My son looked at the man sitting across from us in the emergency room. It was hard not to notice him. He was handcuffed,and a large, tired looking police officer was standing next to him, trying his best to not engage with him.
My son and I had been sitting in the waiting room for 3 hours by then. Sent here, fast-tracked, by his therapist that afternoon when he could no longer assure her during their meeting that he would be safe. I had driven us straight here from that appointment.
A phone call made while on the way to ask my older son to make dinner for his other brothers.
No, I wasn’t sure how long I would be.
Yes, it would be hours most likely.
No, I didn’t know what would happen.
I would call him later, I promised.
Thank you, I said while trying to sound as normal as possible.
The handcuffed man in the waiting room yelled profanities at the police officer. At the people in the room, at the walls who he accused of listening to him and recording him. He laughed loudly when he wasn’t screaming. He was shaking and spittle flew from his lips as he jumped in the chair trying to get out. Then he stopped, and he cried. He sobbed and he asked the police officer to shoot him, to kill him, to make the voices stop yelling at him, to make the walls stop staring. The police office stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact with anyone.
I stared at the floor, at my son, at the ceiling. Anywhere but at the man who had now wet himself and was silently sobbing and whispering “stop stop stop” over and over. I prayed that they would take him in soon. Away from this room.
A nurse came over with a wheelchair and spoke with the officer. He nodded and turned to speak to the man.
“It’s time to get fixed up, come on, in the wheelchair.” He tried to help him to stand and the man cried harder. “Stop stop stop” now replaced with “I’m sorry” repeated like one long word that never ended.
They wheeled him away. His sobs turning to screams and profanities, threats of violence and death to the nurse as he disappeared down the hallway and behind a set of doors that need a swipe card to allow access.
I let out the breath I hadn’t know I had been holding. I heard my son sigh loudly and he stood.
“I can’t do this.” He was shaking and his voice cracked, close to tears in a way I hadn’t heard through the weeks of angry rage that was the usual lately.
“I don’t want to be like that.” He sat back down and I saw the tears roll down his face. I had no words. “and I will be.” He leaned forward in the chair, his elbows resting on his thighs.
His hands were clasped, fingers twisting against each other as he shook. His knee bouncing with restless energy and fear.
“I promise I’ll be okay. I won’t hurt myself. I promise. Please just take me home. I’ll go to the therapist everyday. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.” His voice was edged with anger now and I prayed that a nurse would come for us soon.
I spoke to soothe him. I told him that we would just talk to someone, that he knew that he wasn’t okay and that we had to do something – something more than what we were, because what we were doing wasn’t helping enough.
I told him that he could get better.
That he would get better.
That this was a good step in that direction and I pleaded with him to just stay a little longer here.
To just give it another half hour.
He sighed and slumped back in his chair.
Three more half hours later and a nurse came for us. They took him to a room alone and me to another to talk with a doctor.
Sorry, they said, there was a more urgent case that came in to psychiatric assessment unit and they couldn’t help how long we had had to wait.
It’s fine, I answered.
Sorry, they said, the only doctor who could do an assessment on my son had just left for the day an hour ago. All they could do now was keep him overnight and try to have him assessed the next morning. Sending him home was not an option, they said. His therapist considered him an imminent risk so they were holding him.
Can I stay with him tonight? I asked. No.
Can I say goodbye to him? I asked.
They brought me into the holding area. Locked metal doors that all opened towards a central nursing desk.
The noise of fists and feet banging against one of the doors from the inside was deafening. The nurses moved about, oblivious it seemed.Threats of death to the nurses, screams, sobbing, all reverberated from so many rooms.
The doctor took a key and opened a door. My son sat on a bare mattress on a floor. A single blanket next to him. he was wearing a blue hospital gown.
“Can we go home now? I promise I’ll be okay.” his voice cracked.
We both knew he wanted to be.
We both knew he wouldn’t be if he came home that night.
I stayed with him for as long as they would let me. Then I said goodbye, promising to be back first thing in the morning.
He stood to say goodbye and he hugged me. Tears that his angry 16 year old self would not let fall hovered on his lashes. I turned and left as my own tears fell.
We both knew that tonight, at least, he would be okay. And that night, that was what mattered the most.