His last day before being kicked out of school at the end of January 2011, started out like any other day.

A few hours later he was suspended for two days and he was taken to the emergency room (ER), where he proceeded trash the room we were placed in. The doctor said there was nothing he could do and discharged him. Later that night he was very oppositional and I called Northwest Human Services in town to get a crisis bed for the night, but was told there was none available. I drove him to the local police department and asked the sergeant on duty to talk with my son. I thought maybe he would remember my son from calling 911 a few months earlier when he got in trouble for not listening. The sergeant came to the truck, but my son would not talk with him. After the sergeant left, my son refused to put on his seat belt, so they had to restrain him, while he fought and kicked him. I requested an ambulance and soon he was headed back to the ER. At this point the local psychiatric ward doctor was tired of accepting him and the doctor came in with his head down to tell me there were literally no beds available in the whole state. We stayed in the ER for hours under armed guard until a bed opened up around midnight. The bed was in a town four hours away, so I called my commander and informed him I was going in the ambulance and would have to make things up as I went along. Upon arrival, they accepted him and asked me if I had a ride and a place to stay. I said no and they let me sleep on a couch in the waiting room. 

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The next ten days were a whirlwind and I was able to stay on a local base and worked though my command staff to get a rental car, as they had daily visits available. The new doctor was very friendly and they welcomed any and all family. She engaged in conversations about new medications and I was wary because one had made him hallucinate and there was always the risk of developing irreversible tics. One visit we played cards and out of the blue he stood up and told me he felt like breaking stuff, so I called security. The days were long at lodging and the walls closed in on me. He had kicked some holes in the wall and been on suicide watch, so every time my phone rang, I was immediately scared to hear he killed himself. We were still a while away on the waiting list for Pride Manchester House, which was just over 110 miles away. The doctor said she could keep him for 10 days max, due to insurance approvals. This gave me enough time to go back home, where I tried to square up things on base and they worked up quick medical orders. A sergeant from the medical group called me up and grilled me for the rental car, which was both amusing and upsetting.

I tried to line up another residential center close to where he was staying, but the doctor told me he really needed to get into Pride Manchester House as soon as possible. Luckily a bed was opening up early, so I setup a plan to get him from the hospital, which was 4 hours away, and swing back around to the town that was 110 miles away and pray he wouldn’t jump out of the car. Around this time his mother was getting even worse, constantly fighting with her new husband and heavily drinking. After picking him up and making the journey in the cold northern winter, we arrived at the hotel on February 1, 2011. The bed did not open up right away, so we spent a few days in the hotel and he begged his mother to come visit before he went away. Although I was still technically paying her $1200 a month in child support, she claimed she had no gas money and never came. Although we were together in the hotel, I could see the look of loneliness in his eyes. While there social security called and finalized what they needed for his claim. A few days later he was officially admitted to the house and I had to sign papers agreeing to any and all charges. Most 24-hour residential centers run up to $500 per day. Our saving grace was that we had Blue Cross Blue Shield, Tricare and Medicare, in that order.

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While in the small house, which only had 8 other young children, they started his medications from scratch. He would see a new medication doctor who worked for the main hospital in town. They were still going off his given diagnosis, so they tried to match medications that fell in line with it. His insurance allowed off site visits, so from time to time I would go visit him. After a few months and upon hearing they would reimburse expenses, his mother started to visit as well, sometimes stayed in the next hotel room by us. They tracked his progress and again it became apparent that every 4 or so weeks his numbers would drop drastically. He attended school right on the campus and amazingly had no issues whatsoever. It seemed to small class and attention given did the trick. Around this time in Minot, we were bracing for a 100-year flood and all around town there were sand bags bracing for the worst.

I was still in my missile squadron and they still were making me go to retrain in Texas. In fact, they made me sign for orders to PCS to a town four hours away. His mother still technically had primary custody and I truly had no idea what I was going to do if they made me PCS. My wife was still in the military and our sons were attending schools in town. To be safe, I had a garage sale and sold a lot of big items, in the event we would have to sell our house and get an apartment at my new base. After a visit and therapy with my son, I was off to Lackland AFB, Texas and arrived on February 28 to start my new Safety Apprentice Technical School. The class was easy, but I had to take breaks and have conference calls with the doctors and therapists over a thousand miles away. I never lived making decisions on medications being so far away. The plan was for him to get treatment and therapy, and then be discharged around the end of August. While there he was on zoloft and later Depakote. They thought that he was spoiled and had parent child issues stemming from that.

He met with doctors, therapists and even had a mentor while he was there. There were some major developments while he was there. His mother agreed for him to stay with me upon return, she admitted her drinking problem and he opened up more about his principal in his third grade school. Things started off good, but during the darkest time, he was placed on suicide watch and I got a phone call saying he had admitted to a plan he had which included hanging himself. He got in trouble over the months for hiding weapons in his room and was even technically discharged and sent to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital there. He was admitted back and luckily the insurance had met the max, so his treatment there did not cost us any money.  Some of the worst nights were him being placed for hours in a small locked and padded room, where one time he even managed to break the small thick glass window with either his hand or head. By protocol they had to call to say he was going into seclusion. This happened many times, at random, no matter what I was doing, the phone call would come and the sleepless nights followed. 

While I was in school in Texas I was able to arrange staying at my current base and they cancelled my PCS orders. I literally was moving to an office 50 feet from my old one. I graduated and flew home on April 19, then immediately went to visit my son. He continued to do well in school and even hosted a Native American exhibit there. He always loved to do arts and crafts every institution he was in. He continued to make progress, and then have setbacks and we all kept up our visits and therapy. His step-dad had been calling him and was telling him bad things about his mother, so we had to restrict his calls. Through therapy and the trust he had built, he finally spoke about how mean his principal was and how he had physically hit and threatened him. Some things were starting to add up, but there still was never a “why”, as to his mood swings and opposition.

I settled into my new job on wing staff, which was undermanned and overworked, after not receiving SRE from my previous Commander. My boss was nice and my command staff helped with my travel orders along with a nice lady from the medical group who worked with Exceptional Family Member cases. At the end of June, Minot was flooded and 10,000 people had to evacuate. I spent a lot of time filling sandbags and helping my friend rebuild his house. My co-worker’s house was flooded and she soon PCSed overseas, leaving our shop down to just my boss and me. July came and went with visits and therapy really making good progress, but we were all getting nervous about his return, which was fast approaching. During this time I crafted a back-up plan to get him into a residential center which was highly regarded, but was in another state, nine hours away. There was an ungodly amount of paperwork that was required, including a 100 page application, an interstate impact agreement along with yet another primary doctor referral that needed to be approved by both the local hospital medical director and the blue cross blue shield medical director.

On Aug 17, 2011, I was at work and got a phone call that he had had an altercation with staff, fled their grounds and was being pursued by the police. They found him a few hours later by a gas station, discharged him fully from Pride Manchester House and admitted him to the local psychiatric ward. The doctor on call was the same doctor who worked at the center he was on, so he did not want any parental interference. He did not allow me or his mother to talk with him and the first few days were really touch and go. I got a call he had to be restrained and sedated, because he kicked staff and was spit at them. I activated my back-up plan as fast as I could and spent countless hours begging doctors and insurance providers to approval treatment in the new center out of state. Insurance barely approved the short stay in the psychiatric ward and I pleaded with the nurse and his doctor to let me get him into another facility. My son would later tell me that his doctor told him if it weren’t for your dad, I was going to admit you and let you rot in the state mental hospital. Ironically a year later, the state hospital would stop admitting children for mental health treatment.

During the time he was in, I was back home attending to our other sons, as the military sent my wife on a TDY. I flew our oldest son to S.C. to stay with his grandparents for a while. On Aug 26th, I started my medical TDY and drove to get him from the hospital. Upon arrival, he was washing his shoes and the nurse told me he had been doing so for hours. We went to eat, then back to the hotel. While there we were unpacking his box and I came across a net and he told me that was the net they placed on his head as an anti spitting mask. I will never get over the visual and that really shook my resolve. Sadly his mother did not come to visit, due to her finances and martial issues. I had talked to the admission representative from the center nine hours away and we setup a meeting for Aug 29th. Just as we had done back in February, we drove off to a new residential treatment center and really just had more questions than answers after the last failed treatment. At that time blue cross blue shield had not approved any more care and in fact there was a good chance they would not. We spent a day fishing and going to the pool and that night he slept with his pet pig, which was a stuffed animal he had, another visual I cannot get out of my head.

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We had the meeting in the new center and all the doctors and therapists were there. During a break, the administrator checked his voicemail and blue cross blue shield had left a message giving approval for a few days of treatment and with that, the miracle had happened. They agreed to accept him and I was able to take him to subway before leaving on the nine-hour journey back home. I left him his glasses, as he would be started the fifth grade soon and the medication had given him poor vision in one eye. This time I knew they were going to keep him hopefully 6-9 months, depending on the insurance approval, so it made the goodbye especially hard. The drive home was very long and I had no idea what the future would hold, only that I would take it one day at a time.

Tomorrow: Part 3, Northwood Children’s Services.

Steven Mayne is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. He welcomes reactions to this story both in the comment section and via email at [email protected]

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