Technically we were off the hook.
The doctor at the small general hospital immediately understood that M was overmedicated and agreed that the best thing to do was to send her back to the mental health facility around thirty minutes from our house to have her medications reevaluated.
Yet … we knew what M didn’t know. In the brief period of time that she was with us, the world had shifted.
The new allegations of abuse against M’s biological mother strengthened the county’s case against her. In all likelihood any future children she had would immediately be taken from her (if they were born in state) and there was a slight possibility of serving jail time.
This was indeed very slight since M and her sisters would not be considered reliable witnesses due to their disabilities, but the threat was enough after nearly ten years of playing the system for the bio mom to relinquish her rights to the girls.
M’s biological father had given up his rights years before in order to get out of paying child support (this is a guess because some involved in the case thought it might just be to get away from the biological mother). Either way, he deserted his children. Bio mom was now free to have as many children as she wanted if she stayed out of state. No jail time for years of incredible abuse and neglect. The small county with limited funds would now be responsible for all medical, dental and daily living costs of these children. Anyone with children knows that braces at top notch orthodontic offices are expensive. Add to that therapy, hospitalizations, glasses, social worker salaries etc.
M was transferred to a private mental health facility I’ll name Four Corners. They immediately upped her dose of Zyprexa (this was the hospital that first prescribed it). M lost her mind. I had no idea about this when I asked the social worker if I could go visit her. We all still thought she would come back to us after a week since this facility usually kept kids on for only one or two weeks.
Four Corners is well manicured on the outside, but the unit M was staying in looked like most other institutional settings. Fluorescent lights are the norm. The hallways are dark, the rooms necessarily sparse. The smell of cafeteria food pervades the communal visiting area.
The receptionist was surprised to see me since I wasn’t a parent, but after a few minutes she brought me down the hall to M’s room.
“You have a visitor.”
In a heap of blankets M rocked and moaned, “I want to go home! I want to go home!”
She rose like a phantom only barely recognizing me at first. I was a blip in her memory bank. Her face was sickly white, and her mouth was dry with caked spittle in the corners. Deep circles under her eyes added to her bizarre transformation. When the staff came close, she cursed at them and screeched when they touched her. She’d already scratched and clawed the therapist and made enemies with some of the staff when she refused to go to group therapy.
Suddenly I was her lifeline. She jumped out of bed and clutched me in her arms. “Get me out of here!”
The nurse intervened and told me that I needed to leave because I was triggering her. On the way out I asked about her medications.
“Well, you may be right about the Zyprexa, but we need to take her to the highest therapeutic level first to make sure this isn’t working.”
“She’s out of her mind. That’s obvious to me. This seems wrong.”
The nurse shook her head dismissively. “To be honest this is no longer your problem.”
“Maybe we should just leave it to the professionals,” my husband said. “I don’t think I can do this.” M had triggered a lot of his traumatic childhood memories and did not want to relive living with a mentally ill person in the house. But even he found it hard not to visit her after she kept calling us on the phone.
The social worker on the case after a month of M getting steadily more insane and dramatically more medicated thought it would be a good time to let M know that not only would she never see her birth mother again but also that her two sisters would be getting adopted by Miss B and she would not be.
“We feel it’s best to tell her now so if she loses it, she will be in a safe place.”
“How is this place safe?” I couldn’t help asking. “She’s now on massive doses of Zyprexa and lithium. She’s had a bad reaction to one of them so is now on another medication to prevent permanent ticks and muscle tremors, not to mention the long-term side effects possible that I’ve read about. Should we put her on an organ donor list now to get a jump on things?” I hardly knew this kid, but I could not turn away. The injustice kept coming back to me.
Imagine being in a state of anxiety and paranoia, all alone in a dark institution with a padded room a few doors down. Imagine being restrained by big strangers with no explanation. Imagine being ten with no advocates. When everyone else stepped back my husband and I were left standing there. It felt impossible to leave her. By now we were officially no longer her foster parents. After a certain number of days if a kid is in an institution the county isn’t going to pay the small stipend given to foster parents.
Because of that we went bankrupt. Kidding. The stipend was something like 30 dollars a day I think for 24/7 care in the home. Seriously, don’t get into foster care for the money.
The county worker told us at this point that all hope was lost. M after hearing about her sisters became more unmanageable. “Accept the fact that she will be institutionalized for the rest of her life and move on.” M kept calling us. The conversations were irrational. Insane. But we still brought her the Halloween costume that she had asked for. She wanted to be a princess.
I visited her that day. It hadn’t gone well. The staff had convinced her not to be a regular princess but a zombie princess (despite the fact that she was afraid of zombies). By the time I came the black make up they had put on her was smeared with tears. She looked and acted like a real zombie. She no longer walked with any grace. Her arms were stiff, her eyes dim, her mouth hanging open with drool.
They had told her just before Halloween that she was now an orphan and permanently separated from her sisters then wondered why she was not well-behaved for Trick-or-Treat.
“I hate you and don’t want you to be my mother,” she said slurring her words. “Get out of here, bitch.”
I wasn’t hurt by her words. I wasn’t dying to be embraced as mother. I was more consumed by a feeling of shock and awe at how degraded her life had become. I knew this couldn’t be right, but I was a newbie.
The more I asked questions the more the doctors and nurses became defensive. I was always polite, assuming they knew better than me (at first). After a while the hospital therapist refused to take my calls.
Then a strange thing happened.
We were at our son’s football game one night and spotted one of the Four Corners staff members coincidentally. We waved but that was all. At half time he came over to us, almost as if he wasn’t sure he should. We engaged in awkward chit-chat for a few minutes but then he got to his point.
“This is off the record, but I feel like I should tell you. The other night M had an allergic reaction to one of the meds, so they took her off one or two and she completely cleared.”
“Cleared?” I asked.
“Yeah. She became a normal kid. Everyone saw it. The nurses. Everyone that night, but the doctors upped the doses next morning.”
This man didn’t know our foster care status. He just saw us visiting a lot.
“You need to keep fighting to get her off those meds, but don’t tell anyone I said this.”