RIVERVIEW STORIES: A daughter's questions, a mother's hopes
The following letter has been published with initials only to protect the family's identity. It was written in response to the Tri-City News' request for recollections of Riverview Hospital, which is closing this summer after nearly 100 years of service.
Do you have a memory of Riverview?
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My first recollection of Riverview was visiting my dad in Crease clinic in 1966. I was four years old. Of course, I was unaware this "hospital" was for a psychotic break my 48 year-old dad had. This was his first but not last visit to the institution we know as Riverview. Every couple years or so he would be taken in by the police, called by my mother. She would say he was gone into the hospital to dry out. He would come home sober, calm and with a bottle of pills. He would take them for awhile, but complained they made him tired and it was difficult to work on them. I believe my mother said they were Lithium (the drug of choice for mood disorders). When I was about 10, she explained to me that my father was an alcoholic and that the disease was affecting his brain, that's why he ranted and raved at night and saw visions of Mother Mary.
When I was 16 she and I finally left after a particularly violent event. My father's doctors over the years tossed around diagnoses such as manic depression(now known as bi-polar mood disorder) and schizophrenia and organic brain disorder (alcohol induced). He was eventually put into a care home, drugged and lived until 77 years of age.
My interest in what really was my fathers' condition haunted me my whole life. What came first, the alcoholism or the mental illness? Was one or the other the cause or the effect? The year after his death I enrolled in the psychiatric nursing program at Douglas College. I completed the two-year program and worked in the field briefly. Riverview was one of my employers. I quit nursing when my own 17 year old son had his first break down. The next eight years would see him spiral from the happy athletic kid into a ranting, delusional and agitated young man. He was in and out of Sherbrooke Centre (the psyche unit in Royal Columbian Hospital) and two stays at Riverview. The last one being three months. He came out with a new medication regime and has been "good as it gets" for seven years now. He's unable to work full time, as the meds make him very groggy, but he seems content and remains calm. He is able to live on his own with a little support, but all in all, he is what we consider well.
I guess my point is, what I have learned in the books and what I have seen in life, is that mental illness is not just a diagnosis or a condition that affects the one that is ill. It is not an illness that is curable, and not one medication is right for everyone afflicted. We see it in families, but why one and not all members? The questions that loom are still in need of answers and help to find out how to prevent losing our loved ones to something so horrifying.
I could go on and on about the trials of living with mental illness, but until there is more support for a cure,I'm just wasting my breath.