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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The 48 Hour Day
At work, about 8:30, my cell phone vibrated. It was Danny, the owner of the ALF in Miami where my son Parrish lives. He called to tell me Parrish was missing, had been for two days - 48 hours - and that he was going to call the police and have him officially declared a missing person.
My throat tightened as though my head were being twisted off, and my breath came in short gasps. In the past when Parrish went missing, the news was never good. I had visions of him vanishing for months without a word. I instinctively saw him drunk and/or drugged, reeling down some sidewalk somewhere, homeless and in physical and mental anguish, his possessions stolen or traded for drugs or alcohol. I even envisioned him dead, either by his own hand or that of another.
Danny said he called all of the local hospitals. Parrish periodically checks into hospital when he feels as though his disease is out of control, usually when he feels manic, but recently because he was having suicidal thoughts. Danny even called the police to see if Parrish had been arrested.
I turned away from the others. In spite of myself, I melted down to a pool of pathetic, gelatinous disquiet, tears flowing over the rims of my lower lids in spite of any attempt on my part to make them magically melt away.
I stumbled into the locker room, balancing myself on the counter, only just able to stand, listening to Danny’s voice, which had gone muddled and slurred in my ear. I stood still, tried to process this news and keep my head afloat in the tsunami of emotions that flooded my brain, made my body prickle, almost buckled my knees.
I had to ask Danny to repeat himself twice before I could hear what he said. He sounded calm, reassuring. He promised to call me with any news. We rang off, and I squeezed my phone as though I could will it to ring with good news.
This could not be happening again - not after all the months of sobriety, all the efforts to regulate his medicines, to keep him in a sheltered environment because he cannot function without an external support system. As much as he complains about assisted living, he cannot function without it.
I stood frozen in place as though my feet were nailed to the floor, unable to move or speak, wanting to open my mouth and scream but unable to utter a sound. I labored to organize myself, affect some sort of composure.
When I emerged, the others looked at me with great concern, wanted to know if I were okay.
”No,” I said. “My mentally ill son has been missing for 48 hours.”
I turned and walked back to the locker room, not knowing whether to go home or try to function at work. After some thought, I concluded that going home would be the worst thing I could do. I envisioned myself lying in bed with the covers pulled over my head, or maybe sitting in the floor of my closet with the door closed, poisoning myself with worry, weeping and pulling down one of my shirts and screaming into it. No, going home was not the answer.
So, I went to my manager’s office, closed the door and spilled my guts all over her. The tears returned. She sat and listened, a look of compassion on her face. There was a period of silence broken only by me blowing my nose.
“What do you want to do?” she asked. “What will help you through this? Do you want to go home? No, you shouldn’t be alone now, not like this. Take all the time you need to gather yourself together, and I will give your patients to Janet, let her handle the drugs, and you be her assistant. Stay with us, at least until you have some word.”
The hours dragged on as I tried to be half a nurse. It’s not easy to be half a nurse, and without thinking, I medicated one of my patients. I should have gone to Janet and let her handle it, but I forgot all about
being half a nurse. The woman needed medicating, so I did it.
Janet was not happy.
“You are confusing me,” she snapped. “Do you want to take your patients back or leave them with me? I can’t deal with you and me both taking care of them.”
She was right, of course. I apologized, said I wasn’t myself, that maybe I should have gone home.
“Just tell me what you want me to do.”
“I want you to keep the patients, and I will help at the desk or just go sit with one of my little ladies, keep her company while she no visitors. “
“Are you sure? I can’t be half a nurse any more than you can, and you are compromised. You really are not yourself.”
“Okay, I mumbled,” stinging from her tone but knowing that she was right.
Time continued to creep along, and finally, at 6:00, I left to go home - an hour early. When I reached my car, I called Danny for news.
“We found him. He’s in hospital in Hollywood.”
“That’s so far from you. How did he get there? What is wrong?” I croaked.
“He is on his way back here, so I will get him to call you when he arrives. Don’t worry. He is okay.”
I rang off, put my head down on the steering wheel and sobbed myself dry, feeling twisted and distorted, a black hole, completely at the mercy of my much wounded heart. Afraid to drive, I went back inside and sat and drank a cup of coffee and waited for my heart to stop skipping and shuttering, taking my energy with it.
As the night nurses came in, I got up and went back to my car, cranked it and crept home in the twilight, focused hard on the road which stretched out in front of me forever. I finally saw my house.
Home. My bed, my dogs, my stuff.
I was undressing when my phone vibrated in my pocket.
“Mama? Did Danny call you? I’ve been in the hospital in Hollywood for two days, but don’t worry. I went up there to eat supper with my friend Carlos, and on the way back to the train station, I passed out, woke up in the emergency room. My lithium level was three times the therapeutic level. There were IVs going into my arms in three places. I didn’t have my phone card, so I couldn’t call anyone, but I’m okay now. Finally, they called Danny late today. I’m back at the ALF, and everything is okay, really it’s okay. I don’t want you to worry.”
“Danny called and told me you were missing. I knew you would turn up. I didn’t worry. Really, I knew you were some place safe. Now go and get some rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
My dogs were already in bed, giving me that worried look they get when they know I am in trouble. I peeled off my scrubs and underwear, left them in a pile on the floor, fell into bed naked and slept the sleep of the dead.
© cj Schlottman
Author’s note: This event took place nearly two weeks ago, but it has taken me this long to distance myself far enough from it to write it down in a coherent fashion.