For many years Doug has not been able to spend the holidays with me. Every other year we travel to Iowa to visit family. Taking Doug out of the state, away from his doctors, is something that I cannot handle. So every other Christmas I visit him before we leave and give him his gifts and hugs and wish him well. He begs and pleads to go with us. “I’ll be good mom, I promise.” I try to explain why it’s not possible. And we leave him behind. During the years that we have stayed home we do have him over on Christmas day for a short visit, perhaps 4 to 6 hours. During those visits he is very nervous. Every other sentence he’s asking some one in the house “Are you mad at me?” or “Have I done something wrong?” He normally ends up asking me if I’ll take him back to his place a few hours earlier than planned. He needs familiar surroundings, even if undesirable surroundings. And even though this is and always has been his home, he seems to feel more comfortable away from here.
This is the first Christmas in many years that he has lived at a place that allows extended visits. I’d arranged that I pick Doug up early Friday and take him home on Sunday. Each day for the past two weeks Doug has called and gone over the plan with me, almost sure that I wouldn’t follow through. I assured him that I was looking forward to a wonderful Christmas with him and would not dare change the plan. Last week, his daily calls were a little more manic. “Why can’t you come on Wednesday to get me?” and “Can’t I stay until New Years?” I would explain to him that our schedules didn’t fit and that we’d have to go with the original plan. He’d reiterate “Ok, so you’ll come here on Friday and take me home on Sunday, right?”
“Yep, that’s the plan honey, and we’ll have a great time together”
I decided during the week-end that picking up on Thursday was just as doable as Friday, and that I’d surprise him with an early arrival. I called and arranged it with the counselor at his assisted living center. She said she would have the med techs pull, and have ready for me, the amount of medication Doug would need. “In fact, we’ll pull enough for an entire week, just in case inclement weather keeps you from bringing him back right away.” I had not thought of that. I felt a little uneasy. What if we did get a lot of snow? He’s living north of here. They may get so much snow that I wouldn’t be able to drive through, not with my bad tires. I took a deep breath, thanked the woman at the center, and asked her to tell Doug I’d see him on Thursday, and that I would talk to him a bit later.
Doug called me on Monday and again asked if I could come earlier and bring him home later than the plan. I explained, again, that we’d have to stick with our schedule. He then asked if, after Christmas, would I continue my two day a week visits. “What? Honey, I don’t visit you two days a week. I’ve been coming up there once a month.”
“No mom, you come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Please don’t take those visits away from me. Please don’t be mad at me.”
“Honey, I’m not mad. But I want you to remember, I’m further away than just a short drive. I can’t drive that far twice a week. I can’t afford the gas. I wish I could honey, but I can’t.”
“So, you’re going to stop coming to see me huh?” his voice suddenly getting sarcastic and aggressive.
“No hon, I’ll never stop coming to see you. I will still come to see you as I have been. Once a month.”
He began to challenge me, saying that I had been coming twice a week. Then, I guess he realized he was wrong. He got very flustered. Starting stammering. Then he said he needed to go, and he hung up the phone.
I called the counselor that afternoon and told her my concerns about Doug not thinking straight. She said she would have the Doctor talk to him and perhaps adjust his medication.
When the call came in late last night from his facility I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t sad or upset. I was just disappointed. Not for myself, but for him. I know that he’s been wanting this Christmas visit more than anything. He’s never once mentioned what type of gifts he’d like (which is unusual for him), he’s just been so happy about coming home for Christmas and being with his brother and sister.
As a child he always wanted to know exactly what the plans were. When we’d travel to Iowa, he was always full of questions, even weeks ahead of time. “What time will we leave Gastonia?” “What hotel are we going to stay at the first night?” “What is Grandma going to make for lunch and for dinner?” “What room will I sleep in at Grandma’s house.” An array of questions daily, that, if I could not answer would get him agitated. There were times I made up answers just to quiet him. If the visits didn’t go as he had mapped out in his brain, he’d be thrown off kilter. He’d think it was his fault. He’d think he had done something to make someone mad and thus the change of plans.
So, I believe that this Christmas, he has put so much thought into how, when, where, and what we would be doing for the three or four day visit, that his brain just went into overload and then short circuited.
He has been in the ER of the local Marion NC hospital waiting for a psych assessment before they determine if he is to go to the state mental hospital. I initially thought that this would be the best thing for him for now, and that I would take his gifts to him some time the week after Christmas. But now, I’ve been told by a counselor from the Mental Health Assessment team that there is usually a two week waiting list to get into Broughten (the State hospital) now, and that chances are he’d be spending his Christmas in the E.R. of the local hospital. She asked if I wouldn’t prefer to just come and get him and keep the plans the same. “Two weeks? Why does it take two weeks for a patient to get in there?” She said the hospital is that over crowded. “Mrs. Colton, you wouldn’t believe the number of patients that decompensate here in the ER just waiting to be admitted to Broughten.”
“Yes, I would. I would decompensate myself if I had to spend two frickin’ weeks in and emergency room, just waiting. It seems to me that Doug has already begun decompensation, which is why he is there to begin with.”
After giving long hard thought to my son spending a lonely Christmas in some small, unfamiliar ER, I called the assessment counselor back.
“If I decide to come get him and bring him home for a few days, would that take him off the waiting list for the state hospital?”
“Yes, I’m afraid it would. But let me remind you, he’s not even on the waiting list until we can get an assessment.”
“Why haven’t you done an assessment yet? He’s been in there since eleven last night?”
“He’s still asleep. We can’t get him to wake up long enough to answer any questions.”
She assured me she would call me as soon as they were able to interview him.
I’m looking back at all the years of having to change, cancel, or ignore holiday plans to suite Doug. And then I remember all the holidays that I have ignored Doug and made plans not including him at all. Those holidays seemed to be the easiest for everyone else involved. No awkward glances around the crowded room on Christmas morning. No whispers. No holding my breath wondering what inappropriate words might come from Doug’s mouth at the dinner table. No apologies. The holidays spent without Doug really are, I suppose, easier for everyone involved. But, I know in my heart they are not easier for him, and for that reason, they are not really easier for me either. My heart aches for him. He’s a grown man, but he’s still my child. He needs a family. We all need family, or someone, during the holidays. He’s no different. He needs to be with some one who loves him. I do love him. Doug will be home for Christmas. Why would I even question that? He’s entitled to my love and the love of his brother, sister, and step father. We are the only family he has. We will go get him. And we will have a wonderful Christmas time.