There is literally shit on the walls of the bathroom. There’s no seat on the stainless steel toilet bowl, no paper holder, nothing that could be removed and used as a weapon or to hurt yourself. Not even soap. I’ve visited multiple prisons, but this emergency room at Western Psych is worse. A guard had to unlock the restroom door for me, and now he’s banging on it to see what’s taking so long. I’m trying to unclench enough to go, looking at the brown smears on the tile, and stifling great heaving sobs. My youngest son, my baby, my beam of summer sunshine, is suicidal.
I’m used to emergency rooms. I’m good at them. How many times have I bundled up this little cherub in the middle of the night, as he struggled to breathe with an attack of croup, and hurried off to Children’s Hospital? Or taken his brother for an x-ray. You pack books, work to do, toys, a snack. You know you’re going to be there a while, but the lobbies are bright and colorful, full of iPad stations, fish-tanks, interactive displays, and comfy furniture.
This place has armed guards, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, body wands. They took my bag at the door with my computer and notebooks. Made me remove my scarf. Can’t even have a pen. We’re escorted beyond more locked doors to a place with no windows, and walls in repugnant shades of green and beige — did someone choose these colors to maximize human misery? The furniture in the adolescent waiting area is cast-offs — broken, uncomfortable, draped with half-asleep kids wrapped in thin hospital blankets. I can’t believe how many teenagers are here alone.
Maybe we reek of privilege with our whiteness, our shocked faces, the fact that our son is accompanied by not one, but two parents. A receptionist opens a small room for our trio to wait in with nothing but a table and chairs. The outlets are sealed shut, an old television sits behind Plexiglas with no way to turn it on, and the peeling wallpaper with the faded 1980s print of hot air balloons is long past its cheerfulness expiration date. The entire place screams disparity: Children’s Hospital and Western Psych are both operated by the same large hospital chain, but the state of our mental healthcare system is on vivid display. It’s more like a mental health we-don’t-care system.
We wait for hours and no one ahead of us appears to move. Every once in a while, the guard walks by. With nothing to do, we’re climbing the walls, and the experience is clearly traumatizing our son, making things worse, not better. The receptionist tells us it will be several more hours, and we decide we’ve had enough. I demand that they let us out. Insist they unlock the doors so we can go free. I’m adamant, unwavering, a mama bear protecting her cub — one of the few times I will feel powerful and certain of what I must do for my son in this moment as we navigate his depression.