Friday, September 19, 2008

The Hospital Waiting Room

The University of Alberta walk-in mental health clinic looms large in my memory, and not in a good way. My experience is over fifteen years old now, so hopefully they have improved things since my visit.

It was not a good time. My son was a very depressed pre-teen. I dreaded the possibility that he was developing schizophrenia. It runs in the family, you see. Children's Services had started to get involved, and one of their first priorities was to assess his potential for suicide. Perfectly understandable. They wouldn't want to be held liable for a death while under their care. So they asked us to visit the above-named clinic to get assessed. So far so good.

The clinic was fairly new at the time, and the waiting room was clean and modern, the colors soothing. My son and I were both given a long survey to complete where we were to check off all our fears and phobias. In my enthusiasm, I was probably more honest than I needed to be. Just because I skeedadle up the basement stairs at night because of the boogeyman who lives under there, doesn't mean I am a less capable adult. I've even been able to go up the stairs s-l-o-w-l-y, heart in my throat, daring the boogeyman to grab my ankles. I can override my overactive imagination with a dose of common sense.

I am absolutely fearless, on the other hand, when it comes to spiders, snakes, mice, wasps, bees, and all sorts of wiggly things. I'm just as likely to take hold of it to get a good look. My hubby has caught on to this facility, and has put me to good use, asking me calmly to "get rid of it" while he trembles like a schoolgirl.

Anyways, back to the "walk in clinic" intake process. My son and I fill out the forms and wait, patiently. We finally get to see the doctor, and he explains the presence of several interns as this is a teaching hospital. So far so good.

He tells me that he would not be doing an assessment, as my son was already scheduled to visit a premier child psychologist in the city. I got the sense the man did not want to provide a conflicting diagnosis. I get upset. I'd been asked to attend this clinic on the best advice of Children's Services. I don't want my son do die of suicide either. "So you tell me you will do nothing for me? That the forms in the waiting room, our hour wait, was for nothing?"

He tells me that Children's Services should not be using their service as some sort of clearing house. "I see." Near tears, I clammed up and left.

That experience left me with a burning conviction that conflicting agencies should never use the people coming through their door to make a point. What did that clinician expect me to do? Write my MLA? "Know for next time", if there ever were a next time? I was a mother in crisis, very near the breaking point myself. I needed help from the experts I was referred to. I did not need to be dragged in to a turf war.

It also made me wonder which sector of the mental health community that clinic intended to care for. Signs in the waiting room and notes on the application forms made it clear that they were not set up for crisis care or serious chronic mental illnesses. I tried to imagine my mother, while in full-blown manic phase, voluntarily attending weekly sessions at this pleasant clinic. They were also obviously not there to assist Children's Services in providing on-the-spot assessment of a client's risk for self harm. So who is left? The chronically depressed and the narcicissts? People with spider phobias?