Jen emailed me at work. Subject: “RU there?” Body: “Please call home. Martin is being scary.” From time to time, she will write me notes when Martin is being difficult, sometimes asking me to call and talk to him to try to calm him down. But somehow this seemed more urgent. I think it was the use of internet shorthand.
I called her back immediately. Voicemail. I called again. No answer. I called three more times. No answer. Finally, she answers. She has Martin’s neurologist’s office on the other line. Would I call back in five minutes?
I call back in five minutes. “Sasha and I are locked in the bedroom. Martin is banging on the door and screaming. He really might break it. He has hit me and kicked me. I’m going to be covered in bruises tomorrow. The neurologist wasn’t available. I’m going to talk to his nurse when we hang up.”
“I’m on my way.”
Twenty minutes later I arrive home. Martin is at the kitchen table eating cereal. Jen looks stricken. Sasha is nowhere. Jen informs me that a woman from church has Sasha at her house. The nurse suggested that based on his danger to himself and others that we should take Martin to the emergency room. “What for?” I wonder. “A psych consult.” I don’t really know what that is or how it will help Martin, but it’s clear that something needs to be done.
Martin is fairly calm as we get into the car. He’s usually pretty calm in the car. Something about riding in the car calms him.
The ER is less than a mile away. As we approach, Martin recognizes that the hospital we are nearing includes a play area on its grounds which we have passed many times. We have always told him he can’t play at it since it is only for children in the hospital. He wonders aloud if, since he is now going to the hospital, he can go to the play area. “After, we see the doctor, maybe we can go to the play area.”
The visitor parking area for the ER looks full. I drop Martin and Jen off at the entrance and pass through the gate, but I want to join them as quickly as possible. Martin’s calm right now, but I doubt his compliant demeanor will survive the intake process. The only empty spots in the lot are handicap-only. I have no idea where the next closest lot is so I find an unobtrusive non-parking-spot to put my car into, jump out and head into the ER.
Martin and Jen are standing in front of the intake desk. Martin is pacing and repeatedly asking Jen if he can go to the play area. A friendly, nervous woman is passing Jen papers to fill out. A uniformed Austin Police Department officer looks up from a newspaper as I walk in. I consider asking him about the parking situation, but Martin sees me and heads off down a hallway past the entry area, striding confidently away from all of us. I follow him.
Thirty yards down the long hallway Martin pauses and asks me if he can go to the play area. “I don’t know where the play area is, but we can find out after you see the doctor.” “I don’t want to see the doctor.” And he continues down the hall.
He starts past a waiting area with dozens of couches and several TVs which are playing cartoons. I scan for magazines, books or toys that he might appeal to him. I doubt that any of their offerings will have any drawing power, but I ask him if he sees anything interesting. I figure it might slow him down long enough for Jen to finish the paper work.
In the first stroke of luck so far, just as he is reporting his disappointment in the magazine selection to me, the nervous woman from the front desk calls down the hallway that the intake nurse is ready for us.
The nurse is young, six-foot four and sports a long hipster beard. Martin follows him toward the scales, but wants to know if there will be any shots. I answer that I think it’s unlikely and look to the nurse for confirmation. He says, “We might need to” even though he can’t possibly have any idea why Martin is at the hospital nor what treatments it will require. Thanks, buddy.
As he readies the blood pressure collar, Martin tells the nurse, “Do not squeeze my arm too hard!” twice. But of course it does and in response — as he has been doing with increasing frequency over the past month — Martin sticks out his straining neck, vibrates his head, squinches his eyes, bares his teeth and growls at the nurse. His face is ugly and threatening.
The nurse steps back a bit, eying Martin dispassionately, and waits until Martin stops. Then immediately moves on to the next measurement on his checklist. By the time Martin leaves the nursing station, he’s fully riled up. As we leave, he growls at the nurse some more. A middle-aged female nurse, accompanied by an orderly ushers us through a set of double doors and down a hall toward an intake room. Jen walks with the hospital personnel. “I want to go to the play area.” “We need to go talk to the doctor first.” “I do not want to talk to the doctor. He will want to give me a shot.” “I don’t think there will be any shots today, Martin.” I put my hand on his shoulder, steer him past the hallway to the play area and down the hall toward a private room. I am hoping we will find something there to distract and calm him. If we don’t this is going to get physical soon. I can see it in his furtive eyes.
The Emergency Room
The door to the emergency room is placed in a solid glass wall enabling us to see everything within the room: several chairs along the left wall, a hospital bed, a tv suspended above it on a flexible arm protruding from the right hand wall, the back wall is taken up entirely by cabinets and instrumentation. The orderly ushers the nurse, Jen and Martin into the room. I hesitate, try to ask the orderly what is happening next and then get ushered in myself. The nurse explains that more measurements are needed and asks Martin to climb onto the bed.
I take his shoulders in my hands, pull him toward me for a quick hug and then usher him to the bed. He climbs up and lays down. I step back to let the nurse do her work, hoping she won’t pull out a needle. “I need to take his blood pressure,” she says, stepping around the bed with a black cuff. “Can we skip that, please?” I ask. “The intake nurse already took it.” Martin sees the cuff and recoils. “Do not squeeze my arm!” He lowers his brow and glares. “I don’t have those numbers,” the nurse explains, continuing to him. “I’ll need to hold him.” I say and I take his hand.
“Do not squeeze my arm!” He starts to get up.
I place my other hand on his chest and lock eyes with him. “It’s going to be ok. Just a squeeze.” I can feel the heat of his body through his shirt. “Please, do not squeeze my arm.”
The nurse wraps the cuff around his bicep and holds his shoulder with her hand. Now he really starts to struggle. I lean in to him, pushing my cheek against this forehead. I’m trying to comfort him at the same time as I prevent him from flailing. He strains against me, but he doesn’t fight me at full strength and the nurse gets her numbers.
When she’s done, she turns to leave the room. “What happens next?” I ask, still holding Martin on the bed trying to keep him there in case she wants to do any other unnecessary procedures. “The doctor needs to see him.” “When will the doctor be in? ” “Not too long.” “Can he get off the bed in the meantime?” “It doesn’t matter.”
It matters to me, so as she exits, I carefully let him up. “Please sit with me in these chairs.” “I do NOT want to stay here.” “We need to see the doctor.” I loosen my grip and he bolts for the door.
An orderly who had been seated next to the door, looking at us through the glass now moves to block the door. Martin can’t turn the doorknob, so I easily close the distance between us, wrap him up in a hug and carry him, squirming back to the chairs.
Martin has just turned 10. He weighs 85 lbs. He’s not especially strong, but he’s very, very motivated, so holding him without hurting him is hard. I have one arm wrapped around his chest, pinning his arms to his sides. He’s on my lap. I’m on a plastic chair. I have one leg wrapped around his legs, pinning them to one another. My other arm picks up stray limbs. His whole body, all of its energy is devoted to escape. He heaves and lunges away. When he heaves I give as much ground as I dare and then gather him back up when he runs out of energy. This technique saves my energy and protects us both from the worst of the impacts that his lunges could cause.
At the same time he is demanding that I let go of him. “Can you sit still?” “I cannot sit still. I want to go home.” “We need to see the doctor, first.” “I do not want to see the doctor.”
Occasionally during our fifteen minute struggle, one of the people on the other side of the glass pokes their head in the door. First, an orderly, offers to take a turn holding Martin. I feel like Martin would stay relaxed a bit better if I do it, so I ask the orderly for holding technique suggestions. He watches for a minute and says he thinks I’m doing ok.
A bit later, Jen comes in for a bit and sits beside us. “I can’t believe this. What’s wrong with him?” “I know. But, what’s going on out there? What’s going to happen next? What are they doing?” “The doctor will be in in a bit. ” “Would it be alright if we show him a movie in the meantime? We’ve got to get him thinking about something else. Would you like to watch a movie, Martin?” “You mean like Wall-e?” “Yes, like Wall-E.” “Yes. Can you get it on your phone?” “If I could get Wi-Fi.”
A woman comes in and asks us a few questions about Martin’s history. “Can you help us get connected to the Wi-Fi?” I ask. “I’m not sure.” I take out my phone and ask Jen to see if she can get connected. “It needs a password. Do you know it?” The woman doesn’t know it, but says she’ll check and see. She leaves and we don’t see her for a while.
Martin broke free and made it to the door again, but I caught up to him again before he breached it and got him back to the chair. “Please see if you can get this connected, dear,” I begged. Jen left the room and I could see her out in the hallway asking people for the password.
Minutes pass and eventually a different woman brings an iPad into the room. She shows it to Martin. “Does it have Wall-E on it?” “No, but it has Sesame Street games.” The woman taps and app icon. Martin turns his head away from the iPad and says, “I want to go home, NOW! I do not want to play Sesame Street.” I say, “He’s very specific about what he wants. It’s not going to work to just offer him random things.” She’s really trying. “I think it has some Clifford games on it, too. “He’s going to want to see something he’s already familiar with. Do you have any Wild Kratts or Phineas and Ferb videos?
She really wants to help. “Let’s try the, TV.” “Do you know the Wi-Fi password?” “No. Do you think he might want to watch the TV.” “That depends.” She turns on the TV and for a moment Martin doesn’t struggle. “This is not Phineas and Ferb!” The commercial fades and Spongebob, Squarepants” comes on. Once, when he was six, someone asked us if Martin could watch Spongebob in front of Martin and we said “No, that show doesn’t seem appropriate for him.” or something. He overheard us and from then on whenever someone mentioned Spongebob Martin acted as if someone had suggested we eat a human for dinner. So, the minute the