A Balcony View: Hospital battle ends, but the war ensues

This is the final chapter in a series.

It is early Monday morning. As he had promised his son the night before, the father arrives at BHC Alhambra Hospital hoping to speak with the physician in charge of the juvenile unit. The 72-hour psychiatric hold has expired. The father is now trying to understand why the hospital has placed an additional 14-day psychiatric hold on his son despite verbal and written objections.

After trying unsuccessfully to speak to his son's doctor, the father has to settle for a nurse.

"I want my son released. I already know this can happen if I agree in writing that it goes against hospital recommendations."

The nurse shows the father a document.

"Your wife has faxed us a court order saying she has primary physical custody."

"True, but I have joint legal custody and I am exercising my right to refuse your services on behalf of my son," the father replies.

"That doesn't matter. The boy's mother wants him to stay. So we are not releasing him."

The father quickly realizes that getting angry with a nurse will accomplish nothing. He walks out.

Two days prior, the father began speaking with a new therapist for his son. The therapist had already agreed to meet with the boy in the hospital. He calls the therapist, who promises to meet with the boy and likewise meet with his doctor.

Three hours later, the therapist calls and says he had a very nice chat with the boy. He doesn't believe the boy is a threat to himself or others. The therapist is unable to talk to the doctor, but is told he would be in touch.

The therapist is also hopeful that the boy can be released soon. The father feels a glimmer of hope. Someone is in his corner and disagrees with his ex-wife's opinion.

When the father returns for visiting hours, there is hope in the boy's face — hope that his father has found a way to get him released.

"So you met with the therapist?" the father asks.

"I really like him."

"Did you talk to [your doctor]?"

"No one's talked to me yet," the boy says.

The father's eyes go wide.

"So you've been here another day without a doctor seeing you? In the four days you've been here, how much time have you spent talking to any doctor?"

"Less than 15 minutes total," the boy replies. "But [the doctor] is inside right now."

When the father hears that, he summons a nurse.

"I want to speak to [the doctor]."

"I'll let him know," the nurse responds.

"Am I getting out?" the boy asks his father.

"I've done everything I can. I got here early and tried to get you out. But right now there's nothing I can do. No one will talk to me. I am so sorry that I can't keep my promise."

The boy stops. Tears roll down his cheeks. The father feels anguish unlike any other.

The nurse returns and tells the father that the doctor will be out momentarily. More time rolls by. Visiting hours end. The father doesn't move. Another nurse comes out.

"Please let [the doctor] know that I intend to stay until he speaks with me."

Another 30 minutes go by before the doors to the hospital open.

"He can't come out to speak to you. But he's releasing your son tomorrow. And visiting hours are over."

The father and son look at each other. A sense of relief overcomes them.

"I'll pick you up in the morning," the father says. As he walks to the car, he considers the fact that the doctor never spoke to him. Worse still, he never took the time to talk to his son, the patient!

The next morning, the father arrives to pick up his son. As a nurse goes over the discharge papers, the boy sneaks up on the father.

"Hi Daddio!" the boy yells.

The father immediately senses something isn't right.

The nurse continues to explain the paperwork and prescriptions.

"What about Ativan? Can I have more of that?" the boy shouts.

"No. I'm afraid that's too addictive," the nurse says.

The father realizes that they've given his son Ativan — yet another drug — without his consent. The father remains singularly focused on getting his son to the car and away from the hospital.

Finally a nurse arrives with the boy's personal belongings, opens the door, and the boy is free. The 108-hour ordeal is over. But the fight continues.

Last week, bills began to arrive — thousands of dollars owed for services, which by any standard should be considered negligent. In more than four days in a psychiatric facility, the teenager spoke to a physician for less than 15 minutes. He was given a variety of drugs despite the verbal and written objections of the father, who is joint legal custodian.

No individual therapy was ever offered. No individual of real authority ever spoke with the father. And despite one doctor in the hospital agreeing that the boy was not a threat to himself or others, the hospital attempted to hold the teenager an additional 14 days.

In the father's eyes, BHC Alhambra Hospital is no better than the sanitariums of the 1920s. They lock up patients, prescribe drugs as primary therapeutic service and exhibit little to no regard for the wishes of patients or legal custodians.

The father is still refusing to pay for their services. He has begun reporting their negligence to the proper governing bodies. He vows to see that the physician in charge of the juvenile unit's unethical practices and the hospital's procedures are reviewed and is looking for the best malpractice attorney he can find.

How do I know? I am the father.

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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