There's More Than One Way to Lose a Child—And Get Her Back
By late afternoon there is nothing left to do but follow Arnold's advice and take Sally to the hospital. Far from resisting this plan as I expect her to, she greets it with a swell of optimism as if we're about to embark on a long-postponed adventure. She'll be able to "share" her discoveries with people who are versed in such matters, experts who will understand…
At the hospital, we're directed to an examination room and sit tight, Sally curled up on the padded table, her head in Pat's lap, as if trying to endure the fibrillation of her brain without imploding. The psychiatric resident arrives, short, early 30s, her eyeglasses held together with tape. She politely asks us to leave so she can interview Sally in private.
After five minutes, she emerges and leads me to a tiny windowless room, a supply closet really, crammed with IV bags, exam gloves, sterile pads, soap refills. We sit facing each other on fold-out chairs, our knees almost touching.
When did I first notice Sally was acting strangely? she wants to know. And I tell her about Sally's recent insomniac nights, her poem about "the great breath of hell," and the kicked garbage can yesterday morning. "She wasn't incoherent yet, you understand." And then, uncomfortably aware of how unobservant I must sound: "I have a high tolerance for aberrant behavior, I suppose." I immediately regret that statement too. My every utterance, I fear, will incriminate me further. But for what crime exactly?
"It's not unusual," says the resident, "for this kind of illness to break very suddenly into the open like a fever. When it happens, it's shocking; I can imagine how you must feel." I give her a grateful look, but our physical proximity makes eye contact awkward. "Sally's condition has probably been building for a while, gathering strength until it just overwhelmed her."
When I ask her what this "condition" is, she gives a pallid smile. "What we call Sally's disease is not what's important right now. Certainly many of the criteria for Bipolar I are here. But 15 is relatively early for fulminating mania to present itself. What I do know is your daughter is very ill. I strongly recommend she be admitted so she can get the treatment she needs."
"To the psych ward?"
She nods curtly, and I immediately feel myself balking. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I've had my heart set on a last-minute reprieve.
"Since your daughter is under 18, we'll need your consent to admit her."
Accepting the truth, I complete the consent forms. We ride up to the fifth floor, where we're passed through two solid steel doors, each with a tiny rectangular eye slit: a double-locked ward. A skeletal night crew is on duty, all female, a tight cabal. Ignoring Pat and me, they instantly take possession of Sally. I start to follow them into a tiny shoebox of a room, when one of the nurses bars me with an unequivocal gesture and shuts the door.
Sally emerges from her room in a thin hospital gown, snap buttons, no laces or ties. She suddenly looks ageless, as if a great burden has been lifted from her. At the same time, she is more elevated than ever: feral, glitter-eyed. Her sole concern is to get her pen back, which has been confiscated with most of her other belongings. The nurses confer like referees after a disputed call. Then they grant her a felt-tip marker and march her back to her room.
With assurances that we'll be permitted to visit her tomorrow, they give us the bum's rush through the double-locked doors.