There are a ton of ways to kill yourself. I’ve learned over the years in this field that just because you try to kill yourself, doesn’t always mean you want to die. In children and teenagers, their brains aren’t fully developed enough to completely comprehend the effects of trying to complete suicide. I’ve had young patients, four, five, six-year-old kids who have tried to kill themselves. Taking a bottle of pills. Running out in front of a car. Tying things around their necks. Afterwards, they’ve said, “I was just mad,” “I’m sad,” “No one will listen to me.” If children aren’t properly taught how to handle their emotions and what they actually mean, this is what can happens. This is why every parent needs to take brain development and parenting classes, but we can save that soapbox for another day.
She was really overweight. Her hair was dyed blue and pink. The first time I met her, my heart broke. There is always something about truly depressed patients that eats at my insides. The look in her eyes when I introduced myself to her: emptiness. She had just turned 16 years old before coming to the facility and had been in and out of foster care and placements her entire childhood. She had no recollection of her biological parents and we had no family history aside from the foster homes she had been bounced around to. She never had visitors; no real outside support. We knew that she had an extensive sexual abuse history from her first foster dad as well as from a recent foster mother. She had physical abuse in the past from a “grandparent” who was living with her in the most recent foster home, therefore she decided to run away. That was the most recent reason for the removal and why she was placed into the residential facility.
Many kids who are placed into residential are so do to AWOLing. So many of these children run. Away from their homes, fosters homes, group homes. They run for a reason.
And then they get “punished” for it.
Our system is flawed. So flawed. I could type a million words on how and why but the truth is, it’s not anyone’s fault. They’re overworked, underpaid, and honestly, there is no where for these kids to go. There aren’t enough workers in this field and the money and resources are extremely lacking as well as the knowledge base and experience needed to truly make a difference.
That’s one reason why I hate this field. Children are suffering because we can’t do everything we need to do. We are failing them.
Children run from abusive homes. Sexual. Physical. Emotional. They run so they can avoid seeing domestic violence; avoid seeing drug use. They run so they are not raped or sold into sex trafficking. They run away to be safe.
Imagine. Being a child and feeling the need to run away in order to feel safe. Living on the street, sleeping outside. Ending up somewhere where you have no food, no shelter, no water. And this is all because they are not feeling safe. Imagine. Depriving yourself of food, water, shelter all in order to feel safe. This is another one of the reasons why I struggle so much with caring for adults who place children in these situations.
So she ran. She was being beaten by her foster dad’s father. So she left. They didn’t report her missing. Go figure. But she was found a few days later by the police and brought to residential shortly thereafter. She had an extensive history of suicide attempts. At least six, if I’m remembering correctly. Every time I would see her, she was crying. She never had any future goals. She had no motivation, no desire. If you asked her, she would tell you, “I feel nothing and I just want to die. Please just let me do that.” I always told her that I would never let that happen and that she’d be safe while I was around.
A few months after being in residential, having group therapy every day and having new medications started, I noticed a slight change in her. She hadn’t had any suicide attempts since being in residential. She would crack a smile when I would try to joke with her in the morning during medication pass. As the days went on, I noticed her actively participating in groups, smiling and even laughing. She was able to carry on full conversations with me without stopping mid-sentence to look down at the ground. I was hopeful that she was finally turning around and realizing how amazing she was and how important she was to the world.
I was working a second shift one night and noticed how happy she had become. Overly happy. She was laughing and running around on the unit. She gave me a hug and said she was in a “great” mood. She even told me that she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: a nurse. I found myself asking her often what she wanted to be when she got of residential and she would always say “I’m never getting out of residential alive.” So when she told me she wanted to be a nurse, that she had a future goal, my heart was happy.
When I went back to the nursing office after this conversation with her, I sat at the computer and started to do my charting. Little things like seeing her smile made me love my job and made me feel like I was doing something right. I was finishing up for the night and being the only nurse there meant making sure the nursing office was locked up and everything was finished and ready for the incoming shift in the morning. As I was locking the cabinets my walkie started to screech.
“We have a medical emergency and need the nurse!”
I grabbed the emergency bag and ran out of the nursing office and toward the unit calling for help. I was slipping gloves on my shaking fingers as I opened the door to the unit and saw right away where everyone was standing: in this girls’ bedroom. I quickly scanned the unit and saw multiple other girls on the unit standing in their doorways to their own rooms, crying. There were staff members standing in the doorway to this girls’ room and I noticed two of the staff members on their knees on the floor.
“She’s in her room, nurse Brandy! You have to go help her!” One of the other patients screamed as I ran over to the room and pushed past the staff that were standing there.
She was lying on the floor on her back. Her face slowly turning purple.
“It’s floss. It’s so tight, I can’t cut it off,” one of the staff members said as he sat on the floor beside her with the safety scissors trying to cut this string from her neck.
It was the smallest, thinnest amount of floss. She had wrapped it around her neck twice and tied it. You’d think it would be easy to cut off. But it wasn’t.
Like I mentioned earlier, she was very overweight. She had tied the floss so tight into her neck that it was almost invisible because it was being covered by her neck rolls. If the staff member doing room checks didn’t see her on the floor, she would have been dead.
As all nurses know, we aren’t allowed to have acrylic nails. They hold a vast amount of germs and make it hard to do all the detail work required for us nurses. Blood work, IVs, keeping gloves on without poking a hole in the fingertip. But I had just went on vacation and had my nails done prior to going. I didn’t take them off before going back to work because, well, I paid for them! They saved her life that day. Everyone was trying before I arrived to the unit to get under the floss enough to have it removed, but couldn’t. I was able to stick the tip of my acrylic nail under the smallest section of floss and I ripped it off with one quick pull. It snapped off and I watched the color slowly return to her face as she gasped for air.
“I was almost there, you bitch. You were supposed to let me die,” she said to me as she slowly regained consciousness.
“You’re not dying on my watch. I told you already, I’m going to keep you safe,” I whispered to her as I fought back tears. I was so anxious and then relieved and then upset. It was a mix of emotions every time; saving someone who didn’t want to be saved.
A few months later she was discharged into a group home.
I wonder if she’s still mad at me for saving her life.