“I don’t want to live anymore…” she wrote in her email.
Friday January 31, 2020. I was at the International Terminal, Boarding Gate number 5 of the San Francisco International Airport. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 945 PM and my husband who was flying with me as a passenger was already in the plane waiting. I usually would be in my seat by now. I intentionally delayed my boarding as I watched on my phone the Laker’s Tribute to Kobe Bryant. It was the Laker’s first home game, after Kobe’s untimely death on January 26th. Kobe was being remembered at the Staples Center. And, as you may already know, anything Kobe Bryant, I cannot be bothered or disturbed. But, for some reason, in the middle of the tribute I decided to check my email.
I froze for a bit. I stared into space. My thoughts started to race. “What if she did it? Where could she be now? Is she OK?”
I have known Maura (let us call her by this name) for quite some time. She established a therapeutic relationship with me as her mental health provider ten years ago. I have seen her at her best, also at her worst. Throughout the years, we have managed to adjust or change her medications seemingly with positive response each time. I can always tell when Maura is doing well. She would show up on her appointments elegantly dressed, fully made-up, a purse on her left arm, with big, dark beautiful glasses on. I always pictured in my mind how glamorous Maura was in her younger days.
She is older now, in her 70s. She has been widowed for years. She lives in an assisted living facility, her grown up children, all living, are scattered throughout the US. Her favorite grandson, however, lives within the area and visits Maura whenever he can.
Maura loves to take daily walks with her best friend who lives close to the assisted living facility. They walk in the mornings with her best friend’s dog in tow. She finds joy in that. At the assisted living facility, they are provided with activities to busy themselves throughout the day, but she seldom participates. “I get more depressed …” Most of the residents are older than she is. “Believe it or not, I am one of the youngest among the residents there.” She complains she cannot participate actively due to the other residents’ incapacity since a number of them are suffering from dementia. Tech-savvy that Maura is, she prefers to stay in her room and work on her computer or tablet, instead.
Maura has a long history of depression. She has a history of alcoholism as well but has been sober for the past forty-plus years. She is on medications to manage her hypertension and high cholesterol but of recent, Maura’s number one concern is her intractable migraine.
She has had migraine for years but the past 2 years the headaches seemed to have gotten worse, with minimal response to oral medications, Botox or even the latest injectable medication indicated for migraine. She always said the worse the headaches become, the worse her depression is, too.
On several of her visits to the office, she verbalized her lack of desire to live. “For what? To be in pain?” she asked. On her most recent appointment she told me she will be contacting her neurologist to discuss changing her migraine medication.
One thing I appreciate about Maura is her willingness to communicate with me her situation, be it medical or related to mental health. If there is something significant that I need to know, she sends me emails making sure I am updated.
I looked at my watch. It was time to board the plane. Several questions started running through my head. I launched our electronic health record system on my phone, opened Maura’s chart, looked up her number and dialed it.
Her phone rang several times. I waited. It seemed like forever. I started to ask myself “Is it too late? Too late in the evening? Perhaps she is asleep?” I let the phone ring some more. She picked up, finally. Thank God! “Maura, are you OK? I got your email. Talk to me, please.”
I spent several minutes on the phone with Maura, unmindful that most passengers have boarded the plane. Heck, I missed most of the Kobe Bryant Tribute on TV! Surely, too, my husband is wondering where on earth I could be?
Maura was reassured she can always call or email me whenever, for whatever reason. And she always did. But if I cannot be reached, "You know who else to call or what to do, right?" She replied, "Yes, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room."
I went pass the boarding gate, headed towards the plane, and went straight to my seat. Right next to my husband’s. I was quiet, still thinking of what had transpired few minutes prior.
Twelve hours later, upon landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, I checked my email and read a note from Maura:
“Thank you for calling me last night. It means so much. I am better today. I cried yesterday. Cannot remember the last time I did. Maybe it helped. Again, my thanks…”
Sometimes it can be the simplest of text messages, or the shortest of phone calls. Knowing there is somebody readily available to talk to, someone to reach out to can be the most helpful in the direst of situations for individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illnesses. Let others know you are there, ready to help. A text, phone call, or email away.
If you are having thoughts of self harm or suicide---
In the US:
The Suicide Hotline is available 24/7. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor center in your area, anytime 24/7.
In the Philippines:
National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline*: offers 24-hour service to people who are depressed or at risk of suicide.
(02) 989-(USAP) 8727
(0917) 899-USAP (8727)
(0917) 989-USAP (8727)
*Please check if the above Philippine numbers remain serviceable.