Right before my grandson’s eighth birthday, he became angry at his mother and not knowing what he was doing, took an overdose of his ADD medication. He only took it because he knew she would be upset and he saw this as a way of getting back at her for not letting him go to the store with her. The medication was high on a shelf in a cabinet, but he climbed up and got it when no one was looking. (Now the pills are locked in a lockbox.) Luckily, he hadn’t taken enough to do any damage, but because of this event and the laws in Illinois, he had to go to a behavioral ward in a psychiatric hospital.
Once the ER doctor at a local hospital determined he was going to be alright, Peyton (my grandson), was transported by ambulance to a children’s hospital in St. Louis for overnight observation. The next day we were told that because of his age and the law he would have to be checked into a children’s psychiatric ward to have his behavior monitored. We were all devastated by this. How can this be? It was an accident. He didn’t know what he was doing or the consequences from the act. It didn’t matter the doctor stated. He said Peyton needed to be observed in a controlled environment to regulate his ADD medication, assuring us it would only be for two or three days.
That evening, Peyton was taken by ambulance to the psychiatric hospital (herein referred to as Hospital X). I asked why in an ambulance? Can’t we drive him to Hospital X? We were only told it was the procedure. I later found out an ambulance is used because parents sometimes change their minds after they have signed the admittance papers and just take the child home. When a child is transported in an ambulance they are sure to arrive at the destination.
We were admitted into a locked ward on the 2nd floor of Hospital X and escorted into a room that served as a play/meeting room. It had a long table with six chairs and was full of toys. An admitting nurse brought in papers to be filled out and after that, discussed the rules with us. Visiting hours were Monday through Friday 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Only two people could visit at a time and their names had to be on the visitors list. Phone calls could only be received during this time also and only from those on the list. If Peyton had visitors at this time, the caller would have to call back, after the visitors had left. He was to have three changes of clothes and these would be washed on the ward. He could have two small personal items. These were usually a stuffed animal and an activity book of some kind. The ward housed boy’s ages three to 12, who were supervised by two to three nurses, depending on the shift. Peyton would attend group and one-on-one meetings, along with other activities throughout the day and evening. He was not allowed to do any school work unless it was during his visiting hours.
When all the paperwork was finished, we were allowed to say our goodbyes to Peyton. We tried to explain to him that he was still ill and had to stay in the hospital a few more days, but that we would come to visit every day. He was very brave and didn’t cry. It was all I could do to hold back the tears when he put his arms around me and kissed me goodbye. Once outside the locked doors, none of us could stop the tears. On the way home, Peyton’s parents and I tried to console each other. Talking about how he would be fine. How he would get help and that it would only be for a couple days.
Although Peyton is only my grandson and doesn’t even live with me, we have a very strong bond between us. This was a Friday night and I was due to go on vacation Monday. Everything was paid for and because Peyton was not my child the insurance we had taken out did not see this as a legitimate reason to change our plans. I thought this would be ok, because he would probably be home before I even left, or so I thought.
Visiting time is the most heartbreaking and rewarding part of the stay for both patient and visitor. My first visit to see Peyton:
I stand outside the locked door with other grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, whoever; all waiting for the door to be unlocked. One can feel the tension, anxiety, and uneasiness in the air. A nurse comes to the door and tells us it will be a little longer as they have a disruptive child and can not admit anyone until he has calmed down. So with sighs of impatience, we wait a little longer. To ease our tension and to find some kind of common ground, someone starts to speak. It’s nothing at first, just, “I hope they don’t make us wait too long.” But that’s enough to get others talking. During this period I find out that for some children this is not their first time here. I find out that some children live with their grandparents or an aunt and uncle (herein referred to as Guardian). No one ever mentions about where the real parents are. One Guardian said he has to tell his grandson 20 min. before visiting time is over that his has to leave, because it takes that long to say goodbye. Another Guardian said her 10 year old grandson was doing fine for about eight months on Ritalin. Then one day at school he started throwing chairs and breaking things. He was admitted to Hospital X for observation and to re-evaluate his medication. It was small comfort to know I was not alone, and more than just a little scary.
We hear the lock turn, the door opens, and we enter the ward. What is on the other side brings tears to my eyes. About a dozen little boys are lined up, sitting or standing on the floor waiting for their Guardian. I watch as the children see someone they recognize, they run up and throw their arms around them. Peyton sees me and with out-stretched arms and a big smile on his face, runs to me. I bend over and give him a big hug and kiss. “I missed you grandma,” he says. I choke back the tears, put a smile on my face and tell him I missed him too. I take Peyton’s hand in mine and as he leads me to the visiting room, I glance back at the line of children. Some are with their Guardian, talking, walking to the visiting room as Peyton and I are doing. Some are still waiting, looking at the door, waiting for a familiar face to come through. I tell myself that surely someone will come; they’re just running late, got stuck in traffic.
Before entering the visitor’s room I have to check-in at the nurse’s station. No items of any kind are allowed in without approval. I have a bag with me containing Peyton’s homework from school. This is ok. I also have a stuffed dog for him. The nurse puts his name on it and I hand it to him. His eyes light up as he clutches the stuffed animal to his chest. “Thank you grandma,” he says. We enter the visitor’s room and sit at a table in a far corner. We talk awhile about what he does there. He tells me about the room he shares with one other boy, about what he eats at meal times, and about the activities they have, and movie time. He seems ok. He’s a little reservered, but he smiles and even laughs during our talk. As our visiting time swiftly passes by, a boy about Peyton’s age comes over and says. “My mom didn’t come today. She never comes. Will you play a game with me?” The boy is holding a Memory game. How can I refuse? Peyton and I play a couple games with him and then the boy said he wanted to go to his room and left.
I take out some of Peyton’s homework and we work a little while on that. I look around the room and see other Guardian’s playing games or talking with their child. I hear screaming coming from the hallway and sounds of things hitting a wall or floor. This goes on for about 10 min. I ask Peyton if he knows what that is. He tells me it’s a little boy that misses his mom; that he started throwing things so they put him in a room to him calm down. I cringe inside and a sadness comes over me.
At the table next to us, I hear a Guardian telling his grandson that it’s time for him to leave. This is the Guardian from when we were waiting outside the door. I look at my watch. Visiting hours are over in 20 min. The grandson, a boy about 10 years of age, begins to cry, jumps up from his chair and grabs his Guardian around the waist. He cry’s that he wants to come home. The Guardian looks at me with tears in his eyes. I can not bear to watch, so I turn away and continue helping Peyton with his homework
All too soon visiting hours are over. I stop by the nurse’s desk on the way out to inquire when Peyton might be released. The nurse said the doctor wouldn’t even see him until Monday and that most children only stay three to five days. This just gets better and better, I thought sarcastically. I told the nurse I was leaving on vacation and asked because of this, if it would be alright if I called anytime instead of the 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. timeframe. She said that would be fine, that they do make allowances for such situations. She said alot of the boys that are here have parents that are professionals; doctors, lawyers. Because of their busy schedules they make such allowances.
I turn and tell Peyton I have to go and he walks me to the door. I tell him I won’t see him for a few days, but that I will call him everyday. I tell him his mom and dad, and aunt and uncle will be there to visit and help him with his homework. He is so brave, never cries. We hug and I kiss him goodbye.
As the door is shut behind me and I hear the lock click, the tears flood my eyes. I stop by the ladies room to wash my face and there are all the other female Guardians, doing the same thing. We are all in there crying, trying to compose ourselves. I leave Hospital X with such mixed emotions of sadness, anger, and guilt. I feel guilt that I am leaving for a tropical vacation while my grandson is in ‘this place’. How can I leave? How can I enjoy myself? At home my husband and I discuss it. Peyton’s in a safe place. He has family to visit him. He’ll be home in a few days. We’ll be gone less than a week. It will be ok. These are the things we tell ourselves.
We worked out a schedule where someone would visit Peyton everyday and I would call. It would only be for a few days. On Monday before leaving for the airport I called Hospital X. I talked with the nurse and asked how Peyton was doing. I was told he was fine and the doctor would be in later that day. Everyday I called Hospital X. First I would talk with Peyton and then the nurse, asking how he was doing and when he might be released. Everyday I was told the same thing, “Peyton is the best behaved boy here. We have no trouble with him. He does what he’s told and eats everything on his plate. Maybe he’ll be released tomorrow.”
When I returned home, five days later, Peyton was still in Hospital X. Anger did not even come close to describing how I felt about Peyton not being released. I talked with the nurse and made the comment that if his mom was not on state medical assistance, Peyton would have been released long ago. No HMO would pay for this long of a stay. She and Peyton’s mom filled me in on what the doctor had said, that they were still observing him. The remaining visits I had with Peyton were much like the first one.
Peyton’s stay at Hospital X stretched into an agonizing 12 day ordeal. On Tuesday, Peyton’s mom called me at work to let me know I wouldn’t need to visit Peyton that night as he was being released. I don’t think I have ever heard such happiness in a person’s voice before.
I can’t say Peyton’s stay at Hospital X didn’t have a bit of a negative affect on him. He’s different. Before his stay at Hospital X, my grandson loved staying overnight at my house, not anymore. Before, he didn’t mind leaving his mother’s side, not anymore.
Peyton was put on ADD medicine not for behavior problems, but because he needed to stay focused to enable him to do his school work. One might say that I’m just a biased grandmother. I would have to agree with them. I love my grandson.