My son officially began his stay on August 29, 2011, with the Wolverine Team. I would have email and phone contact with his case manager, which would be both a blessing and a curse. School was about to begin in a few weeks and he was getting settled into his new environment. His mother was really struggling with alcohol and even attended a 21-day treatment program in the local hospital, where coincidentally she had earlier been housed one floor above our son, who was in the psychiatric ward. My older son was still technically living with her, and complained about new people living with them and that he saw a gun. I opened a social services case and he began living with me permanently on October 19th. It was during this time I seriously considered getting a lawyer to pursue custody of both sons.
Work in my new job was very busy and I was steadily going through my 5 level CDC’s, at the same time fulfilling roles as the superintendent. Our Wing had a steady flow of visits and inspections, including a huge command inspection, which happened once every three years. School began for our sons and I was constantly on the phone with teachers, doctors, therapists and insurance personnel. I talked to them so much, I had to increase our verizon plan. In fact, I talked to insurance and medical personnel more than my family. All my friends in the area had either separated or PCSed, leaving me with no friends; all I had was my kids and wife.
The new center started out great for my son and he quickly developed a bond with his new therapist, who was heavy into arts and crafts. He began school and spent much of September fluctuating between good and bad days. It was noted, like an early test had revealed, that he saw the world through a coke bottle, not being old enough to think things through and usually resorting to either fight or flight. On September 30th, a social worker tried to interview my son about the principal abuse when he was in third grade, but he shut down, so the case was closed due to lack of evidence. They had stopped his medications, and then started him on Zoloft again. By October 13th, he was already up to 14 safety holds. He had tried to electrocute himself and also jump out of a window, but the staff restrained him. The battle with insurance began immediately and his director had to constantly update blue cross and blue shield, which wanted him discharged as soon as possible. I was told most children in the centers were wards of the state, because parents could not afford care. I learned that the max we had met would be reset on January, so I would need to pay another $2500 to meet the new max.
In the middle of August I drove on a medical TDY to visit my son, I would be his only visitor during his stay. They had an apartment on campus and I was able to take him into town to eat and go to the movies. He was happy and excited, but also sad his mother and younger brother could not come. During this time I noticed the charts of points they collected were similar to ones in the past, so I collected all the data points and literally charted his ups and downs. This got them to start considering the fact that he may in fact Bi-polar. They added celexa to his medication and melatonin at bedtime to help him sleep.
During this time period his mother separated from her husband and a new boyfriend moved in with her. I was able to take another medical TDY and pick him up at a location halfway to our house, because they had a bus service which dropped children off for visits. He was able to spend Thanksgiving with the entire family in town and we even had an early birthday party for him, celebrating him turning 11 years old. His next visit was Christmas and things then went from bad to worse. During this visit I privately gave him aloe cream to heal his rug burns he had from holds on his forehead and arms. On Christmas Eve, we all were enjoying dinner and he asked where his mother was. I received a call from her, drunk and in tears, talking about killing herself. I took a family member to attend to her and he did not see his mother. He went back to his center and they had a social event to celebrate the New Year.
His mother entered another treatment center and I contacted a lawyer to get custody of the children. Around this time we also refinanced our home, mostly to keep my mind busy. I started to develop a twitch in my eye and my wife noticed my teeth grinding had really started to get bad at night. Having no choice but to prepare for my son’s eventual discharge, I submitted for voluntary medical retirement on 1 December 2011. At work, things were going well and we passed our big inspection with flying colors. My boss sometimes would drink and text me inappropriate things, but I was able to ignore them and focus on work. Most of January was filled with emails from his case manager, talking about safety holds, suicide watches and him cutting himself. They were worried that he might be dissociating, as one night he was incoherent and chanting for hours, while crying.
My mother, who is also bipolar, kept pushing for him to take Lithium, known as a miracle drug for some. I talked to his case manager, therapist and they talked to the doctor and after seeing all the statistics I providing, they agreed to try lithium. A lot of bipolar people have perhaps an episode a month, whereas my son was having them almost daily for no reason. The medicine had an immediate effect and it seemed to level him out. From that point on his anger and sadness were held somewhat in check.
On Jan 19, 2012, I was walking to my oldest son’s basketball game when I got the best email on my cell phone imaginable. It was from AFPC and my retirement had been approved. The following week, after doing the math, I determined I would be able to retire around July, the same as projected for my son’s discharge. My boss was not as happy and cursed me out, accusing me of abandoning him and the shop. The reason I had 110 days of leave was due to not being able to safely take leave for years with my son in the centers.
That may have been the lowest point in my military career.
My ex-wife signed the paperwork and I had sole physical custody of both boys, switching from me paying her $1200 a month, to her paying me $450 a month. She moved into a halfway house and her aunt helped rent her house to keep the bills paid. I was not seeing any bills from my son’s stay but I knew they were on the way. Since custody changed to me, based on my income, his Medicaid ended. I was really worried about what would happen when he returned home. His insurance was attempting to discharge him and I had to work heavily with his case manager to make sure they gave full reports and showed, based on testing, that he was not fit to reenter society. His mother’s insurance through blue cross and blue shield was going to come to end, for awhile I helped her pay higher premium via Cobra to maintain the plan she had, because she had been let go from her job while she was in the halfway home. I was very scared at what future options I would have without blue cross and blue shield or Medicaid.
From February 27 to March 12, the head doctor completed a new full and complete diagnosis on him. After years of hospitals and centers, they finally determined he in fact had Bipolar II disorder, Childhood Onset-Recurrent Major Depressive Episodes with Hypomanic Episodes. The doctor told me that he was initially on the fence, but by all the evidence we presented and statistical data, there was an overwhelming case to be made for the diagnosis. A lot of doctors had started to back away from this type of diagnosis on a young child, so secretly I celebrated, because it would make his insurance approval more likely. It struck me as odd that the better he did the more likely they were to want to discharge him and the worse he did the easier it was to keep him in treatment.
This made it very clear to me that my son’s treatment, insurance wise, was more about money than healthcare and that was a very disturbing conclusion to arrive at.
By all accounts, he was doing very well in school and even joined a drum club. He applied and was selected to work a job on campus in the compost department, carrying foods to the garden every even for a few dollars. From February to May he continued to fluctuate with sometimes bad and sometimes good behavior. He had a new mentor and was even able to go on skiing trips. I was able to conduct Skype sessions where his mom and younger brother would come over and we all would meet with his therapist over video. This had a huge effect on lessening his anxiety, as he could see they were safe and sound. At one point during this time I even attended AA with my ex-wife, as I was over ten years sober and understood the terrible affects of alcohol addiction.
I went on multiple medical TDYs and brought him back to town for visits. Blue cross and blue shield were really pushing even harder now to discharge him, so we pushed through a plan to keep him in treatment until the school year ended. At one point we had to get the overall medical director of the entire district to contact the medical director of blue cross blue shield, just to keep him in treatment. The lithium was really doing wonders and he was able to complete treatment and was discharged on June 8, 2012. The good thing was that he was coming home, the bad thing was that I had no idea how he would handle being home, if he was capable of attending public school and most of all, how he would handle living with me full time. Only time would tell.
Tomorrow: Part 4, Shodair Children’s Hospital.
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]