Rescue From the Cuckoo’s Nest (An Adoption Story)

Imagine being a worker at a mental institution. Let’s be frank. Changing the name of something does not change the thing. Mental Health Facility sounds nice and hopeful, but in no way was I seeing healthy practices.

So, you’re a worker responsible for maybe cooking unhealthy foods for the kids. Of course, it’s unhealthy because that’s what kids on meds crave, that’s what they are used to. This is just a short term, stabilizing pit stop. Triage. Hospital food has nothing to do with health. Healthy food cuts into profits.

You work in the kitchen or maybe as a monitor who makes sure kids are restrained when necessary. Maybe you just mop the floors when a kid throws up orange juice and chicken fingers – and someone is always throwing up or making messes. Hour after hour you witness disturbing behaviors. Rarely do you see success stories in this unit. Most of the kids come from broken homes with parents who are also struggling to keep their sanity. Obviously, some kids come from “stable” backgrounds but have eating disorders or suicidal thoughts, but I don’t see how a stay at a place like this wouldn’t actually be more traumatizing.

The workers must develop thick skins. Kids say things that really cut you to the core, find your weaknesses, trample your boundaries. They may look cute, but you don’t notice that anymore because their actions are so weird, the look in their eyes so vicious. Some kids you may understand and sympathize with, but they come and go so quickly, and you only see the worst of it. It takes a very special heart to see through the suffering, the medicated insanity, the ugly faces contorted with pain, the sudden violent outbursts.

The young therapist assigned to M’s case (in the one session we had together) spoke as if she’d memorized a textbook but was not able to truly apply the concepts to the suffering humanity around her. If you questioned her, she was obviously affronted. The talk became more about M’s not listening to her, not pleasing her. We made no headway. The fact that I was there and not even technically M’s foster mother annoyed her.

In the end M with her matted hair hanging over her face as she drooled and chanted “I want to go home” over and over again became a thorn in their sides. They gave up on her completely. After a 2 1/2 month stay, M’s meds were never adjusted down. They found another social services agency to send her to. This new place was a halfway house, a place to go to before going somewhere else.

It can never be forgotten that there is money to be made off children being passed around the system. There is very little accountability. If questions are asked some people will question you back. “Aren’t these kids worth the money?” Hmm.

The new place was named after a Catholic Saint but in order to take money from the government agencies all references to spirituality were scrubbed from the building. The shelves that used to prop up religious statues stood as empty reminders that human services had usurped the spiritual. The place was bleak in the extreme. I knew this because M begged me to come with her and the social worker on the day of transport.

I met them at the entrance on a cold sunny morning. For some reason seeing M in the sunlight brought back a little of her humanity. She smiled nervously in a pretty white puffer coat and jeans. She hadn’t been out of pajamas in months, and someone had combed her hair and put it in a high ponytail. Despite the missing statues as we walked over the threshold together a surge of deep sympathy and love flowed between us. I can’t explain it. Maybe it was supernatural.

The place was dark. I don’t know why institutions are always dark. Two boys were wrestling each other on the floor. We had to step around them. M despite her weight gain carried herself like a waifish princess in a dark, terrifying forest, yet something in her eyes still showed a timid hope that maybe things would be different here.

(This is part 6 of an ongoing narrative about our family’s experience with a mildly disabled child we adopted from foster care.)


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