A Father’s Campaign After Mental Illness Takes His Son

John and his Grandmother at Ft. Logan Hospital

John and his Grandmother at Ft. Logan Hospital

“Dear Pete”  — the letter begins — “let me tell you about my son, John, and his struggles with mental illness.”

John began to first manifest his mental illness twenty years ago when he was only fifteen. The diagnosis bounced from depression to schizophrenia to schizo-affective disorder and everything in between.

John had been going to a mental health center but when mental health was cut by more than half during the Bush era, services dried up.  He was left with no where to go. I was working as a physical education teacher and I began bringing John to school each day. He slept on a mat in my office. Gradually, his Clozapine began to bring about change and he stopped sleeping, and became a much loved full time volunteer at my school.

After eighteen years,  his Clozapine began to lose it’s potency and  John started going downhill swiftly. I had to retire to take care of him. Our lives became a nightmare. One night in my house, John swallowed 50 Tylenol, 50 Ibuprofen, and 30 Zyrtec in a suicide attempt. I followed the ambulance to the hospital, but because John was  incoherent, he couldn’t sign a HIPAA wavier. I can’t tell you how awful it is to live through total silence for 17 days knowing that your child is in a hospital and has tried to kill himself but not knowing his fate.  The hospital wouldn’t even admit to us that he was there!

Miraculously, he survived without any known permanent organ damage.

Being off his medication while he was on a Tylenol antidote, however, caused a terrible crash. Shortly after he was released from the Colorado State Mental Hospital at Ft Logan, John became incoherent, crawling on his hands and knees, urinating on the wall in the corner of his room.

Last November 16th, John passed away. Cause: Undetermined.  What killed him  is not measurable. That’s the official line, but having talked recently with the coroner for about an hour, I understand what happened. It was his mental illness and the stress from 20 years of daily Fight or Flight.

John and I were closer than two people could be. Losing him was like losing one half of my body.

Two weeks after his death, Ft. Logan had a memorial service for clients and staff who knew John. I honestly didn’t want to go because we had John’s service the week before, and I didn’t want to go back and do it again. But I went. For an hour, I heard person after person stand up and talk about John, saying the he never once complained, never gave up hope, even on the morning he passed. He always  had a ready smile and was in a hurry to comfort others, including staff. The nurse that was assigned to John said John had positively impacted his life more than anyone else he had ever met.

I finally understood the WHY about my son? John was here to give light to others, to help lessen their loads, and encourage them in difficult times, which he was too well acquainted with.

His loss for me is immeasurable, but it is mollified by the knowledge that his life meant something and that I WILL see him again. My son and I are Christians. I say “are” because my message to others is that John has gone to ‘Graduate School.’

I visited Ft. Logan two to three times a week when John was there, hundreds of times over a period of 3 to four years. It kills me that something as insignificant as visiting but as powerful as smiling and recognizing would be so difficult because of HIPAA.

I am a serious techie and John’s death clarified for me a new purpose.  Whenever I visited, I always brought my iPad and it was amazing what it meant to clients that I sat down, turned it over to them, and gave them a chance to play with it. They’d see me coming and begin to grin. Wonderful for them. Wonderful for me. My goal now is to acquire six to eight iPads that I could take to Ft. Logan on a regular basis and have them add technology as an additional daily group activity. The hospital has given me permission. My church has agreed to sponsor me (It was the only way HIPAA would let me in.)

But my attempts at fund raising are frustrating. What I discovered is that those most likely to help me — Apple, Target, Walmart — won’t allow me to even approach them. They want to support other needy individuals — the physically handicapped and ill, the ones  that they will look good helping — but they don’t want to help those who dress weird, smell bad, and may say strange things. They don’t want to address today’s lepers.

If you know anyone who wants to join me in this small step here at Ft. Logan please let me know. I would love to see it spread so that people such as John can be ushered into the 21st century. Most hospitals’ idea of “work therapy” is doing word puzzle books. Imagine how much better it would be for them to utilize the literally thousands of apps that can help them in more palatable ways.

Bruce Hanson
8224 W. 90th Pl.
Westminster Colorado 80021

[email protected]

 

 

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

Comments

  1. Pete, What a touching story and wonderful purpose to John’s memory. Can you provide clarification on donation- Should money be sent to Bruce Hanson at the above address or should contact be made with the walk with [email protected] gmail. Thank you , Laura

  2. I am forwarding Bruce’s message through Pete’s email far and wide , to all
    I think may be interested. I hope everyone else wiil, too. I hope that Bill and Melinda Gates may see it and become interested!
    Computers have more than a little in common with the human brain. Their usage promotes organized, logical thinking, allowing the user to control
    and manage its many systems. Such is the task ahead, for the in-hospital mentally ill, re-learning to gain control of their mind, and develping new tools to live successfully with their unique operating system. A brain disorder or mental illness is as an alternatively programmed computer. It works and can work, though it may require different settings, modes and functions.
    For a person with MI issues, to achieve victory and expertise over a computer, is a huge step forward toward self-actualization of overcoming mental illness, and belief in the healing process.
    I sincerely hope this grand idea flies, and that soon, hands-on computer therapy is recognized as a valuable medical treatment for assisting the broken or ill mind to re-program itself to a functioning state.

  3. Bruce Hanson says

    I want and need to clarify the last part of this story, my story, so that readers will understand my motivation. In those painful years I visited John, even now the thought makes me cry, I saw so many courageous people that the world has forgotten. Many of them spoke at John’s memorial. One wore a Mountain Dew hat in honor of John, because John was seriously addicted (-B His handle on X-Box Live is Poppaholic. John passed on a Friday and by the next day, his room was cleaned out, and the other clients weren’t really informed for quite a while. Wonderful friend gone. I have pampered John with many cool things, lots of new UnderArmour gear. I wanted badly to give his things to his friends there to leave a piece of him for them to remember. As you probably know and expect, HIPAA wouldn’t allow that. I could put it a generic Lost and Found, but not give it to those who needed it the most. I want to give these people I love something special, something cool. They never get things like that. Same clothes, day after day. No Visitors. I’m hoping that a technology group could give them something to look forward to each week and that, if successful, it might be duplicated elsewhere. If you are interested in helping, you can e-mail me.

    • Dear Bruce,
      I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your son. What you are doing, in his namesake, is most laudable, and angelic.
      I am appalled to learn of the treatment given at Colorado State
      Hospital, that is, their refusal to allow individual expression via clothing, and harmless amenities. If it is so, that no visitors are allowed, many patients are suffering increased isolation. Years ago, in my state, volunteers, screened and sometimes church related, were allowed to visit state hospital patients. It worked well, as the patient was always consulted first, and the discretion of the hospital staff was involved. I know of one instance where a volunteer directly thwarted a patient’s suicide attempt.
      The death of a beloved fellow patient can be extremely traumatic for the other patients. The impact is immeasurable, as one can imagine the need for intensive grief counseling.
      Your efforts to improve the quality of life by use of computer engagement therapy for the inpatients, should be recognized and supported by the state hospital’s medical treatment team.
      I hope that you will keep Pete in touch about this wonderful endeavor, and I am praying that this very sensible, do-able avante-guarde treatment therapy will become standard fare throughout U.S. hospitals.

      ca need for grief counseling for the general public, on

      • apologies for above last line edit typo!!! -Marabe

      • Thank you so very much, Marabe. I have many favorite Bible verses, but one always stands out for me. I Samuel 16:7 Man looks at the outward appearance,but the Lord looks at the heart. It is very sad that so many fail to look beyond appearances. I honestly have never met a mental health client who didn’t respond to a smile, and wasn’t immediately receptive to the sense that I cared about himher. I didn’t have to give them a pizza party, take them to a movie, get them new clothes. They just wanted me to notice that they were there. Everything else was gravy. I am determined to encourage change so that others treat them in the way they truly deserve, warriors in disguise.

  4. For months I have hoped and hoped to make this happen. While I AM a techie, I know nothing about fund raising and web development. I apologize for the fact that i was not prepared. This has been a wonderful surprise. Tomorrow, I will post a link to a http://www.rally.org site so that those who want to help will be able to. Again, thank you so much for your support.

  5. In the larger scheme of things, this is small potatoes, but in my world it is huge. I have a fundraising site on Rally.Org, but I need quickly to find out my status in terms of taxation. I am meeting with someone from my church to see if I can move myself under the umbrella of my church so that I will not be taxed. I am a dreamer!! That makes me a little like Henry Ford, who, when he built his first car, had to knock the wall out of the building to get it out. I am in the act of knocking my wall out. The world needs dreamers, people who live out of the box, in order to bring about change. That is me, 65 year old with a new Apple tattoo, my only one ever, last week, and who signs his e-mails Bruce the Bald. I want to do this right because it needs to happen. Those of you who have loved ones struggling know all to well how little there is. I will be back directly, and I WILL make this happen. Our friends silently demand it.

  6. First of all, I want to thank Pete for allowing me to share and all of you who were kind enough to read and comment. Know that in the short time that this unlikely exposure began, a month ago, I was a lonely father with a dream. In that short period of time, with Pete’s help, I now have 6 iPads or iPad Mini’s and am awaiting a call from the volunteer director at The Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan, already having assurance from the hospital administrator. I expect this to start by mid-June. What I hope for most of all is some public exposure, someone like Pete who can share with the public the kinds of lives these courageous people have in a way that might initiate change for the better, however modest it may begin. I will be back later with an update. God Bless!!!