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April 16, 1995
I’m falling through the cracks,” Vicki White proclaims with an unnerving certainty. This 34-year-old woman sitting in the living room of the three-bedroom town house she shares with her husband and two kids in Hanover Park has a story that makes people uncomfortable, nervous, scared.
Vicki’s husband of nearly nine years, Adrian, 40, quietly begins to spin a horror story of his wife’s depression – the drug overdose, the suicide threats, the effect on their two kids, the hospitals, the evaporation of their insurance benefits, the anger she feels, the helplessness he feels about ever returning to one of those nice normal suburban family lives.
“I thought I was telling this story,” Vicki snaps. She can go from pleasant to angry in an instant. And she can be frightening – as she is when she admits she wanted to learn how to use the family’s rifle so she could confront an “overzealous, belligerent” social worker and “shoot him in the knees” because the hospital management refused to discipline him after she said he “detained me against my will for three hours.”
She casually acknowledges the folly of such a violent plan, but for all the wrong reasons. “Right,” she says with a laugh. “Like I could get a rifle into the hospital, past all the security guards.”
It is only in the past year that she has been hospitalized and diagnosed as suffering from depression and anxiety. While the confidentiality of mental patients is sacrosanct, Vicki has given her doctors permission to discuss her case and treatment for this story. Since her hospitalization last summer, Vicki has had days, weeks and months when she longs to return to the hospital. She left the hospital after one day but was re-admitted after she took an overdose of Prozac.
“I was in Woodland (a private psychiatric hospital in Hoffman Estates) a week and a half,” she says. “My insurance ran out about four days before I left. We had to come up with $1,500 before I could leave.” Her psychiatrist, Dr. Theodore A. Allchin of Elk Grove Village, arranged for a 30 percent discount on the bill or Vicki would have owed even more. Adrian works for the insurance company that pays claims for the Teamsters. His mental health plan is better than many but not good enough for anyone who needs inpatient treatment and ongoing therapy. With in-house treatment in a hospital costing more than $1,100 a day, Vicki quickly exhausted the annual benefits of $10,000 for in-house treatment and $2,500 in outpatient services. The family owes more than $10,000 in medical bills, a debt that only adds to the stress. One of Adrian’s sisters paid for the kids’ day care last year, Vicki’s mother paid the hospital bill, and her sister helps take care of the kids. Other relatives lend a hand, or at least an ear, when they can.
Adrian says he made $44,000 in 1993 but only $32,000 in 1994. “I had to take (unpaid) family leave to take care of her,” he says. He says he wants the family to stay together but admits to wishing the hospital would take Vicki back. But insurance won’t cover that. Vicki finds that ironic. “I did not become suicidal,” she notes, “until I realized the effect of my insurance running out. I felt everyone’s else’s life was more important than mine because they were getting help and I wasn’t.”
Adrian is scared to leave the kids with her, so he takes them to day care on his way to work. “He leaves at 7 a.m. with the kids and comes back about 5, and I’m here alone all day,” Vicki says. She rolls up her sleeves and shows off the half-dozen scars and scabs along each wrist. “I do it with a razor blade,” she says. “It’s an urge. I can’t explain it. If I was your wife, wouldn’t you be scared?
In the seven months since that interview, Vicki telephones now and then with news that remains just as scary. “I wanted to kill myself yesterday,” she says on more than one occasion. She is impatient, angry and desperate all at once. Learning why she makes such threats and understanding that she can’t act on every impulse is what Vicki is doing today. In the last seven months, she’s taken combinations of Prozac, Xanix, Paxil and Trazodone to help alleviate those conditions. But perhaps what has helped her the most in the months since the first interview are the hourlong psychotherapy sessions.
Since the end of summer, Vicki has been seeing Dr. George J. Didier, who holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, at Woodland Hospital. He first treated Vicki as an inpatient there. Didier, who also has a doctorate in ministry and used to be a priest, saw Vicki three or even four times a week. Vicki recently decided to cut back to two visits a week. Insurance pays 80 percent of the $80-an-hour fee. “One of the keys is helping her set boundaries or limits,” he says.
Vicki recently has backed off her demand to be hospitalized at Woodland. “It was a great safe haven for her,” Didier notes. It gave her a place where she could work with her emotions, primarily “the rage, the chaos.” That said, Didier doesn’t feel she was discharged “prematurely,” as Vicki maintained at the time. Didier says he feels Vicki is making progress by seeing him at a discount cost that lets her have more than two months of treatment for the cost of one day in the hospital. Didier has given Vicki some financial breaks on occasion and says he sets aside part of his practice for pro-bono work, where he sees patients at no charge or a reduced fee.
Dealing with Vicki’s moods, even when getting paid to do it, is not easy, he admits. She calls Didier between sessions whenever she needs to “feel safe,” Vicki says. In November, when she threatened to kill herself, Didier spent two hours on the phone with her, calming her down and keeping the police out of it.
“He doesn’t come up with things,” she says of Didier. “He makes me come up with things.”
Vicki is not falling through a crack in the mental health system, Didier says. They are working on making Vicki “the catalyst of change,” and enabling her to deal with relationships and day-to-day stress. “And that takes time,” Didier says. While psychological testing is valuable, Didier says he adds to the scientific training by using his “feelings, intuition and personality” in determining the best treatment for Vicki. “It’s more of an art in that way,” he says. Vicki says her relationship with her doctors is demanding. That added stress probably contribu ted to recent heart arrhythmia problems for her husband, which caused him to miss work and for which he now takes a variety of pills every day. That, in turn, has added stress and more financial problems for the family of four.
The past is confusing, the present is a struggle and the future is a mystery. It’s a daily challenge, a work in progress that changes like the tides of an ocean with Vicki and her family subjected to the ebbs and flows. “We ride them out like a surf board,” Adrian says. “We married for richer and poorer, sickness and health. Now is poorer and sickness. “Nobody believes it’s really an illness, but this sickness is just as real as TB and cancer,” he says.