As soon as the St. Patrick's Day decorations go up in stores every year, I get a dull ache deep inside. The holiday was my middle son Daniel's birthday for 21 years. He was born just past midnight, so my husband Kurt and I didn't even make the connection until visitors arrived the next morning congratulating us on our "St. Patrick's Day Baby!"
Throughout the years I had quite a collection of the holiday's trinkets for his birthday parties: green plastic hats and bow ties; napkins, and paper plates with shamrocks printed on them; green balloons and crepe paper; St. Patrick's Day socks and t-shirts; and I even had saved a leprechaun figurine from his first birthday cake--that I had put on his cake every year thereafter.
This year I've decided to honor Daniel's 27th birthday by sharing his story . . . with the hope that it may potentially save someone's life--or at least save someone and their family from experiencing a similar nightmare.
If you or a loved one are presenting symptoms of mental illness: depression, delirium, anxiety, restlessness, hallucinations, mood swings, an eating disorder, a sudden change in personality, etc., make sure every aspect of health and well being, including recent sickness, sleep habits, nutritional deficiencies, water intake, high or low blood sugars, hormonal imbalances, major life changes and the like are taken into account.
And especially, if the patient is a child or teen and is carelessly given a psychiatric diagnosis--without first being examined for possible underlying medical conditions and/or causes--insist on a thorough medical exam, including blood work.
As a parent, if a diagnosis seems rushed or your gut feeling is unsettling, listen to your God-given instinct and speak up.
Kurt and I were trusting and naive eleven years ago. Even though many red flags were going off in our minds concerning the diagnosis and treatment, we didn't act quickly enough on our intuitions.
Today, I cannot unwind the clock and undo the irreparable damage, but I can sound the alarm in order to possibly save others from a similar demise.
I can no longer remain silent. Too many innocent lives are at stake--including other children who may still be living at home.
In March 2007, Daniel had an intestinal bug that lasted for several days. He had vomiting and diarrhea—and had eaten close to nothing. Since he also had Type I diabetes, his body began producing an overabundance of ketones that caused significant dehydration. He eventually became delirious, so Kurt and I took him to the emergency room.
The assessment at the ER was that he needed psychiatric care. So on his 16th birthday, he was admitted to an inpatient facility that had no focused training in caring for juvenile diabetes. They immediately started him on two antipsychotic drugs. We, the parents, were locked out of the facility except for a one-hour visit in the evenings and a two-hour visit on weekends.
Throughout the next six weeks, Daniel was injected with high doses of several psychotropic drugs in order to see how he’d react to them. The effects on his behavior were immediate and terrible. The staff restrained him, repeatedly isolated him in a padded room, and continually fed him highly processed food while struggling to lower his blood sugars below 350. (We later learned at a children's hospital, which had a pediatric psych unit on a medical floor within the hospital, that restraining and/or isolating children and teens was barbaric treatment. Parents were even encouraged to stay in the room with their child/teen, and the hospital provided a pullout bed and bedding for that purpose.)
In the evenings Kurt and I would visit a drooling, screaming lunatic crawling on the filthy floor. Prior to this time Daniel was polite and respectful. Each day that passed by he got worse. They told us that they were a facility to treat the mind, not diabetes.
After six weeks of drug experimentation, a psychiatrist wanted Kurt and me to sign the consent form to administer electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
We researched the use of ECT on minors and refused to sign it. Instead, we decided to bring Daniel back to the safety of our home in order to stabilize his blood sugars. He was released “AMA”—against medical advice.
The next day a police officer and a social worker were at our front door. The alleged accusations were “life endangerment and medical neglect of a minor.” As a result, we were forced to hire an attorney at $200/hour to investigate medical records. Plus, our home was thoroughly inspected and our other children were privately interviewed.
After the investigation Child Protective Services dropped all accusations. It was determined that his life was potentially spared because we had removed him from the facility. In Daniel’s medical records it was documented that he had become gravely ill with a heart rate of 260 bpm while in their care. The attending physician had requested his immediate transfer to a nearby emergency room—but nothing was done.
The facility dropped all medical bills.
Daniel was never the same after that. Throughout the next year he suffered from PTSD and was withdrawn and mute. Eventually, he was treated for depression. A psychiatrist put him on new meds that, once again created adverse side effects, including hallucinations. At that time he was given the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.
However, it was later determined by a psychiatrist in another state that the hallucinations were in part, a symptom of a deeper medical delirium—metabolic encephalopathy caused by high blood sugars. That, combined with drug-induced psychosis, his mind didn’t stand a chance to heal and recover via conventional psychiatric treatment.
The next summer Kurt had taken our other children to a family reunion in Missouri—and I stayed home to give oversight to Daniel. (One parent always had to remain at home during those years that he was on psych meds. We also hid knives, scissors, fireplace pokers, screwdrivers, car keys—anything that could be used to harm himself or others.)
I woke up on a Saturday morning and discovered one of the cars missing. Somehow, he had taken a set of keys. I later found out that he had driven erratically throughout two counties and had recklessly crossed a 4-lane highway a couple of times.
He was found naked; dancing and chanting in a stranger’s front yard. Needless to say, their frightened neighbor had called the police. Daniel didn’t know his name. Thankfully, his medical ID bracelet was found nearby, so they transported him to a hospital instead of the county jail.
I brought him home that night. We had hidden the knives, scissors, and tools in our garage. He started rummaging through boxes looking for them. He was getting increasingly agitated and came back inside the house and paced.
From 2am to 7am I locked myself in my bedroom—fearing for my life. Eventually, a SWAT team rescued me from the situation . . . but not without a lot of trauma and drama. Daniel was transported back to the inpatient psychiatric facility. There were no other options at that time.
It was back to drug experimentation all over again. On one of the meds he attempted to gouge his eyes out. One of his fingers got stuck in the eye socket and they had to transport him to a nearby emergency room to remove the finger out of the socket.
Throughout the years, we were never warned about the drugs’ adverse side effects: the agitation, the aggression, the mania, the tremors, the restlessness, the psychosis, the increased risk for suicide. Instead, we were told to stay off the Internet. If we asked questions about them, we were assured that the benefits outweighed the risks.
Each passing year Daniel’s mind slipped deeper into the abyss. As a result, our family was forced to experience the horrors of a mind gone insane. And, in order to protect his privacy due to the stigma and shame of mental illness, we were hesitant to reach out to friends and our church for help . . . so the ongoing silence compounded the agony and suffering for our entire family.
Had Daniel been put on a medical floor of the hospital when he was dehydrated and delusional at age 16--perhaps he would’ve recovered. Perhaps today he would be a contributing member of society.
We will never know, because just before his 21st birthday, he was put on yet another “black box warning” medication. (He was an outpatient at a mental health clinic.) The drug was well known to increase the risk of suicide in teens and young adults; yet, as always, the side effects were not discussed with Kurt and me. Nor were we warned to be on the lookout for any unusual changes in behavior—even though we had younger children at home.
On the Friday morning before Memorial Day 2012, Daniel called the clinic. He desperately asked to see anyone who could adjust his meds. Instead, he was told that no one was available due to staff shortages. I was nearby and heard the conversation.
Unfortunately, during the night before Memorial Day he hanged himself. Right before the funeral I discovered his trash can full of empty junk food wrappers and containers. In addition, I found empty sacks and receipts from fast food restaurants in his car. He had gone on a major junk food binge the week leading up to his death.
After the funeral, I found an unopened letter from the clinic addressed to Daniel--informing him of the staff shortages.
However, he no longer needed their help.
If you are interested in learning quick facts about psychiatric drugs, click here.
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In loving memory of
Daniel Maurice Boller
March 17, 1991 - May 27, 2012