The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalm 23.1-2 KJV)
My family of origin was crazy. I mean crazy. I dealt with the craziness by retreating and became a psych patient myself. My sister responded with an urge to treat the problem and became a psych nurse.
But my sister (“Karen”) is much more than any psych nurse. Many of my friends who have mental illness have great respect for her. My friend (“Curt”) always asks how she’s doing. He is grateful she asked him and a friend who also has a mental illness to sign release forms for each other. Neither has family nearby. I know Curt takes seriously his role as caregiver and calls Karen frequently when he has concerns about his friend.
Curt also gives high praise for Karen’s “sticks.” Psych clients receive more than their share of injections, and for a psych nurse to be known as a “good sticker” is like calling Pete Rose, “Charlie Hustle.”
I knew Karen was good at her job, but I only found out how good after I moved away to New York on my own. It was a very difficult period of my life. Put it this way, in 4 years living with my sister and family, I had 0 episodes. In 18 months living on my own, I had 7 that required intervention.
I would always call Karen when I could feel an episode coming on. Often in the middle of the night. She would calmly coach me through each step. Once I saw these little fleas buzzing around my face and became convinced I was infested by a exotic disease. I looked it up online and it said, they came from Haiti. I called and told her about my perceived infestation. She listened calmly, pulled out her Smartphone:
It says here you would have to live in Haiti to get this.
Haiti, I knew it. My landlord is from Haiti.
Tony, I don’t think they could survive the flight.
Then what are they?
Take one of your sleep meds.
Yes I’ve trapped a couple in a pill bottle. Where can I take them for testing?
Just go to bed. Call me in the morning.
She always knows when a situation is just funny mania and when it escalates to something more serious. In December of 2016, I was rear-ended on the interstate. I was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The Emergency Department (ED) staff was rather rough and I was late taking my evening meds (2 strong triggers for me). Though the medical tests showed no orthopedic damage, I became convinced I was paralyzed. I had remembered to bring my cell phone along, so I called Karen.
Before I moved out, I gave Karen the contact numbers for my pastor, my psychiatrist, my therapist, my landlord, and the hospital ED where I would go if anything happened. So, past midnight, she listened to me describe how I felt and how I was being mistreated. Then she would call the nurse’s station and advocate for me. Then call me back. As the night wore on, I became increasingly paranoid. At one point, I asked her to let me speak into her voicemail. I planned to sue the hospital and wanted to record accurate information while it was fresh. I texted my primary doctor to intervene. I sent an email to my divorce lawyer asking if she knew of a good malpractice attorney.
In between all this, I was calling Karen. She was calling the nurse’s station. Then calling me. Hers was the only caring voice I heard for almost 24 hours.
Finally, they admitted me to a specialized med/psych unit where I first received my meds. There people listened calmly as I went on a manic rant. I was all over the emotional map. In one two-minute burst, I went from yelling profusely, to weeping uncontrollably, to laughing like a child, to drawing back in fear. I was a mess.
Once they gave me my meds and dealt with my immediate health concerns, they asked if I wanted to call anyone. Though I knew she would not have slept at all, caring for me, I did not hesitate. I called Karen. She answered on the first ring. She had already talked to the nurses on the unit and they filled her in.
“Do you want me to come out?” she asked me.
I tried to protest, but instead blurbled into the phone. “Yes? Would you?”
She said, “Okay. I’ll make the arrangements and call you right back.”
Indiana is 500 miles from Rochester. I spoke with Karen at 7:30 a.m.. By 3:30 p.m., she walked into my room carrying a large cup of coffee and a bag full of espresso beans.
The LORD is our shepherd who leads us and feeds us, who corrects us and protects us, who remains with us in the highs and lows of life. My sister is not God, but she certainly has been a good shepherd for me and for many others. Even at 3:30 in the morning.