Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Life Is, Indeed, Strange

When I started this blog, it was purportedly to be about a variety of subjects:  big ones like art, science, nature, and music, as well as issues closer to my heart like photography, New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, autism, and local music in particular.  Over the years, it’s turned into primarily that last one because… well, because that’s what I’ve always written about.  But as Jeff Magnum sang, it IS strange to be anything at all.  It is a wonderful fluke that we small beings, warts and all, have become one of the most amazing parts of a universe that is full or amazing and wonderful things.

Recent life events have made my visits to clubs to catch the rock (or the roll, or whatever) more infrequent… I really regret having to miss this week’s WKNC Local Beer Local Band show at Tir Na Nog (See Gulls, DaddyIssues, and Midnight Plus One!).  I seldom feel more alive than when I’m standing in front of a stage absorbing every decibel of a great, original local band… though my battered cochleae might disagree.  But in a not-quite-so-pleasant (though every bit as real) way, I also seldom feel more alive than when I’m waiting for days in the psychiatric ER for my son to get admitted to a hospital for treatment.
So I’m gonna try to write more about feeling alive.

If you were to follow my personal facebook page, you might notice that I occasionally post about my wonderful son Colin’s travails with autism.  They have, of late, become more challenging.  I don’t do this for personal attention, or to fish for the inevitable “you’re such a great father” compliments.  Although I appreciate the sentiments, and especially the support proffered, I post such things as my way of educating and informing people about autism and mental health issues.  I want people to fully understand that autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and any other condition that affects the brain and behavior is every bit as much a medical issue as diabetes, influenza, cancer, or a broken bone.  But while stigma and preconceptions do not get in the way of mending a shattered femur, they can be as dangerous to a patient as not treating terminal cancer.

I have always told my son that he simply has a medical condition requiring treatment, just like anyone with any health issue.  Nevertheless, this stigma has already settled into his young mind.  Case in point, he was taken by me to the hospital two days ago.  There had been one too many physical attacks resulting from meltdowns that he has been unable to prevent -- as much as he would like to, and as bad as he feels about them afterwards.  While sitting in the ER waiting to be seen, he noticed the EKG setup, the blood pressure machine, and various other pieces of general medical equipment.  He asked me “Why are these things here?  This looks more like a ‘physical hospital’.”  I knew what he meant.  I explained to him that he has a health issue just like that guy in the next cubicle that has chest pains, or the kid with the broken bone across the way, etc.  It’s all the same.  We need to check how he’s doing from top to bottom, inside and out.

Now, he’s staying in the Behavior Health Emergency Department awaiting placement.  We are surrounded by constant, somewhat scary reminders of the situation:  buzzing in and out, curved/soft surfaces everywhere, no forks or knives, camera surveillance, etc.  But those metal-reinforced, mag-locked doors are every bit as much a medical device as an insulin pump is for a diabetic.  If their blood sugar gets out of whack, they can slip into a coma.  His brain chemistry goes haywire, he can hurt someone (or himself). 

Yesterday, I was trying to explain to him that we were leaning towards inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital.  He was nervous and a little choked up.  But he was also very coherent and approached the situation with incredible intelligence.  He laid out a stunningly eloquent argument -- right out of a legal drama -- in an attempt to convince me he could safely go home.  His “defense” was two-pronged:  1) Between him now seeing the extent of the possible consequences, combined with intensive in-home therapy (which we have been trying to arrange), he was confident that he would be able to control his meltdowns and prevent them from escalating, and 2) In the 18th century, we used to lock up "crazy" people in asylums and throw away the key, which we now rightly consider barbaric.  He argued that, in the future, we will consider what he is going through to be barbaric as well.  As medical science improves and we get a better handle on how to treat behavioral & mental issues, he may very well be right.  

But I firmly believe, and explained to him, that we can only go with what the best science has to offer today.  Science, modern medicine included, isn’t perfect (particularly when it comes to behavioral issues).  But the scientific method allows it to adapt to new information, change, and self-correct.  We have evolved a long way from the days of the horrific asylums of a century or even fifty years ago.  Of course, Colin countered that “the evolution isn’t complete”.  No, it isn’t.  But we’re doing our best.   

I have seldom been as proud of my son or impressed by his formidable intellect. 

Different brains work differently.  Neurodiversity should be embraced.  While the neurologically atypical brain may present its owner with many challenges not experienced by the neurotypical, it may also present us all with wonders and solutions which we could never imagine.  We only need to work to help those possessing such brains, and to keep a diligent watch so that we don’t miss what surprises they have to offer.  

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