Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Are you STUPID?
Nothing livens up a boring day at work like being grabbed by the ID badge (which we were on lanyards around our necks) and asked, "Are you stupid?" I guess I should be grateful that the monotony of my day was so effectively broken up.

But I'm jumping ahead. This all started when, for the second time today, I was literally on my way out the door - coat on, backpack loaded up, physically walking out of the room - when someone said, "Oh, wait, before you go, can you just...?" And, having been socialized to listen when people talk and to do my job (thanks a LOT, Mom), I took off my coat and did whatever. This second whatever was at the emergency room department, when an Angry Young Man had come in to be assessed for dangerousness, suicidal thinking, contrariness, something. Not an unusual request.

This particular Angry Young Man decided to pass the time, waiting in his little windowless room, by stacking up the couch and two chairs in front of the door, just to see if anyone was paying attention. Turns out that when you're being held in a room with a big obvious closed-circuit camera up in the corner, people are paying attention.

But he wasn't being a snot, just sort of bored and curious. I sat down with him, and he was calm and appropriate and straightforward, talked about how he's been arguing with his parents a lot lately, "They're always waiting for me to screw up," but said he wasn't depressed, wasn't anxious, wasn't suicidal. The ED doctor even offered him meds, and he turned them down, which is unheard of. So after spending a while asking some very blunt and intrusive questions, which he answered, I went to talk to his parents.

His parents, who had already decided that their son NEEDED to be hospitalized TONIGHT and they were NOT going to take NO for an ANSWER. And when "no" is, in fact, the answer that they got, Mom went a wee tad bit insane, herself. "Well, his PSYCHIATRIST told us he needs to be HOSPITALIZED and so you need to DO that NOW."

"I'm sorry that you were promised that, ma'am, but the psychiatrist doesn't work here. All I can base my decisions on is what I see in front of me, and what I see is a kid who is calm and in control and does not need an emergency admission."

"Well, if my son goes home and kills himself tonight, it will be on YOUR head."

"Ma'am, at the moment, he is not suicidal and says he never has been. I need to pay attention to what he says to me."

"But I'm his MOTHER, and I KNOW him better than YOU do. And I say he NEEDS to be in the HOSPITAL."

"I understand that he has some things going on that make you nervous, and I would strongly encourage you, along with his psychiatrist, to call the psych hospital tomorrow morning to arrange a voluntary admission."

"Are you STUPID? What is your NAME? What is your DEGREE? Where did you go to SCHOOL? I'm a school COUNSELOR, you know. I KNOW how the system WORKS. I KNOW what depression looks like when I SEE it."

(I'd like to point out that I did NOT say, "Oh, and do you also know poor parenting and tantrums when you see them? Because I do.")

Instead, I told her I'd be back shortly, and left to give her some time to cool off. And I made a few calls just to verify that this kid absolutely would not end up in any hospitals tonight, based on his current symptoms and presentation (of being normal). No. The hospitals wouldn't let him in. They told me so.

So I went back in to see if Mom had calmed down at all. She had not. She was on the phone in the little room, though for all I know she was talking to a dial tone not a person ("Hey, lady, call someone who cares! Oh, wait, there's no one!"). As soon as I walked in, she said, "Oh, here SHE is now, I can tell you her NAME." This is when she grabbed my ID badge and started to spell out my name, loudly and accusingly. Which forced me to stand very close to her, and since I'm about a foot taller and a good 50 pounds heavier, I could just stand there and crowd her. I'm not normally a fan of physical intimidation, but, well, she started it.

Afterward, she looked at me and the badge several times, repeated my last name, and said, "What is this? Your NAME? Is this your NAME?" Again, I showed great restraint by not saying, "No, I just found it on the floor somewhere. I'm in the Witness Protection Program." Instead I agreed that it was my name, which was her cue to hang up the phone without actually saying good-bye to the dial tone. I stood right where I was, figuring, she got me there, now she could decide how to deal.

"WELL? Where is he GOING? Did you figure OUT how to get him into a HOSPITAL?"

"No, ma'am. In fact, I called two places, and he doesn't meet their criteria. You'll need to speak with his doctor in the --"

At which point I stopped talking, because she had stormed out of the room and I didn't think it would be helpful for the couch to speak with his doctor.

Though it might actually have been helpful, because an hour later the psychiatrist called me to ask why I hadn't done my job correctly and why this kid was sent home. I re-explained it to him. He handled it better in the sense that he didn't grab my badge or call me stupid, but worse in the sense that it's kind of his job to know this stuff already.

Big sigh. At least it wasn't a boring afternoon.

And don't you feel better knowing that she's a school COUNSELOR?