Saturday, April 16, 2011




We were waiting for John's assessment for STAR; a day treatment program run by the MUSC Child Psychiatry Department. I needed to use the restroom and change Elena.

I was shown to the restroom with a changing table and got Elena squared away. She HATES changing tables and I couldn't leave her there so I took her back to the waiting room and walked back down the hall. At the end of the short hall from the waiting area, I stopped dead.

The open room in front of me was painted an odd pastel blue. It was a small room, totally bare save the half-ball mirror on the ceiling in the back of the room. The floor was linoleum. The door to this room had no knob... just a handle on the outside and a key only deadbolt. The narrow window in the door was made of meshed safety glass.

Images of all the rooms of this kind I've been in over the years flooded my thoughts. I broke out in a cold sweat.

I can't send my son to this place.

I forced myself to walk to the bathroom but found the door now locked. So I walked back to the Quiet Room and looked again.

I can't count the number of nights I spent locked in rooms like this one, nor the number days spent sitting in the unlocked rooms to "cool off" and stop "acting out".

These rooms were used as punishment. They were used to put you in your place and occasionally to humiliate.

I'm sending my son here. I can't do that.

The program nurse appeared and asked if I was waiting for the restroom. She knocked on the door then unlocked it for me. When I was finished, I averted my eyes on the way back to the waiting room... but when I met Charlie's eyes, I mouthed "They have QUIET ROOMS here". He instantly understood whatever striken look I had on my face.

I busied myself with the babies until we were called back for the assessment... for what I now realized was really the intake interview.

I'd managed to put on the calm, open exterior for this meeting but my head was spinning. At one point, we were left in the room and I dig in my purse for my emergency klonopin (after rachel's adventure, I only keep one in that bottle at a time) and prayed I could settle down.

Up to that point, I was on edge, feeling defiant and challenged. I can look at it now and acknowledge those emotions as stemming from the shock of seeing the room... not from any present situation requiring me to be on the defensive. I think I knew that on some level yesterday too but, again, the rational and the emotional were at war with each other.

We finished the intake and by the end of the inteview and tour of the facility, John was much more positive about attending the program. His reaction to the "Seclusion Rooms", as they are called in this program, was upbeat. To him, having a distraction free place to go with a door he can shut to give him some silence, such a room is his perfect answer to a meltdown.

I can see his point.

I was relieved to find the program has several "time out" steps, allowing a quiet place to collect oneself, before the rooms. I was further reassured by the knowledge they haven't had to use the lock at all this year. (I believe, I believe... it's silly but I believe)

John is not me. John has not lived the life I did. This is a day treatment program and it is voluntary. Charlie reminded John (and me, though he may not have realized) that he still has the veto power. If at any point he feels it's not helping John, we'll pull him out.

Knowing that each day, we will get a written report on how he did, with behavioral homework, was reassuring too. When I was in the hospital, my parents only heard what was up with me when they came to visit.

The teachers are nice, young and upbeat... not the old burned out hippies from my years. The place is bright and cheerful (save those rooms) and the general atmosphere very positive. The students I saw, who range in age from 6-14, were also positive. I was surprised to see genuine smiles. (John said anyplace that gives you candy at the end of the day can't be all bad)

It's not inpatient.
It's not a a locked ward.
He's getting the services and counseling he needs... he's not being shuffled off to a warehouse.
He's not me.

This will be good for him.

If, after a week, he can find nothing positive in the experience, we'll take him out again... but I know John. Even if something pisses him off and his day is a disaster, it only takes a little questioning for him to find what positive he can.

He knows this is therapy. And he knows from Mom that therapy means hard work. But he'll have the staff at STAR and his family.

He'll be okay... and maybe, by seeing an experience so different from my own, I will be too.

1 comment:

  1. *nods* You will. This will be just as good for you as it is for him! I wish I could be there with you for the first week. Know I am with you in spirit. {{{huggles}}} ily.


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