October 14, 2009

“And when the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” — Pink Floyd, “Brain Damage”, The Dark Side Of The Moon

Yesterday my wife and I had no choice but to institutionalize my sister-in-law. For how long, who knows? Things had been getting increasingly weird for the past week or so, but we were hoping it was just delayed reaction to the traumatic situation she had been rescued from in Florida two weeks ago. But yesterday things took a different direction, entirely.

I suppose the first sign of things going awry was when I was about to throw something away in the kitchen wastebasket and seeing one of her stuffed animals (a large white tiger with black stripes) staring up at me.

A short time later I was getting my coffee, and there was Tam, smiling at me with this weird look on her face and in her eyes, saying, “you know we’re all going to be together”.

“Who?”, I asked.

“All of us.”, she replied. “Together.”

Foolish me, I thought she was talking about her children back in Florida. So I cautioned her, stressing that our house wasn’t a boarding house, and that while she was welcome, the invite didn’t really extend beyond that. Not with three human and seven rabbits also sharing the same 1,734 sq. foot accommodations.

“You don’t understand”, she giggled. “We’re all going to be together. Forever.”

Now that sounded kind of ominous to me, and I had planned to mention this to Tracey after she awoke, but work intruded. An hour later, there’s a knock on my office door, and I see Tracey standing there ashen-faced, asking me to go out back and keep an eye on her sister because she had one of her rabbits with her and was talking a blue streak to God, telling him over and over how she was going to stand tall and wear white. Like, over and over. As in, over and over and over and over. So I go.

Sure enough, there’s Tam standing in the middle of the yard, telling God over and over how she was going to stand tall and wear white. Attempting to reason with her was pointless, and since it was quite warm her rabbit was both scared and hyperventilating in the heat. So I did what any rational-thinking guy would do: I fetched the World Wildlife Fund umbrella out of the closet and attempted to hold it over her and the rabbit to give the poor beast some shade, then proceeded to follow them around as she kept moving, attempting to evade my shady intentions.

“Floppy [the rabbit] needs to see the sun. Don’t you understand? I will stand tall, and I will wear white.”

Soon the sprinkers came on, and there we stood getting wet, me trying to hold the umbrella over her and Floppy, she repeating over and over how she was going to stand tall and wear white, and how Floppy needed the sun to live. Looking at the umbrella in my hand and my pants getting wet, I couldn’t help wondering who the real idiot was here.

Tracey came to the door. “Call 911 and get all her medical records together”, I told her. She didn’t need to be told twice.

Ten minutes later, this absurd Mexican standoff continued. We were both soaked, and the ground by now was pretty slippery, so I made my move. In one deft swoop I twisted Tam around and as she started sliding (in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “my new grass! my new grass!”) I got hold of her rabbit and headed in, Tam behind me unleashing a torrent of threats, both of us tracking mud and grass seed on my kitchen floor and carpet.

The first cops arrived less than five minutes later. Followed two minutes later by six firemen and EMTs. Followed five minutes after that by a female reporter and a cameraman from the local ABC station.

I had to move my car out of the garage to allow the ambulance people who were coming to do their work, so I ask camera guy and the reporter to move.

“Slow day for news?” I say. “I’m not gonna see this on some reality channel show next month, am I?”

“Naw”, camera guy says, “we’re just doing a series on community policing, and you happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

“Funny”, I says, “that’s not exactly how I see it.”

When I return to the house, I’m thinking of a scene out of that Marx Brothers movie with all the people crowding into a single hotel room. In this little 10 X 12 bedroom there’s Tam sitting on her bed, repeating over and over the full names of her children and telling them now is a good time for them to come and get her. Her two rabbits are hiding under the bed. Four EMTs are attempting to check her out physically and gently convince her she should come with them. Out in the tiny hallway are me and Tracey providing one of the EMTs with the necessary info, two cops, two paramedics, and one gurney. One of the EMTs tries to reason with Tam, asking her how her children could come and rescue her when they’re 2,000 miles away. When she replies that at 2:36 AM on Monday she saw the universe open and that they all would die the mood shifted, and all attempts at negotiation ended then and there.

The entire team sprang into action, and it was over pretty quickly. Two of the EMTs simply picked up the bedclothes Tam was sitting on and used them to pick her up and carry her onto the gurney, then strapped her in. Pretty ingenious, I thought, but I figure they have plenty of experience with this kind of thing, right?

And that’s how it ended. The last I saw Tam, she was being slid into the back of the ambulance, screaming for her children and Floppy to come and get her; once Tracey hopped in behind her the party broke up, first the ambulance, then the cops, then the fire engine. I figure camera guy and the reporter must have left long before.

I was pretty freaked out, and a quickly downed glass of chianti helped steady the nerves a bit. I mean, you think of madness as something like a Pink Floyd / Syd Barrett kind of thing and it all seems somehow strangely quaint, but until you see it up close and personal, in someone you care for, you can’t realize just how truly frightening and heart-wrenching it is.

Later yesterday, we would be asked to complete a whole bunch of paperwork so Tam could be transferred from the hospital to a psychiatric care place where she could be thoroughly examined. The universe she was convinced had been open to her at 2:36 AM on Monday had suddenly been reduced to a very small emergency department room in a local hospital protected by police guards.

An hour or so after things had quieted down, I was walking to the mailboxes to get the mail. Our next-door neighbor caught up with me.

“I saw the fire engine and ambulance at your house, I hope everything’s OK”, she said.

“My sister-in-law has psychological issues and things just got a little wigged out.”, I replied.

“Bummer”, she said cheerfully, and continued walking.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:31 | Comments (6)
6 Comments »
  1. I have a complete understanding and appreciation of what this was like for you and Tracey. Everything you did was exactly right to insure her, and your, safety. Mental illness is so difficult to have and live with, even if it is living in your home. I would invite you and Tracey to contact the local NAMI group and get some support there. They are very good and provide amazing support and information. Getting Tammy’s meds straightened out will make a huge difference in the short term…therapy and support in the long run. So for now, knowing she is safe and cared for is what matters. She was definitely psychotic and may have been spiraling toward that for a while. Sending you and Tracey blessings and lots of energy, oh yes, and all my love. Jana

    Comment by Jana — October 15, 2009 @ 4:51 am


  2. Thanks Jana, we appreciate the advice and the good thoughts!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 15, 2009 @ 9:01 am


  3. Jana hit in on the head. You and Tracey did everything right even though that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. Hope she gets the help she needs.

    AllTheBest,
    Rob&Patsy

    Comment by Rob — October 15, 2009 @ 1:04 pm


  4. Thanks Rob & Patsy. We appreciate the kind words.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 15, 2009 @ 6:16 pm


  5. Doug, sorry to hear about all of this. This situation will be in my prayers.

    Comment by Jerry — October 17, 2009 @ 6:49 pm


  6. […] being discharged from the psychiatric hospital she was orginally admitted into over a month ago, Tam has made a lot of progress, to the point where she now shares an apartment with another person […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » The Power of Prayer — November 22, 2009 @ 11:34 pm


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