The Memoirist
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The Memoirist

Horseshoes and Suicide

When COVID lockdowns began, people insisted I was selfish

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

My son began cutting out horseshoes in the early days of COVID lockdowns. He cut them out of printer paper, cereal boxes, delivery boxes, newspapers, egg cartons, napkins, and toilet paper. Anything he could find.

Hundreds of horseshoes every day, until the apartment was overrun with horseshoes. Each horseshoe was perfect, and he wasn’t using a template. He was cutting them out using his right hand even though he’s left-handed.

I asked him about that, since I had bought him left-handed scissors, and he told me he had to learn to cut with his right hand because his teacher refused to give him his scissors, and so he had learned to adapt out of necessity.

Months later, I’d come across horseshoes that he cut out in those early days. I don’t know why he chose horseshoes, or what exactly compelled him, and he didn’t tell me. I don’t think he even knows. It was a unique coping skill, but it worked, which is what matters.

When he came up with an elaborate plan for Peter Pan to commit suicide and wrote it as a story, I took the scissors away, and took him three hours north to the children’s hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

When it comes to mental health issues, I don’t play around, especially when he has diagnoses that contribute to those feelings.

It was the only hospital in the state that did pediatric psychiatric admissions for autistic children, and I had been on this merry-go-round long enough to know that.

The young male nurse came in and spoke to me.

“We can’t admit him, nobody is admitting children for psych seeing as they are home and can be watched by their parents.”

“He’s talking about suicide,” I said “and they usually admit him because they have to adjust his meds.”

“Look,” the nurse said “in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a pandemic out there, and we want to keep the beds for people that actually want to live.”

“He’s ten years old,” I said.

“Yes, and if he wants to die, that’s on him. We are operating on an emergency basis to save lives that want to be saved.”

I had never been treated this way at the children’s hospital before, and the nurse was new. He evidently had zero experience with child psych, and besides, he was the messenger for the doctor.

He was treating patients for COVID knowing he could die for doing so, and I decided to cut the guy some slack even though my heart shattered. I would never forget the callous words he spoke to me that day.

I felt it was disgusting to only care about one kind of emergency when other people were dying of other things too. My son was just as valuable as those dying of COVID, but medical staff didn’t seem to think so.

Tears streamed down my face as I gathered my things, put them on my walker, and signed the discharge papers. I felt that nobody gave a shit about my son except for me.

It didn’t matter how much I begged, they refused to help him simply because he didn’t have COVID. Unfortunately I could not convince anyone that his life mattered too. I felt like they might prefer him dead.

Someone looking closely would have seen me struggle to compose myself in my anger. I was shaking so badly that I could barely get out of the building because I couldn’t keep hold of my walker.

Discrimination because someone was dying of a problem that wasn’t the dominant concern was something I hadn’t seen before.

I had failed him.

Two days later I took my boy across state lines to a different emergency room, because things had gotten worse. The hospital was old, and before we could enter the emergency room, we had to sit outside socially distanced, and wear masks appropriately.

That was fine with me. I was all for precautions, they saved lives. They took our temperatures, asked some questions, and gave us a number. I thought for a minute I must have wound up at the DMV.

Not being allowed to bring siblings had made it next to impossible for me to take him, and I learned that in a pandemic, nobody gives a shit that single mothers don’t have childcare.

I guess they expected I should either let my son die, or neglect the others, who weren’t old enough to be left at home. I realized how alone I really was in the world.

Thankfully, after many more long hours in which I had no cell reception due to the building, they finally called the psychiatrist. He wasn’t coming in unless he absolutely had to because of the pandemic, which I understood.

He agreed that my son needed an admission.

It was 2:30 AM by the time the ambulance arrived to take him across the other side of the bay, and I had to follow them through an unfamiliar city. I was exhausted and sleepy, but somehow I made it to the psychiatric hospital right behind the ambulance.

They completed the admissions process, and I stumbled out of the building around 3:30 a.m.. I had to drive straight back home because my children’s father had to leave. He had traded out with the sitter that had been almost impossible to find around midnight.

I couldn’t even obtain coffee that time of the morning in COVID, and so I did what I had to do and drove home anyway.

It seemed that those of us who didn’t have jobs, and were disabled, alone, and scared were cruelly ignored. My son could have died and it seemed that the general attitude about that, even from people who were supposedly my friends, was that he would be collateral damage.

Several of these people told me I was selfish to expect someone to help my boy when there was a raging pandemic outside. I argued that the life of my son mattered as much as the lives of people dying of COVID.

I was called all manner of horrible things by people who I thought were friends. I still don’t understand why I was called selfish for wanting my son to live. We all wanted our loved ones to live.

I still don’t understand why only the lives of COVID patients mattered and everyone else was just shit out of luck.

When I wrote about it publicly on Facebook, I got comments such as:

You shouldn’t have spread your legs if you have no family or friends to help.

What COVID taught me was that certain people are important, and others are not, and me and mine were not. We were alone in the world.



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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.


She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.