Peter came home early from work today. I was still in bed, 10 o’ clock in the morning. Wrapped up in a swirl of conversation with the powers that be, I barely noticed when the phone rang but managed to pick it up in time. Wasn’t feeling well, he said. Some kind of stomach bug. The night before he had stressed just how much work he had to do today and how they would be short-staffed at his job. Something strange is going on. It would be twenty minutes before he walked in the door, so I went back to musing on the possibility that there was a disembodied talking head in the air vent next to the bed. I know, not the most sane thing to be contemplating, but sometimes I am just too susceptible to my imagination. Note that this head kept me up half the night, which explains why I was still in bed this late in the morning. When he walked into the bedroom, head hanging and a frown on his face, I knew something wasn’t right. He was terribly depressed in addition to being sick to his stomach. Apparently he had called is primary care physician before returning home hoping to get a referral to a psychiatrist sometime today.
Peter isn’t usually the one to have psych issues, but he is self-diagnosed bipolar. He hasn’t seen a psychiatrist since, well, ever. His mother, being a nurse and all, seems qualified to make that kind of assessment but she herself is not the picture of mental health on most occasions. Not med compliant. It’s very important that you stay on schedule with medications because they aren’t at full potency if they aren’t taken properly. You may be missing out on the full benefit of the drug, causing you to misinterpret its efficacy. But back to my husband. I’ve been trying to get him to talk to someone for about as long as I’ve known him, but he’s stubborn, like most people are when confronted with the idea that they might have to open up to someone those personal life chapters that they believe might best remain closed to the light of day. Today, however was a different story.
We went to breakfast at the diner and the call came from his primary late into the meal. After a short discussion of symptoms and options, his nurse practitioner suggested he visit the local crisis center as a referral would not get him in to see someone very soon. “No way,” he said after hanging up the phone. We finished breakfast, but I could see the gears turning in his head. “Would you like me to take you down there? I don’t mind,” I said. Truth be told, I did mind. I hate that place, having been there myself a few times before. Always against my will, mind you. Now I was taking my husband down there to be seen, me a family member of a mentally ill person. Me, the normal one. How ironic.
I don’t know if it was nerves or his sick stomach from earlier, but he threw up the whole way there. I remained calm while he lost his breakfast into a paper bag that was handily sitting in my backseat. The smell wofting through the car forced me to throw down the windows. I don’t deal well with the smell of vomit in enclosed spaces. We arrived at the psychiatric center and I dropped him off so I could go park the car. After parking safely in the garage next door, I went to find him. After being buzzed in by one of the social workers, I met him in the room where they were doing triage. Mostly medical history and demographic questions, then insurance information and the symptoms he was experiencing (in brief).. I didn’t want to say much, but he wasn’t terribly forthcoming with his problems so I put my two cents in at the end. Back to the waiting room. The waiting room at the crisis center looks like it’s in a crisis of its own. Crumbling cinder block walls with chipped paint and scuffs, doors scratched and cracked from constant beating by patients. The floor was coated in filth of many varieties, none that I was interested in finding more out about. Everything looked like it had gone through the war, furniture included. As we were settling in, a man was being brought in an ambulance to the front door. He was agitated, clearly, shouting at the cops and the ambulance workers unloading him from the rig. A barrage of profanities erupted from his mouth with every breath. They escorted him into the triage room, but I knew more trouble was yet to come. After a long battle down the hall, he was permitted to return to the waiting room. Bad choice.
“Do I look crazy to you? I must look like I’m crazy to you!” He constantly shouted this and other not so palatable statements as he paraded around the room with a ham and cheese sandwich in hand. I was frightened by him and could only hear the droning of voices echoing off the bare walls with half my ears. The voices told me that he was dangerous (no kidding!) and that he needed to be silenced. “You know what to do,” they said plainly. But I was frozen in my seat as this madman plodded about the room spewing curses with every step. I could barely stand the pressure and the terror of the situation, but I knew I needed to look calm and strong for Peter. With all my energy I pushed down the voices and made a concerted effort to look only at the TV or my husband. The man was clearly paranoid and emotionally disturbed. As I sat longer in his presence, the fear began to fade and turn to sympathy. I was surprised with how I’d thought of him, as a madman. A raving lunatic. Normally, I would have sympathized with him right away, but I was so afraid of him that I couldn’t bring myself to understand him. We were all escorted out of the waiting room while they sedated him eventually, returning to find him drooling and snoring in a chair by the door. I was saddened by the whole affair. I felt like I was the stranger looking in and I didn’t like it. Being the patient is familiar to me, and predictably stressful. Being the caregiver, on the other hand, comes with challenges I wasn’t equipped for today. One of them was compassion. I was so concerned about Peter that I forgot myself and settled into a commonplace fear of a man who was menacing, but mostly just sick. You could also say that my fear of him was escalated by my tendency towards paranoia, but I still feel guilty for judging him.
Needless to say, Peter saw the doctor briefly about four hours after we arrived. After speaking with him, the treatment team called me in to comment on Peter’s emotional state as of late and his demeanor and condition today. I told them what I knew, which was that he’d been irritable and tired for over a week and came home in a serious funk this morning.
“Was he safe at home?”
“Yes, I think he is.”
“Has he been a danger to himself lately?”
“No, not that I’ve seen. He’s just been moody and tired.”
Good enough. He would be released to go call a provider from the insurance directory and receive counseling and some medication following outpatient evaluation. I knew they wouldn’t keep him, but it was a relief nonetheless. After signing discharge papers, we were on our way home. It was an experience, to say the least. An experience I’d rather not repeat, though. When put to the test, I was able to remain composed and focus on the important things rather than my hallucinations. But I also saw a side of me I didn’t like, the person who is too afraid to understand. A total role reversal.