L’s father and I had our first session with L’s case co-ordinator since she entered the unit last Wednesday. We have met most people by now, and today we met her clinical psychologist, who leads Team L, as L and I call them. When your child enters a hospital a strange thing happens. As a parent, you are no longer sure who is in charge. Can we take L out of the unit at any time? Is it ok if her grandparents write to her? How often will we get a formal report on her progress? These are all grey areas in any hospital setting, but when your child has an eating disorder, it is magnified. If I ring every day for an update, will they label me over anxious or controlling? If I want L to be able to come home for her birthday, am I ignoring the seriousness of the situation? If I cry within five minutes of meeting her psychologist, am I unstable?
Happily, most of this is in my head. The reality is, the staff at the unit don’t mind endless questions or checks on L. They nod positively when I venture how much better I felt when I read that anorexia did not always have a clear cause and were not down to a flawed family. When I talk to them about L at length, they listen. Their starting point is that I know her better than them and I care about her more than any nurse. What I admire about them is their calm and warmth, their genuine interest in their patient, my daughter. They like her and it feels as if they like us and see us as part of Team L. When we visit they make us cups of tea or coffee, in the same way you would if someone visited your home.
This weekend it is L’s 15th birthday. I want her to be able to come home for some of it. We tentatively agree that she will come home on Saturday in time to watch Doctor Who with her sister, and then will be allowed home on Sunday for a family meal and quite a few hours at home. To help us they will share a practice snack with us and on Friday, I will have supper with L and the other patients and staff so that I see how L manages meals in the unit. And they inform me over the phone in a call this evening, that they are sure she will be fine, but even if she doesn’t eat well, that will be fine and the most important thing is for her to have a lovely birthday.
I feel L is not just being ‘treated’, I feel she is being cared for, and I feel we are too. We are working together and the rewards are that it is working. L’s BMI has gone from 14.9 to 15.7 in just over a week, she has completed nearly every meal and she even told me to ‘surprise’ her with a cake for her birthday. My joy at the progress she is making, is tempered by anger at how many people don’t get this kind of care and how many lives are blighted by trying to get better alone. Last week K asked me if we had to pay for L’s stay in the unit. I told her that we paid tax for an NHS and as a result, we expect the treatment to be available. But it isn’t and that is so wrong. I am sure it is because the public are squeamish about mental health services or because it is an illness which many expect families (ie mothers) to sort out themselves.
But enough of my soapbox. My daughter is getting better. This weekend we will wallow in hours of normality and celebrate her and K entering their sixteenth year.