Sunday, March 17, 2013

No. 445 – Distant Lover

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, Gewn Gordy, Sandra Greene
Original Release: Let’s Get It On
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: none

When I finally got Laurie home after the ordeal of Swedish Covenant Hospital, aka, the most worthless hospital in the world, the night of May 7, 2008, I hoped against hope that she would sleep. I still thought she was merely exhausted.

I put her to bed and went to sleep on the couch, but it was no good. She kept coming out of the room every so often to say someone else was in the apartment, when, of course, there wasn’t. I went in to be with her, but that was no good either, because it seemed I was bothering her. Finally, I just got up—it was about 3 in the morning—and retreated to the office.

I wanted to leave Laurie alone, but I also was worried. I’d sneak down the hall every so often, and usually I didn’t hear anything except maybe Laurie sucking in her breath. When I’d check on her, her eyes wold be closed but fluttering like she was dreaming wildly. Other times, Laurie would slide open the drawer to her bedside table and finger a brown envelope in which she kept the notes to her Laurie Tunes, then slowly slide the drawer closed, only to open it five seconds later and repeat the gesture.

I don’t know whether that night was the longest of my life, but if it wasn’t, the only contender was the next one. My only solace is I brought work home with me, so at least I had something of a respite in those dark, sad hours.

When dawn broke, I felt good, because soon I could start calling people to try and figure out what to do. Considering our encounter at Swedish Covenant, it wasn’t obvious that the solution was to take Laurie to a different hospital. Laurie brought her therapist into the loop as she began to decline in the past two weeks, so that seemed like the first avenue to take.

After calling work to claim a vacation day, I left a message with Kay, but I did so with some misgivings. What Laurie had said the day before was an eye-opener. If she honestly believed that 12 years of therapy were shot because two dogs barked at her in Mexico, that really didn’t say much for the quality of the therapy. But I didn’t know where else to turn.

Kay returned my call fairly quickly and recommended a psychiatrist. I left a message with that person, explaining the situation and asking her to please call me back as soon as she could.

It didn’t make me fell any better, though, and as soon as I hung up, the weight of the last week’s events caught up to me, and I broke down. At about this time, I felt a presence and looked up to see Laurie standing in the dining room, looking at me with concern. I stopped to go see her, but she quickly disappeared down the hall into the bedroom. This was another pattern that would repeat that day.

The doctor called me from her home, saying she got my message but she couldn’t talk till she got into her office after noon—hours from now. Well, what choice did I have? OK.

The hours dragged, and my phone started to ring constantly from Laurie’s friends calling to say they heard from so-and-so that Laurie was in the hospital. Those who were more in the loop called to say they knew about this doctor or had this connection I should call. I thanked them and took the information. I assured them I was working on a solution. I was just waiting to hear back from this one doctor.

But I never did. The noon hour came and went without a call. Then it got to be 1. I left another message on the doctor’s voicemail and later another. Nothing. I started feeling more alone than ever.

Janet, Laurie’s longest running Chicago friend, called and asked whether I needed help with Laurie. I didn’t. I wasn’t afraid of Laurie hurting me or to herself. She’s just tired; she just needs to sleep. I can handle it; no one else needs to be involved. Heidi called and offered similar services. I turned her down, too.

At about this time, I heard Laurie come out of her room, then close the door. Then I heard this clattering against the door, like something had been thrown against it. I went in to investigate, but I saw nothing out of place—just Laurie in bed, closed eyes fluttering.

I never heard back from the psychiatrist, and I called Kay for another recommendation, but she didn’t have any. I started to turn to other contacts. One person, who was a social worker, said I probably should take Laurie to the hospital. Evanston, he said, had an excellent facility, but I still was leery.

In reality, I was in denial. Like at Swedish Covenant, I was stunned by what was happening, and I couldn’t do anything, except hope that Laurie would get some sleep, that Laurie would somehow snap out of it, that something good would happen, except cry at the growing hopelessness of the situation.

This of course brought Laurie out of the bedroom again to peek at me from around the corner in the dining room. When I got up again to go to her, she again jogged down the hall like before. But this time when I turned around to retreat back to my hidey-hole, Laurie let out an unearthly moan.

I’ve never spontaneously messed myself, and because I didn’t at that moment, I don’t know whether I ever would, because that chilled my blood to freezing. If I live to be 150, I’ll never forget it. I sprinted back down the hall to get to Laurie in time to see her collapse on the floor—for no more than a second—before getting back up and walking calmly into the bedroom as though nothing had happened.

I got her back into bed and tucked her in, and then, I finally did something smart: I admitted defeat. As they say, you only begin to get help after admitting your weakness. At that moment, I was a beaten man, and my carefully constructed denial similarly crashed to the floor.

I called Janet and Heidi and asked them to come over. I needed help.

Janet came right over, and Heidi followed soon after. The first thing they did was get me the Hell out of there, which was the right call. I was at wit’s end and of no help to anyone. They said they would work on convincing Laurie that she should go to the hospital.

I went outside to gather myself, but it was almost impossible. I was crying and shaking. My girlfriend had suffered a mental breakdown. It was true, and it was too much to take. But I couldn’t just wander off. I had to get myself together and get back so I could help as best I could. I only walked around the block.

When I got back, Janet and Heidi had Laurie dressed and in her fleece and omnipresent purple knit hat. I decided that it was best for them to take the lead and deal most directly with her while I hung back. Laurie, it seemed, wasn’t reacting well to my presence. They said they were going to drive her to Evanston and told me to pack a bag for her and come later.

With a great deal of effort, they got her down the stairs and out to the car, and I’ll never forget feeling my heart sag as I saw them help Laurie into the car. I had no idea how long it would be before she would be back, but I had an inkling it would be a long time.

Now alone in the apartment, I sat in silence for a moment and then went to pack some clothes and toiletries. When I did, I found what had made the clattering earlier. It was a marble trinket that Laurie kept on her altar next to the bed. It was a howling coyote, the Trickster. Laurie grabbed it—and nothing else—and flinged it against the closed door to try to get rid of the bad juju.

By the time I got to Evanston Hospital, Janet and Heidi had Laurie checked in and in a wheelchair awaiting an available room in the ER. Because Laurie wasn’t dying, we had to wait a long time, most of which was spent trying to keep Laurie in her wheelchair. Like the previous night at Swedish Covenant, she was trying to pitch herself forward out of the chair and onto the floor.

I stayed mostly out of Laurie’s eyesight and took care of details of the check-in, like Laurie’s insurance card and such. Finally they let us back into the emergency room and began to rehook Laurie to every apparatus they could find.

Laurie kept trying to get out of the bed, but we restrained her, and before long, she stopped doing that. Instead, she reached up and grabbed whoever was nearby in a powerful grip. The hospital workers didn’t like this at all, so I again took the lead and went to Laurie. I was afraid they’d put restraints on her, which wouldn’t help the situation at all.

What I learned immediately was that Laurie wasn’t trying to be violent. She was just trying to bring us close so she could whisper something in our ear. Most of the time, it was nonsense. Other times, it was clear as a bell, such as the time she pulled me down to whisper: Tell Janet to be quiet. I did. God only knows the cacophony that was going on in her head. No sense adding to it.

Well, the situation at Evanston was completely different. They knew right away it was no drug overdose but a mental breakdown of an undiagnosed reason. They also said that none of the staff psychiatrists would be in till Monday to deliver a full evaluation, but they were fairly certain Laurie would be admitted to the psychiatric ward. All they had to do was get clearance from insurance.

This had been no drug overdose; I’d known that all along. The Evanston caseworker told me that they didn’t even HAVE a psychiatrist on staff at Swedish Covenant, so they couldn’t have been of much help. No kidding.

We waited … and waited for that insurance clearance. Janet and Heidi slept in chairs in the room. I kept rubbing Laurie’s arm, telling her it would be OK, telling myself it would be OK and listening intently whenever Laurie would reach for me. Sometime after 2 a.m., she pulled me down and whispered one word—Trickster.

Finally at about 3:30 Saturday morning we got the word: Laurie would be admitted till at least Monday. I was relieved that this was going to be out of my hands now but concerned about Laurie. Laurie had never been in a hospital before, and I was afraid she would be frightened if she knew she was a left alone. But I knew it was the right course of action. Whatever was going on, they would help.

Janet, Heidi and I parted in the hospital parking lot, and I cried all the way home. When I got home, it was about 4:30. It had been an incredibly long 48 hours, and even though I’ve been alone for long stretches of my life, I never felt more lonely than I did May 8, 2008.

Laurie was gone, and I had to go through the unenviable task the next day of telling her family what happened and answering only “I don’t know” when asked what was wrong and how long she would be in the hospital. It turned out those would be ongoing questions.

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