Teen Suicide Attempt: Day One
He scraped the ice off the van window in the morning. It’s not something he usually does, not because he’s unkind but he has ADHD and the needs of others aren’t always at the forefront for him. I noticed the gesture and shared my gratitude, assuming he was responding to my many complaints of being too short to reach the center of the windshield. In hindsight, I believe it was a goodbye.
When I picked him up from school he rambled on about his day and mentioned his heart rate had reached 125 at one point. In an off-handed way, I agreed that was high and thought nothing more about it. He has a fixation with his health. He takes his temperature multiple times a day and reports every ache, bruise and anomaly. There was no reason to be concerned, but I wish I had.
The youngest son needed a Canadian sweater for an Olympic presentation the next day and we needed some groceries, so my husband and I took him to the store. Our teen son called while we were gone. He does this often, to see how long we will be or ask us to get something. He told my husband he didn’t feel well, and he was assured we would be home soon. We finished up quickly and left the store.
The Panicked Call
On the way home we received a call from our daughter saying that an ambulance was at our house and they were taking her brother. We drove around the corner to our house. The lights were flashing. Our son was on a stretcher in front of the house with two paramedics. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
The paramedics put him in the ambulance and then one came back to talk to us. We were told that our son had taken 70 aspirin in the morning before school, then called 911 when he felt sick in the evening. He asked to see the aspirin bottle. I couldn’t think of an aspirin bottle we had other than one on my nightstand and it was full. Together, we looked through our medicine cupboard and the garbage, then searched his bedroom where we found a plastic box with a few aspirin and some razor blades.
“He has razor blades!”
“He cut himself multiple times, but they are superficial.” The paramedic filled us in.
How the hell did we get to the point where we are searching our home with a stranger to see what our 15-year-old son got into. Why would he do this? Shouldn’t they be getting him to the hospital?
He seemed to read my mind and said they should go. I said I would follow. My husband wanted to come but my daughter needed consoling and I didn’t want any of the kids alone right then.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt
The five-minute drive to the hospital felt like an eternity. I was so confused about what was happening that I convinced myself that it wasn’t true. We couldn’t find the aspirin bottle that he claimed to have put back in the cupboard, so he couldn’t have done it, right?
Reality Sets In
When I reached his side, I saw he had two IVs and his heart was being monitored while they ran a toxicology screen to see what was in his system. I knew the nurse. This wasn’t comforting for me. Living in a small town can be difficult when it comes to private matters becoming public, and I didn’t want to relive this moment every time I saw her in the future. She was asking questions and I felt myself breaking. I didn’t want to do that in front of her or in front of my son. She was kind and comforting.
Anger was creeping in. What the hell was he thinking? Why would he ever think that this was the right choice? Why would he call an ambulance instead of telling us what he did? I resisted the urge to scold him but did ask him why he did it. He couldn’t give an answer.
I asked where he got the razor blades and he told me he took them out of our pencil sharpeners. I saw him take two pencil sharpeners from my desk a few days prior. Why hadn’t I asked him what he was doing?
Hindsight is 20/20
My mind went back to the previous day when I wanted to ask him a question and his bedroom door was locked. He wouldn’t open it. I threatened to unlock it from the outside and come in so he finally opened it. I thought he had locked me out because he was hiding his ipad that he had snuck downstairs. Now I realize he was probably cutting himself. He was hurting himself just a couple of feet away from me and I didn’t realize.
The toxicology screen came back and reported aspirin in his system. I was kicking myself for not locking up the medication. I intended to but hadn’t got around to it. In truth, I probably wouldn’t have locked up the aspirin.
How did my son know that aspirin could kill him, when I had no idea?
He had taken a potentially lethal dose of aspirin, and he had researched the amount ahead of time. I wondered what other teen suicide methods he had researched. Having let it run through his system all day, it had started depleting the electrolytes in his body and was working to shut down his organs. If his kidneys shut down, the aspirin couldn’t get out of his system and he would likely die. His heart rate was dangerously high. His blood pressure low. He started to vomit, which eased my mind a bit. It had to be good to get things out of his system.
Our hospital staff worked with poison control and the London Children’s Hospital to figure out the best course of treatment and arrange for his transfer to Critical Care at children’s hospital. The severity of the situation set in and I could no longer even pretend to keep it together. There was a steady stream of tears that I could brush away but not control. I called my husband and told him I needed him there, then made the difficult call to my mom to ask her to stay with the other kids. I’m not sure how I got the words out and was probably too blunt, and she was quick to be there for us.
The ripple effect
At home, my daughter’s anxiety was at an all-time high and she was worried that her brother was angry with her. She was replaying every sibling jab she had taken at him and placing the blame fully on herself. Our youngest son was focused on the cutting that he had overheard the paramedic talk about. Their lives had turned upside down in an instant and they were trying to cope without both parents there to help. We had to triage our kids and the one in hospital was the immediate priority.
Finally, the bed in critical care at Children’s Hospital was ready and he would go by ambulance with his nurse from our hospital. We would drive there ourselves. The car ride was my release where I could cry freely and prepare myself for what was to come. When we arrived, the hospital was locked down for the evening and we had to wait for a porter to take us to the unit. It was unbearable, although probably only a five-minute wait.
We made it to critical care and answered the questions from each doctor who approached us before settling in next to his bed for the night. He was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep, despite the nurses waking him every half hour for vitals and to ensure he was okay. My husband had worked a long day of physical labour and was struggling to stay awake. They showed him to a parent’s room where he could get some rest. The coffee I drank on the drive to the hospital would sustain me for the night, along with the fear and hurt I was feeling. I bargained with God, to be the best mother if he just let me keep my son.
Blood tests were done every two hours and each one showed improvement from the last. My fears subsided, making room for self-blame. Why did he do this? Was it because I took his computer away as a consequence for not going to school? Did he think we didn’t love him? Were his health issues just too much for him to deal with? Was he overwhelmed by issues with our extended family and their health? One thing I was certain of, I hadn’t been as observant as I could have been.