[This is the true story of the darkest few months of my life. I hope and believe others can learn from it. It revolves around my daughter Anna, and Anna has reviewed and given her consent for me to post each of the parts in this series. It is her desire for others to learn from her experience. She has blogged on this experience from her perspective this week as well.]
The morning of June 24, 2011 was like any other morning. For about the first ten minutes. I had gotten up and done my usual morning routine. My wife Christy had risen early and gone over to the church to begin decorating for my oldest daughter Brittany’s open house. Brittany and Kyra (my middle daughter) were over there with her. My youngest, Anna, had awakened and headed over there a bit later but wasn’t feeling well so her mother had sent her back to the house so I could deal with her.
Anna was groggy. Her eyes looked a little strange. I guessed perhaps she was having problems with her blood sugar. Kyra had come home to get something, so I had Kyra bring Anna a PB & J sandwich with milk. Anna was struggling to eat, even to stay conscious, but I insisted on both. I began to get worried and asked her if she had taken any medications the previous evening.
“No,” she said lazily.
I called our family doctor to make an appointment. The earliest I could get was 2 pm. I was sure that by that time she would likely rebound and I would cancel the appointment, but I felt reassured to have some direction. I kept her there on the love seat and watched her, kept her nibbling on her sandwich. Soon I asked her again, “Are you sure you didn’t take anything last night?”
“Anna — did you take any medication last night?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What did you take?” I assumed perhaps she had taken some allergy medicine, or perhaps was still groggy from the melatonin the doctor had suggested to help her sleep at night.
“Half a bottle of NyQuil –” and on and on (and on) she went, although I can’t remember details now. Adrenaline surged through my veins and a wrecking ball plunged into my stomach as I realized in that moment that my bright, beautiful, intelligent, friendly, compassionate, and dearly loved 14 year old daughter had attempted suicide.
I panicked. My memory of the situation is running over to her, squeezing her face in my hands, and shouting, “Are you kidding me? Do you realize what you’ve f***ing done?!!” Later on Anna told me that her memory of what I said was, “Do you realize what that would have f***ing done to me.”
I could feel my heart pounding and I could hardly breathe. I don’t remember the list of medications now that she had taken, but I remember it sounding serious. I was scared that she was going to slip into a coma on the way to the ER and I might never see her again. I knew I needed to get her cleared medically at the clinic near our home before taking her on to the ER. I rushed her to the car and we sped off down the street and around the corner to the urgent care clinic. I got her inside and up to the counter. I explained that my daughter had overdosed the previous evening and I needed her to see the doctor immediately. The room was filled with people staring at us. I didn’t know (or care) whether they were a) judging my daughter a crazy person and me a negligent parent, b) angry that we line jumped ahead of them, or c) both.
They got us into a room right away and the doctor nearly followed us in. He got to work obtaining from Anna a list of the medications she had swallowed and I slipped outside for a moment to call Christy. With Brittany’s open house scheduled for tomorrow, we both realized what we had to do. I would take care of Anna, and Christy would stay with Kyra and Brittany at the church. One way or another, we were going to honor and celebrate our oldest daughter’s graduation, even as our youngest daughter lay in the hospital. Neither Brittany nor Kyra nor any of our dear friends who came that day to help Christy set up for the party would hear a word about this until after the open house.
As I got back into her room the doctor said to Anna, “You know, you’re one very lucky kid.” I don’t remember now what Anna said, but it was something to the effect that whether she was lucky was a matter of perspective. Or opinion. Or something else equally horrifying. He cleared us to go to the ER and I quickly had her back in the car heading towards the hospital. I could feel my face and ears burning with anger. “How could she do this to us?” Then I felt guilty. “Your daughter is obviously deeply broken right now. This is not about you.” But it was. The horror of suicide is that, while mourning the loss of your loved one, you also feel guilty, personally responsible, and furious with the deceased, all at the same time. Anna was still with us, but these emotions swirled around constantly inside of me and, I would later find, everyone else who loved and cared for her.
The next few hours were a blur. Doctors making me call Christy to have her count pills, give them milligram counts, check her bedroom for things. etc. As horrified as I was to be in the hospital with Anna, I knew it was far harder in Christy’s position. I kept stepping out making phone calls trying to make sure everything would be set for Sunday, trying to make sure the service could happen without me, trying to update her mom. Anna’s overdose on Tylenol alone was very dangerous, and it was too late to pump her stomach since she had ingested the pills the previous evening. In my anger I was disappointed to hear that she would miss the pumping. It seemed like it would be a good reminder not to try something stupid like this again. On the other hand, it might also encourage her to make sure not to fail next time.
Stepping back into her room after one last phone call, Anna was asleep. I kissed her cheek, then her forehead, and brushed her hair back over and over, feeling completely helpless, exhausted and confused. It was only then that the questions began biting around the edges of my mind. “How could you have not seen this coming?” “You make a living helping other kids with these problems. Why couldn’t you help your own child?” “Are you totally stupid?” And of course the one that wasn’t a question but was the most hurtful of all. “You are the worst parent who has ever lived. Look at your daughter now. Good job, dad.” I collapsed into a chair in the corner and surrendered to giant heaving sobs.
END OF PART 1