The Other Mohawk Mom (Part III)

So the story of the other Mohawk Mom and her adult son gains more substance and credence.  Her name is Susan and her son is Ray, and he’s been in and out of Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, Wright Building, Ward 39, for years.  In 2010, something happened on Ward 39.  Susan doesn’t know what happened but the end result was that her son was taken to the Emergency Room and got six stitches in his face.  Then Susan was denied visitation rights for a week. 

Why?  Susan was at her job as a dental assistant when the incident occurred.  Why, therefore, would she be denied access to her son?  Could it have been because the staff at Mohawk Valley, Ward 39, didn’t want the mother to see the extent of the physical damage to her son?  Or maybe they didn’t want Ray to tell anyone what had happened while it was still fresh in his mind and he had the facts straight?  Why was the mother denied visitation after her son was injured while in psychiatric custody?

That was in 2010.  In 2011, Susan was again denied regular visitation rights.  Her son had been discharged to the home they shared.  He became combative, which he never had been in the previous sixteen years that they’d lived together.  Susan believes it was drug withdrawal.  Ray had been on a high dose of Seroquel for a year and a half and after being discharged, he stopped taking it.

So Susan had to call the police, who transported Ray back to Mohawk Valley.  He was not arrested or charged; there were no criminal proceedings against him.  Nevertheless, Dr. Ronald Thesee restricted her visitation with her son.  (Dr. Thesee was one of the early graduates of a Catholic medical school founded in the Dominican Republic in 1978.)  Dr. Thesee also figured significantly in the story of Margaret, who was being kept away from her son Rob (see also ).

Dr. Thesee told Susan that she couldn’t have the freedom of usual visits with her son because he was a threat.  According to Susan, Ray was not a threat:  Seroquel was.  Thereafter, Susan could only see her son for fifteen minutes, three times a week, with an aide present taking notes.  If Ray is perceived as a physical threat then why is someone taking notes of what a mother and son say to each other?  What is really going on here?

Now, here’s the deal:  Visitation rights only can be restricted for clinical reasons (not, for example, to keep a mother from realizing that her son’s been beaten by the staff) and in the patient’s chart there has to be a doctor’s order for the restriction, and the doctor’s order has to include a time limit.  It has to say for one week, or for six months—it can’t be open-ended.

Susan doesn’t know any of this.  Families are not told.  The patient may be given some pamphlet of his rights but if you have schizophrenia then reading, understanding and acting upon such information is probably not going to happen.  So Susan has very limited visitation with Ray—45 minutes a week!—and doesn’t ask her son any hard questions about what’s going on because—duh—there’s this Ward 39 staff person sitting there writing it all down.

I mean, seriously, think about people imprisoned after being convicted of political crimes in China or Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.  Does this sound like what’s happening to a sick man in an American hospital?  What is done to patients in psychiatric hospitals in America is comparable to what Third World countries do to dissidents in prison.  All civil rights are nullified the moment you are taken behind the locked door.  If nobody can see what is happening, then anything can happen.  The power people with the guns or drugs can do anything they want.  Who’s to stop them?  A single mother who works as a dental assistant?

Susan tries.  She reaches out to the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and comes up against the same bad lawyer that Margaret had to deal with—the one who’s “representation” of a patient, who was going to have all his rights taken away from him via a guardianship appointment, did not include bringing the patient to court.  The Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS) attorney did not provide any useful assistance to Margaret, Susan, Ray or Rob.  I’ve never gotten any satisfaction from MHLS lawyers either.  Maybe MHLS is where bad lawyers go to collect their Civil Service benefits.  It is not where smart, sharp lawyers go to protect the rights of the vulnerable.  Like so many other government agencies, MHLS was great in conception but is critically flawed in execution.

So then Susan tries the NYS Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (quaintly known as the CQCAPD).  The CQC sends her back to the administrator of Mohawk Valley, who may or may not be Dr. Thesee.  What’s the point of going back to Mohawk Valley, Susan asks; they’re the problem!  Susan also talks to somebody who was some kind of inspector general, but she’s not sure who.  Somebody sends her a complaint form but it says that she could be sued for slander or libel.

Susan is the single mother of a chronically ill son.  Her husband bailed on her decades ago.  She works as a dental assistant and owns her own home.  Susan does not file the complaint against the doctor because she’s afraid she’ll lose her home.

Always, on her son’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and all those other holidays, Susan has gotten her son from the hospital and either taken him out for dinner or taken him home.  At home, maybe she’ll have a barbeque and invite his brother.  She always bakes a cake for Ray.  What Susan is really good at is being a mother and now she finds herself fighting a complex system of state agencies that have taken her son away from her.  Susan’s trying her best but doesn’t know what to do—then she meets me at a conference.

I know what to do.  (Stay tuned.)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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