A Balcony View: Therapy over medication

Last week, I began a story about a teenager placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold by the Glendale police. I left off with the boy about to be transferred from Glendale Adventist Medical Center to BHC Alhambra Hospital, a psychiatric facility.

Several months before this incident occurred, a psychiatrist in Glendale had begun prescribing Abilify to the boy. On more than one occasion, the father had voiced his disapproval of drugs as a long-term treatment for his son to both the psychiatrist and the boy's mother. In the father's opinion, the boy needed therapy, not pacification.

With that in mind, the father leaves a message for the psychiatrist on the evening of the boy's arrest. He wants answers. But she does not return his call. So on Friday morning, the father exercises his right as joint legal custodian — he fires the psychiatrist.

A pattern now begins to emerge. The teenager has gone from police custody to Glendale Adventist to BHC Alhambra Hospital. Yet there has been no word from anyone as to his intake or condition. The father calls BHC Alhambra Hospital looking for information. But the hospital staff refuses to discuss the matter.

The father goes to the hospital during visiting hours. It has been 24 hours since he watched his son taken away in handcuffs. The boy appears confused and upset. He wants to go home. The father tells him it is not possible.

"Have you spoken to anyone?"

"I talked to a doctor for five minutes," the boy replies.

The boy tells his father that they gave him Abilify and something else. Later, the father discovers the "something else" was Lexipro.

"I didn't know they were giving you drugs," the father says.

For the rest of the visit, the father tries to keep the conversation light. But in his mind, the father is thinking about how to get his son back.

On Saturday, the father calls BHC Alhambra Hospital again. He wants to know who has approved prescribing additional drugs to his son. He gets no answer. He calls the boy's mother, who tells him that the hospital is going to use the 72-hour hold as an opportunity to see if they can balance out the effects of the Abilify.

"Our son needs therapy, not more drugs," the father tells his ex-wife. "He's not getting it there."

"I don't feel safe with him at home," she responds.

"Then he can stay with me until things get worked out. He's never displayed the same behavior at my house," the father says.

That evening, the father and his girlfriend return to see the boy. They take him a hamburger and the conversation is kept upbeat and positive. The father tells the boy he can stay with him if he doesn't want to go back to his mom's. The boy agrees.

"You look tired," the father says. "Have you spoken to anyone?"

"No. I went to group therapy, but all we did was play a game. Plus I can't sleep here, so they gave me Zoloft and Benadryl last night."

The father looks stunned.

"At least they didn't give me booty juice. They give that to the rowdy kids," the boy says.

He explains to the father that booty juice is a name the kids used to describe the injection nurses give kids in the buttocks.

On Sunday morning, the father finally has a conversation with a doctor at the hospital. The doctor spoke to the boy briefly and believed he wasn't a threat to himself or others. During the conversation, the father discovers the boy can be released early if both parents agree and sign a waiver stating his release goes against hospital recommendation.

Encouraged, the father calls the mother and explains the situation. The mother wants to talk to the hospital before agreeing to anything. Again, the father reminds her that the boy can stay with him.

"We need to get him out," the father says emphatically. "BHC is pumping him full of drugs. What he needs is therapy to work out his anger toward you and your boyfriend."

The mother hangs up. The father spends the next few hours feeling optimistic. And then the phone rings.

"The hospital has decided to place him on an additional 14-day hold, and I agree," the mother says.


"I don't feel safe, and they need to adjust his medications," she answers.

"But you know he can go if we both agree to release him."

"I don't agree," the mother says.

"What kind of mother wants her son in a place like that voluntarily?" the father screams into the phone. But he's already talking to a dial tone.

The father's mind begins racing. He sends a fax to the hospital demanding his son's release, his refusal to pay for services he has not approved, and the violation of his rights as joint legal custodian.

That evening, the father goes to visit the boy. The boy is upbeat, believing the 72-hour hold is about to end. But those feelings vaporize when the father explains the situation with the additional 14-day hold and his mother's refusal to have him released.

"But mom was just here. Why didn't she tell me herself?" the boy asks angrily.

"Hasn't anyone talked to you? What about the doctors?" the father replies.


The boy is distraught. The father's heart breaks. His blood boils. The father asks a nurse who he can talk to. But as usual, there is no one around.

"Don't worry," the father says to his son. "I'm doing everything I can to get you out of here. I will be back in the morning to talk to someone. This is not over. I promise."

In next week's conclusion: The father's final struggle to get the boy out of BHC Alhambra Hospital.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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