This is an electrical outlet in the emergency room. You’ll notice it looks different from what you’re used to seeing – it’s not only covered for safety, but locked.
There is no way to access it.
There is no way to charge my phone while we wait.
There is also no way for a child to harm themselves with it.
This is what the outlets look like in the specialized rooms in a closed corner of the emergency room, where children are taken when they are brought in during a behavioral emergency. This is where children are taken when they attempt suicide, become so manic they’re uncontrollable, have psychotic breaks, fits of rage, and homicidal ideation.
This is where we ended up when my son attacked me.
It’d never happened before, and I almost smugly believed it never would. I’m in a few Facebook groups for parents of troubled kids, I know a few families in real life who have had to bring their children to these rooms, but I always comforted myself that no matter how hard it got with my own boy, he’d never hurt me.
Until he did.
This room is so bare it’s unsettling. The bed and chair are made of a rubber-like foam. There is no bedding, no paper covers, no railing, no legs on any of them. Just blobs of hard, blue foam. The bed looks like a giant blue pill. There are no wires in this room. No call buttons, no lines to the oxygen in the wall. There’s a tv mounted behind a case but no remote to turn it on. Even the sink faucet is small with no visible plumbing.
“Where is the trash can?” my son asks.
“There’s not one in here. They can’t risk you throwing it at them.”
I look up, raising my eyes in an attempt to keep the hot tears from spilling out.
A failed attempt.
I see the large mirror in the corner that allows doctors and nurses to make sure no one is lying in wait to attack them. My son and I are sitting calmly on the giant blue pill bed and all that’s reflected back is how very empty the room is. Even with my eyes closed I can feel how empty it is.
I can feel how empty I am.
I know I’m not giving up. I know I never will give up. But right now, in this moment, on this hard, blue bed, I don’t know where I’ll draw my next breath from.
I’m so tired.
I know I’m not alone…
There are several rooms like this one in this corner of the ER, and many of them are currently occupied. The police are in the hall outside of another room, filling out paperwork and discussing the patient.
Will they come for my boy?
Has a nurse told them he hit me?
I clutch him, realizing all over again how serious this is. When you find yourself in a situation you never anticipated, you have to process it multiple times. It’s all too unreal to be real. It’s all so different, that you can protect yourself for a little while by not really accepting it.
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But those police officers are real.
My sweaty boy leaning against me is real.
The marks on my arm are real.
We are really here, in the emergency room, in a small, specialized room, designed to minimize the damage my child is apparently capable of.
I’m torn between wanting to cling to him and wanting the doctors to take him, just for a little while, just so he can get some help and I can get some respite.
Every parent likes to brag about their child when they’re asked about them, but instead I have to tell this intake specialist about the worst things my son has ever done.
His creativity and sense of humor don’t come up here.
No one is appreciating how well he does with his schoolwork.
Instead of eyebrows raising at being impressed by him, all of the brows around here are furrowed, worried, vigilant.
Are they judging me?
Do they think I let him get this way?
Do they wonder what I missed, what else I could have done?
Do they shake their heads at my decision to have children despite my family history of mental illness?
Do they search for ways to make this my fault?
Because I do.
I’m filled with guilt over something I didn’t even do.
I look down at my precious boy, leaning against me, calm, and lose touch of the reality we’re in just for a moment.
Surely this baby didn’t mean it.
Surely this will never happen again.
Surely this will be a wake up call to him and this behavior will stop.
But I’m not sure.
I don’t know what is causing this behavior.
I don’t know what will help it.
I don’t know if we’ll be back in this room.
I know that I love him, and he loves me, but he is fighting something so strong inside him that he’s currently losing. He’s overtaken by something he’s not strong enough to fight on his own and has ended up on a hard, blue bed in a small, empty room.
He’s seen several doctors, several therapists, my boy. He’s been in various treatments for varying amounts of time over the years, and the diagnoses always change.
“It isn’t an exact science,” I’m told when I ask about the fluid, ever-changing labels. Then I’m handed a prescription for a very strong, very scientific medication and asked to trust the non-exact science with the very long list of side effects. No two therapists or doctors ever agree on what alphabet soup best explains my son, and I admit that as I grow increasingly dependent upon mental health professionals I trust them less and less.
He’s calmed down now and hasn’t made any threats against himself or anyone else.
He’s lucid but tired.
Without a charged phone or a clock I realize we went over 8 hours without eating and the knots in my stomach untie just enough to release a growl. I’m glad to be heading home with him. I know he didn’t need to stay, I know he didn’t meet the criteria for inpatient care, but I still feel like we didn’t accomplish anything.
I’ll follow up with his therapists tomorrow.
Tonight we’ll rest in our own beds — beds with linens and pillows and usable outlets nearby.
I don’t know if we’ll be back to that small, empty room with the hard, blue bed.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow when I call his therapists.
I don’t know what will happen when we walk back into the familiar environment of our home where he punched, clawed, bit, and kicked me.
I don’t know what’s going on in that mind of his, and to be honest, I don’t really know what’s going on in mine. I’m too tired to think, or maybe too afraid to.
I never wanted to see a room like that one. I really didn’t even know they existed before tonight.
I never thought my boy would hurt me, on purpose, repeatedly.
We crossed more than one threshold today and I didn’t like what was on the other side.
I know that whatever awaits, whatever doors we have to go through or whatever rooms we have to revisit, I’ll be there.
Related: Helping Your Child Cope with Anxiety
I’ll keep going wherever my boy needs and sitting wherever we find ourselves. I’m not giving up, on him or the system that runs on inexact science.
I have to believe he’s still in there, my boy, somewhere under the angry layers he’s burrowed into.
I have to believe I’ll see him again someday, see a twinkle in his eye and not a fire.
I miss him.
Whoever said it was better to have loved and lost has never held the shell of their child. I have to get him back, for his sake and my own. So I will sit on 1000 hard blue beds and give up all the outlets in the world until some doctor, somehow, finds some relief for him.
I’m not alone.
I’m not at fault.
And I’m not giving up.