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Going to the Hospital for a Mental Health Crisis vs. Going for a Surgery

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My daughter has been in the hospital twice this year. Once for the removal of a brain tumor and once for mental health challenges. Both of these stays were unexpected. Both started with a visit to the ER. However, once we got inside the ER doors, the similarities ended.

At the first hospital stay, my daughter was treated like royalty the entire time. She was given a coloring page, crayons and a stuffed animal to cuddle while the doctors determined how to treat her.

At the second hospital stay, a guard was placed outside her examining room to make sure she stayed safe. No one took the time to explain to her why the guard was there. She was given some graham crackers, juice and a TV remote while the doctors determined the next steps.

At the first hospital stay, once it was determined she’d need to spend the night, a small bed was set up for me in her hospital room. Her roommate’s mom also stayed the night. Nurses doted on my child and assured her everything would be all right. At one point they tried to set up an IV in her arm. They lovingly explained what it was and why she needed it. Ultimately, she did not keep the IV in the first night. The nurses sure gave it a good try though.

During the second hospital stay, the hospital we started in did not have mental health services for children there. My daughter needed to be transported via ambulance to a nearby behavioral health hospital. The EMTs were kind and explained why she needed to be strapped in. I was allowed to ride in the front of the ambulance while my husband followed along behind. Once we arrived at the hospital, there was some confusion as to where the gurney with my child was to go: the adolescent side or the youth side. Since there were no beds on the youth side, my daughter was taken to the adolescent side. She was placed with teens, some of whom were four years older than her. After vitals were taken that first night at the behavioral health hospital, my husband and I were shown the door. We were not allowed to stay with her. Thankfully, this was not her first stay in this type of hospital so we were not shocked we could not stay. It was still a bit terrifying for my child as she had never been to this hospital before. She did not know the staff. We had to trust they would take care of her.

Initially, we were told my daughter would go back to the youth side with more age-appropriate peers. That never happened since there was a bed shortage. During most of her stay at the behavioral health facility, the teens on the adolescent side showed a lot of kindness towards my daughter.

young woman smiling
My daughter

At the first hospital, a children’s hospital, everything was explained to my child. The staff listened to us when we told them my daughter’s autism and bipolar disorder might make procedures challenging for her. After many explanations by many nurses, my daughter decided to keep her IV in. The Licensed Vocational Nurses who sat with my child around the clock trained each LVN who came after them what worked best for my child. Following surgery to remove a brain tumor, her doctor came every day to see her. He didn’t even take Sunday off. Since I was there almost all of the time, I was able to talk to all of the medical professionals who worked with her. Together we came up with a plan.

When my daughter was in the behavioral health hospital, I only talked to the doctor one time. I talked to him on the phone since he saw my child outside of the two hours my husband and I were allowed to visit her. The visiting hours there are set and not able to be changed.

One of the main differences between these two hospital stays was how many people were made aware of them. Both were under life-threatening circumstances. However, during the stay at the children’s hospital we took to Facebook and called numerous friends and family so they could support us. During the stay at the behavioral health facility, we only told a few close friends and family. When my daughter had a brain tumor, I knew it was socially acceptable to reach out to everyone, to rally the troops. They came through with many prayers, phone calls, meals, gifts and cards. When my daughter had a mental health crisis, I didn’t feel comfortable publicly sharing this. I was afraid not everyone would understand our situation. No one would question why my daughter needed brain surgery, but they would question why we felt she needed to be 5150’d (involuntary psychiatric hold). I felt a sense of duty to protect my child and my family from the naysayers. As a result,  there were very few prayers or phone calls. No one offered to bring meals. No one sent cards or gifts. After my daughter’s discharge from the children’s hospital, we celebrated publicly. After her discharge from the behavioral health hospital, we celebrated quietly.

I understand why many things are different at both hospitals. I don’t understand why my child, myself and other parents like me have to face mental illness alone. My prayer is one day in the very near future, much of the stigma surrounding mental health challenges will be gone. I’m sure I am not alone in wanting more support for myself and my daughter. Hopefully, my girl can be part of this change.

Thinkstock photo by Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay

Originally published: November 16, 2016
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