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Archive for March 2013

peace and quiet: some doors are heavier

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I was there when the paramedics arrived. He was known to the healthcare community and repeated suicide attempts were one of the reasons.

We’d met several weeks before and talked about how the schizophrenia had taken over his life since it began during the late-teens. He’d been an active kid, studying kung fu since the age of six and taking up boxing just after he turned thirteen. One day thirty years ago he began hearing voices. Intrusive, loud, frightening and unstoppable.

I explained his demonstrated reluctance of being transported to the hospital to the EMS attendant. He’d told me about several previous visits during which he’d been assaulted while in a straight-jacket. On one occasion a female attendant slapped him on the ear leaving permanent tinnitus. Still, the hospital was the place to be after washing down thirty Tylenol with a mickey of vodka and, with only a little more discussion, he climbed into the ambulance. Notably he didn’t take any more of the opiate-based medication he had in his pocket. Either because they were given to him by a friend who he didn’t want to implicate or, he believed there was a chance he’d survive and wanted to have the meds available, just in case.

Remarkably well-read and articulate, Christian doctrine resonated with him. While not prone to proselytizing he was fluent in various scriptures in which he’d sought an explanation for his predicament, still believing there was a God-appointed purpose. Unfortunately his faith provided little shelter from the voices and the incessant paranoia. One night, in an effort to find solace, he repeatedly smashed his forehead into a brick wall until he fell unconscious. He told me it was a technique he used when the voices became too loud and his supply of opiate too small. Nasty, blood-encrusted side-effect.

Paranoia could become as painful as the voices since the resulting withdrawal would inevitably leave him in complete isolation. During these episodes, even when he recognized the voice of reason, which might provide rescue, the paranoia would taint it with mistrust and deepen the horrible cycle.

While he still visited with his mother every couple of weeks, the rest of his family remained distant, unable to cope with the effects of his illness. At various periods during his life he had access to medical care commensurate to the severity of his condition. Budget cuts, enacted with surgical precision, have since created social victims out of mental health patients. Who will listen to, let alone heed, their pleas? Now he stays in homeless shelters, self-medicates and, on occasion, attempts suicide.

He believed appropriate care was available in his home province of Alberta. Half-hearted plans to return were stymied by what appeared to be loyalty to a bed-ridden friend who he cared for; cooking, cleaning and keeping company. The friend was also a source of opiates for which she had a prescription and he’d become addicted. He was certain the future held either a return to Alberta where he would get the care he needed or, one of his suicide attempts will eventually be successful.

I returned to the shelter the day before I left Victoria to drop off a book for him that I’d been reading and he was curious about. To reach a resident at the shelter required checking in with a gate-keeper. The first attendant, who I knew, formally informed me that privacy policies kept her from providing any information about him. I tried another attendant, also familiar, who explained there are many people by that name at the shelter and then she walked away. Didn’t get it until, on reflection, I recalled that the attendants, both normally amiable and talkative, were unable to maintain eye-contact with me when I asked for him.

Robert
Rock Bay Landing Homeless Shelter
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

November-December 2012

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