26 Jan 2013
(during Alice’s 3rd hospitalization)
The next afternoon the doctor from Sutter calls asking a lot of questions and answering a few. I walk out onto the sun porch at work and smoke while she talks.
“When Alice arrived, she was in benzodiazepine withdrawal. We were able to stabilize her with Klonopin and we’d like to continue that course with your consent.”
“I’m sorry, she was what?”
“Alice has confirmed that she’s been using Ativan. It doesn’t show up in tox screens, but we estimate significant usage due to the dosage of Klonopin needed to relieve her withdrawal symptoms. We would also like your consent to begin treatment with an anti-depressant and I’d like to keep her under observation for a couple of weeks until the effects of the anti-depressant kick in. That will also give us time to manage her detox.”
I consent to everything the doctor asks and hang up the phone. I see the head nurse Dawn at one of the umbrella-covered tables. I walk over and toss my phone and cigarettes onto the table before sitting down.
“That good?” she asks, with a wry smile.
“Ativan,” I say.
“I don’t have any on me, but Martha usually has Xanex if you need one.”
“I know.” I laugh. “She’s always shoving them at me when I look stressed out. But no, what is Ativan?”
“It’s a sedative. Here, we primarily use it to treat anxiety. Sometimes it’s also used for short-term relief of depression.”
“Withdrawal can be nasty. Why?”
I watch her tear two sugar packets and pour them into her coffee before lighting a cigarette.
“Alice is up at Sutter psych.”
“And they’re giving her Ativan?”
“No, Klonopin. To manage withdrawal from Ativan.”
“That’ll help, but then they’ll need to taper her off the Klonopin. It’s a vicious cycle.”
“Dawn, I don’t even know where she gets this stuff.”
“My brother, he has a kid like that.”
“And what did he do?”
“Mortgaged his house to get him into rehab which he walked out of three days later.”
“I don’t have a house to mortgage,but if I did, I’d probably do the same thing,”
I drop my cheek onto the table and Dawn pats the top of my head.
“Get Martha to pony up a happy pill to take the edge off and get back at it,” she says as she gets up to leave.
“Will do,” I answer, but I don’t. Instead, I call my mother to let her know what’s going on.
“I just saw this report on 20/20 about pharm parties,” she says.
“What?” I’m envisioning a bunch of farmers with banjos and BBQ hanging out on hay bales, the relevance of which escapes me.
“Pharmaceutical parties,” Mom says, “where teenagers raid their parents’ medicine cabinets and then get together to exchange the pills and take them.”
Immediately I think of Bret’s mother standing on my porch and Alice’s insinuation that the pills Bret took came from her mother’s medicine cabinet. Did she also have an excess of Ativan lying around? And who else’s prescriptions does Alice have access to? Is everyone we know now suspect of providing fuel for her fire?
Before we get off the phone, I remind my mother to keep her meds locked up. Then I call Grandma Kay and tell her the same thing. After that, I call Fiona from the support group as Alice has hung out at her place a couple of times now watching Top Gear.
It’s day three when I drive up to visit her. Jay is working and Max is down at the college, so I go alone. Two blocks from the hospital, I stop at a Burger King and pick up a couple of spicy chicken sandwiches. I add them to the bag filled with clean clothes, lip-gloss and mascara, all of which pass inspection at the front desk. Unlike the hospital in Fremont, visits are more casual here. We are allowed to sit alone in the day room.
“This is the only thing I’ve eaten in two days,” Alice says after devouring both sandwiches. Then she grabs the bag I brought and disappears briefly into her room, returning with fresh clothes, a brush of Cherry Blossom lip-gloss and a thick coat of Maybelline Great Lash. She curls up in the crook of my knees like she did when she was a toddler, and leans into me with a great sigh.
I can’t help but notice how subdued she is. When we visited at Fremont and on the first stay here, she was animated and occasionally agitated. Today though, she reeks of sadness. We sit for a while without words and then she asks the big question:
“When can I come home?”
“They want to keep you for a couple of weeks until the anti-depressant starts working.”
“They gave me Zoloft yesterday,” she says. “I got all panicky and told ‘em I wouldn’t take any more, so they switched to Remeron.”
“And you’re still taking the Klonopin?”
She nods. “It feels foggy, but not in a bad way. Like being stoned, but without the fun.” She turns and looks up at me. “Weeks?”
“Yeah, but they’ll go fast. Your dad and Max can come up tomorrow and then we’ll all come again next weekend. Grandma Jo and Pops can visit you early in the week too.”
She starts to cry, not silent tears but mascara-running, gut-wrenching sobs. Her nose runs and she wipes it on my sweater. All I can do is hold her. Nurses and patients walk past, peering into the day room but averting their attention once my eyes meet theirs. We sit like that until she’s all cried out and half-asleep in my lap. Finally one of the nurses pauses in the doorway and taps her watch.
“I have to go, kiddo.”
She sits up and rubs beneath her eye, smearing the mascara across her face. I brush her hair back off her forehead and lay the palm of my hand along her cheek.
“I’ll try and get the afternoon off so I can come with your dad and Max.” I know full well that I shouldn’t take any more time off from work, but I also know that I will, because the thought of leaving her here alone is wrenching and the guilt in being away from her is intense.
“I love you, Mom.”
“Right back atcha,” I say, choking on the words as I disentangle my body from hers and head for the door.
There’s something sad and hollow about returning home without Alice. She’s always been the biggest, loudest presence in the house. She’s also the only one who will hug me out of the blue. Sure, half the time she’s got an agenda, but still, I miss it. Her absence somehow mutes our family life. Max goes about his business, happy to pop his head out and greet me, but just as happy to curl back into the little world he’s built for himself with his art and music and now June. Jay goes about his business too, working long hours, here but not here, present but not present so much of the time.
I can’t remember when I started withholding details and keeping so much of the emotional turmoil to myself, but when I get home from Sacramento, I take a hot bath and settle in with a good book and a half-pint of whiskey. I don’t tell Jay how Alice wept. I don’t tell anyone. And it reminds me of the Bible verse where the apostle Luke writes, “Mary held all these things in her heart.” I always thought it was a lonely verse; now I know.