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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Weekend with Parrish
She doesn’t want to write about this but she knows she must. Her son, Parrish, suffers from a severe mental illness called schizoaffective disorder.
You can learn more here.
He lives in an assisted living facility in Hialeah, Florida. The facility is in a bad neighborhood and at times is not safe. It is all she can afford. How he landed in Hialeah is a story for another time. He is on Medicare and Medicaid disability for his mental illness, but she still must pay extra to make up the difference in his rent and what his benefits will pay. The only advantages he enjoys come from the Florida mental health system, which has assigned him a case manager who makes sure he has health and dental and eye care. They even send him a massage therapist every other week to work on his bad back - the result of a failed lumbar fusion. He periodically must be admitted to the psychiatric unit at The University of Miami Hospital to adjust his medications. His disease is very brittle, and maintaining proper medication levels is a challenge.
In an effort to assuage her guilt about not being able to take care of her son herself, she conducted a experiment - had him come visit for the weekend, thinking it would make life more tolerable for him if he could come home now and then to spend time with her.
The experiment was a disaster, the only good to come from it being her resolve that it would be impossible for her care for him on her own.
He is on so many medications, that he is drowsy much of the time, but when his mania (supposedly being controlled by lithium) kicks in, he perseverates almost continuously, repeating the same things dozens of time. He continuously fishes for compliments with questions like this: “Mama, don’t you think I look good for 41? I don’t look my age at all. Don’t you think I am doing better, acting more sane than last year? I love the new coat you bought for me, and I appreciate it so much. I love my new clogs, too.” And this goes on for hours at a time. He weeps a great deal.
Though heavily sedated, he is unable to sleep, so he wakes her at 2 AM. He wants her to get up and have coffee with him and go outside with him so he can smoke a cigarette. And the perseverations continue - same subjects over and over again.
The next day he wants to know if we are going to call Clint, his stepfather, who has been dead for 18 months. He hallucinates and thinks he is talking to his old friend, George, insists that he has been to visit him that afternoon. He has not left the house without her. He claims to have talked to another friend, which is impossible as she has kept the phone in her pocket. He declares that he will be eating Thanksgiving dinner, which was more than a week earlier, with Lil, his baby sitter when he was tiny. She has been dead for months.
They go grocery shopping at Wal Mart, and he begins speaking Spanish to everyone, including her. She has to remind him that she does not speak Spanish.
She cooks his favorite foods while he sits in the kitchen and talks incessantly - the same old things. He goes off on a tear about how much he loves her and her dogs. A wonderful friend takes them to see Christmas lights on Sunday night, and he seems disinterested.
She struggles to maintain some sort of equilibrium, keep her temper in check. She is exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Her heart is broken to know how much sicker he is than just 6 month ago. She does not know what to do.
On the morning of his departure, he was outside early to drink coffee and smoke. She told him when he arrived that he would not set the security alarm while he was there, so that he could go in and out without having to deal with the alarm code. She knows now that he would not have been able to handle it. As they are preparing to drive him to the airport shuttle to Atlanta, he says, “Let’s go have one more cigarette. Is the alarm on?”
It is a little more than a week later, and he is more miserable than ever. He calls her four or five times a day to tell him how miserable is life is, that he left his wallet on a bench at the park and it was stolen, containing his Christmas money, his new Publix card and his new phone card. She had instructed him to give all those things to the office manager for safe keeping. Is this true, she wonders. Can he be hallucinating again? She finally has to set limits and says he can only phone once a day and only with something positive to say.
She e-mails the ower of the living facility and suggests that her son might need a trip to the hospital for medication management. That was yesterday. She has not heard from her son since.
© cj Schlottman