Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fear and Loathing

Friday morning, I got a taste of what happens to Seattle's poor and mentally ill. I'd been at work for maybe five minutes when one of the staff came to get me. "There's a woman up front who's scared and seeing things. We don't really know what to do with her."

I didn't either. She wasn't someone we knew, although I'd seen her around the neighborhood. And not in an especially good way. But this morning she was in our office, terrified of the "terrible impact" of the windows blowing out and the walls cracking and the things flying around that no one else could see. She wimpered and cowered. I told her she was safe. She grabbed on for dear life and didn't let go.

We got some shoes from the back. She came in with just one. Staff made calls while I tried to keep her calm.

A few weeks ago, we called the cops for help. A vendor said he was serious about suicide right then and there. It would be by intravenous drug overdose and he had the means. After talking hit a wall, staff called 911. The first one through the door had his Taser drawn and ready. When our vendor got mouthy, he used it.

This, apparently, is SPD standard procedure with the Black and poor.

Suddenly, our guy's on the ground in shock with a beefy cop driving a knee into his back. An ugly scene in a crowded office.

So we weren't doing that. We tried the MHPs. No one available any time soon. They recommended Harborview. At the moment, our new friend wasn't going anywhere.

The vendor from a few weeks before was taken to Harborview too. They held him for a while and released him empty-handed to the street at around 10 PM. Great.

Meanwhile, there she was, eyes wide and all damp with sweat. She smelled like dog and I wondered why. Her pants kept falling down around her knees. She had jeans that wouldn't stay snapped, and sweatpants over those about four sizes too big. The falling sweatpants pulled the jeans with them, and she kept grabbing to pull them up as she ducked to avoid the terrible flying things.

After awhile, we got a name and started calling around to find a case manager. People knew who she was. Not schizophrenic, they said. Just borderline and manic-depressive. Probably a drug episode. Try Harborview. No one was coming.

I've noticed before that when faced with childlike, pathetic people in acute crisis, I slip into daddy mode. That's my four-year-old. Her knee is skinned and she's crying. I'm all empathy, presence, and love. I called her hon and babe as I walked her around the office and offered unique advice such as "turn around three times and they'll stay away."

The essence of dealing with an upset four-year-old is distraction. I use what I know. She slowly turned, arms out, while I counted. We walked back and forth from the front office to the back with her and our fearless intern, trying different rooms. She kept pulling me off balance as she moved me around to be between her and the demons.

I extracted myself from her grip long enough to get some orange juice and trail mix down the street. Food didn't interest her much, but the juice seemed to help. Our efforts to get her into some pants that might stay up weren't really going anywhere. Modesty was trumped by animal fear. I worried that eventually she'd just leave, running down the street with her pants falling off.

Pants, shoes, and company were about all we had to offer. We debated Harborview some more. She seemed to be calming. We got a quilt from the back and got her into a chair.

I had to go. It had been two hours and I had a meeting I didn't want to cancel again. I told her she'd be OK while I pried her grip from my arm.

One of our women vendors came in and I asked if she'd seen her. She looked her up and down with the disgust that comes from being too close for comfort. Yeah. She knew her. Did she know what was going on? Crack and meth, she said. Call Harborview. That's what DESC does when this happens.

We'd already called DESC on the chance that someone might be able to come, and that's what they'd said. Call Harborview.

Staff stayed with her as she hunkered down under the blanket.

Over lunch, a friend described how someone she'd been close to mixed crack and meth. When he got it right, he was superman. When he got it wrong, he looked just like our visitor. Curled into a ball, terrified of the visions, begging for help.

I drove back to the office and found a spot right across the street. A woman walking by said she'd taped an hour's worth of parking to the meter. My day was looking up. I put it on my window and went inside.

Our hallucinating meth-case was gone. Not long after I left she became lucid enough to volunteer an address and phone number. Her boyfriend was there in twenty minutes to take her home. He'd seen this before.

An hour later, I couldn't find my keys. I went out and looked at the car. Little clouds of exhaust came from the tailpipe. My keys were locked inside, with the engine running.


donna.pierce said...

I wonder if Craig R might have any suggestions about what to do or who to call when this happens, besides "Call Harborview?"Just a thought.

"Uta" Urban said...

It doesn't matter who you are if you walk-in in a psychotic state. 911 to Harborview hospital is the direction of short-term safety and relief when you are too psychotic, dissociating, distressed to function. No MHP, even her own doc, is going to do better than RX Benzo's to bring her down from stimulants and agitation.

That you and RC could give 2 loving hours of emotional support to this woman and research her background is a testament to your compassion - and a message about our wariness (taser cop) of using the broken system.

She was lucky, but I fear RC was badly taken advantage of.

Tim Harris said...

Yeah. Probably so. Getting her to go willingly was another issue. If this sort of thing happened with us often, we wouldn't be able to handle it.

Pastor Rick said...

We call that a Nightwatch moment.

I drove the Nightwatch van Thursday night, shuttling women from our dispatch shelter to a First Hill church where 30 or so sleep in the basement.

Everyone was very happy for the ride on a cold rainy night.

My last rider of the night informed me that she wasn't wearing any pants. Maybe it's going around.

I think my rider was more lucid though. She was aware that it could be a problem at least.

Thanks for being there for her, Tim.

"Uta" Urban said...

I didn't mean to be critical in my last comment - just practical. I'd been up the night before with gravely ill neighbor who'd OD'd. Phone in one hand and hers in the other.

OK now, but where I live, we call it another tricky day.

Thank you over and over for what you do.