings or had very long waiting lists.  My son continued to deteriorate and when I feared he might hurt himself, I ended up taking him to our local emergency room.  It was a nightmare—the first of many that we have endured since. I am an RN who has worked in hospitals providing direct patient care for 40 years so my sons’ ER visits are viewed through this lens.

My son was 14 years old at the time of this incident. He was depressed and withdrawn.  In the ER, he was required to remove his clothing, including a sweatshirt that he always wore for comfort. He was placed in a “psych room” which was stripped down to a stretcher and a TV which was covered with a mesh screen.  We had no way to turn it on.  There was a camera in the room which was monitored by the hospital security team.  His room was directly across from the bank of screens for the psych area.  Hospital security used this area to socialize with other employees, often being loud and making inappropriate comments.  We heard them making fun of other patients– one of whom was a very young child who had been removed from his home by DCF and they laughed as he painted himself with feces.  I witnessed security guards allowing a housekeeping employee to watch while they all talked about the patients.

When I told them we could hear them and asked them to lower their voices, I was told to return to the room.  When I was leaving the room to make a phone call, the head of security made an inappropriate joke to me about a patient, and, when I gave him a dirty look, he insulted me. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I sought out a nurse and asked her how to get in touch with the Patient Advocate.  Instead, she told the Head of Security I was going to complain.  He then proceeded to follow me around, making rude comments.  I did eventually meet with a nursing supervisor, who admitted that she had no control over security but promised to try to help.  We were moved out of that area but felt intimidated by the security guard who was now posted at my son’s door.

We spent three days in that ER room awaiting a placement for my son.  I still shudder when I recall that time.  Unfortunately, every time one of my sons has had a mental health crisis, he has been taken to that emergency room  and had similar experiences.  I always fear retribution by the security team. There have been many times that I have not called emergency services out of fear that they will call 911 and force my child to go to that ER. Usually it ends up being a very expensive ambulance ride followed by discharge shortly after.

Living in the Boston area, we are very lucky to have some excellent teaching hospitals.  On several occasions, I brought one of my sons to a well-known pediatric hospital but, honestly, our experience was not much better.  One time, after finding my son had destroyed his room and was in his closet and would not respond to me, I called his behavioral pediatrician.  She advised me to bring him to this pediatric hospital to be evaluated (after I refused to go to the local ER).  Instead of helping, I was asked over and over and over by multiple staff members why I asked my son, “Are you safe, are you going to hurt yourself?”  I kept saying that I was concerned for his safety, as was his doctor.  Their focus was entirely on me, not my son….I was confused and scared.  They kept asking me to leave the room and, even before I was out of hearing range, I could hear them asking him if I he was safe with me. At one point, the room had 4 staff and again, they asked me, “What would possess you to ask your son that?”  I responded, “The pediatrician told me to ask him, besides, I’m a nurse and we ask patients that question all the time.”   They all said, “Ahhhh, she’s a NURSE….”  Apparently, that was his diagnosis, “his mother is a nurse” since he was discharged shortly after.   I just wanted to get out of there since we were not going to get any help.  We have had other visits there that were similar.

Most recently, the second born triplet began experiencing a lot of issues as well.  He has also done the ambulance to the local ER scenario, followed by being put in the room across from the security screens…aka the staff’s comedy show.  Nothing has changed, nothing ever helps.  When I brought this son to an appointment at an adolescent clinic to deal with misuse of electronics, he became very agitated and was saying he was going to “hurt his brothers.”  The doctor warned him that he should not be making threats but he wouldn’t back down. (He was mad but he has never intentionally hurt anyone.) The doctor decided to section him and send him to the ER for further evaluation.  Instead of telling me this, they had me leave the exam room under another pretense. When I tried to leave the room I waited in, I was shocked and horrified to see my son being paraded out of the exam room with several security guards, several Boston police and EMTs and put on a stretcher then sent by ambulance to go across the street to the ER (cost= $850!!). His head was down and he looked totally humiliated and defeated as he was paraded in front of dozens of supposed professionals, all gathered around, pushing forward and craning their necks to see “the show.” None of them needed to be there nor should they have been.

In 40 years of nursing, I have never done such an unprofessional, demeaning thing to a patient and I work with adults–not immature, fragile adolescents in an adolescent clinic.  The ER staff was respectful.  I learned later that the doctor who my son was seeing had called ahead to explain the situation and that was why he had not been able to warn me.  Security, on the other hand was invasive– literally leaning into the room and joining in on conversations between my son and I.  Also, to his credit, the clinic doctor e-mailed to check in the next day and, after I told him what had happened with the clinic staff, he said he was planning a staff meeting to review the incident to try to prevent such behavior in the future.

I can’t possibly describe all the visits and interventions.  In general, I have found emergency rooms are NOT helpful but, when growing teens get out of control, I have no choice at times (with police comes the ambulance).  We have been lucky enough to have some very supportive in-home therapists but the turnover is frequent.  We have also had some positive interactions with emergency services though, as my boys have gotten bigger and more destructive, they usually will not come to our home.  I try to avoid calling them as on a couple of occasions they called in 911, forcing my son to go to the ER.

I wish I could say that things have stabilized but they haven’t.  As my sons race towards the age of 18, I worry what will happen when they are considered “adults.”  We are debating medical guardianship and other options.  I research and read and worry.

So, as Mother’s Day approaches, I think about the past 17 years and, yes, it has been a lot of work, and tears and worry but…..I have 3 sensitive, funny, loving wonderful boys who are growing into awesome young men.  I get through the bad times by looking for “silver linings” when things go wrong. This is my version of resilience.  The ill-fated visit to the adolescent clinic happened on a late afternoon. As we were driving into Boston, I was mumbling about the terrible traffic which was only going to be worse on the way home.  I was whining about all I had to do that evening and how long it would take to get home.  Driving home later that evening, after spending many hours in the emergency room, my son, who had been through quite an ordeal turned to me and said, “Hey Mom, I have a ‘silver lining’ for you.  We missed rush hour traffic!!”  I love my boys!

Our guest blogger has chosen to remain anonymous.  She is the mother of three teenage sons, loves music and hopes her story helps others.

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4 thoughts on “Emergency rooms, security guards and silver linings

  1. Its so great that you have taught your boys to look for the silver lining. His comment to you shows that he’s really learned that lesson, which will help him through out his life.
    Wish I could say my ER experiences were better, but our first (he was 11) was same room as you described, but at least ours was quiet (might have had more to do with it being late at night though). Our second was at UMAss Worcester, and the psychiatric waiting area there is better. It’s a separate locked area with couches and comfy chairs in the waiting area and individual interview rooms instead of the normal ER rooms. which made the hours of waiting a bit more tolerable. Luckily for us, there have only been two.

  2. Does your phone record? Recording a few snippets of the Security Guard bad behavior and e-mailing files to the local media may help with the unprofessional behavior issue.

  3. I respect your story, your courage , your voice. This is happening more and more. Parents are trying to make changes on stigma of emotional , behavioral, mental health and it feels at times larger than life. Your boys will have learned to see how to advocate with you and your husband as teachers. That is a silver lining many never have! May your family , boys and many more find peace and understanding – along with Empathy!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story with you children. Unfortunately this is real for so many of us. I know I ask myself why all the time- why is there such a disconnect between patient needs and services available. I would love to get involved with a state wide effort to change our experiences and more importantly our children’s experiences. I am searching for hope and programs that provide hope for our children. The south shore of MA is definitely lacking services. I would love to start a program or bring an existing program to this area.

    Happy Mother’s day to all that that work so hard to advocate for their children and to those that are not able to be with their child because they are currently out of the home.

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