Sunday, December 11, 2016

In the waiting room at a mental health center on a sunny Friday in December

I wait. It's a waiting room so I fit right in. A mental health center in a Denver suburb. Its motto on the wall in living color is "Live Life to the Fullest." Who can argue with that? A person with mental illness may have a hard time getting into the spirit of the motto as they usually have more immediate claims to their attention. Such as --
Can I get my meds filled today?
Can you find me a place to live?
Do you have a bus that can take me home?
Things like that.

My daughter Annie is going through an intake with a therapist. She is a new resident of this Denver suburb. She has nothing to prove that, no ID or utility bill. But the staffers at the front desk don't seem to care. They want to get Annie the help she needs. She is a person with mental health issues. She is on disability and has a place to live but no job. She needs a psychiatrist so she can get her meds filled.

The therapist, a young white man who, in an alternate universe, could be making big money in the corporate world, comes out and introduces himself to Annie and me. He explains the process and we listen. They go to his office and I sit again to wait among the other people who wait. There is a young Hispanic women and her two kids. A bearded, tattooed white man. A young black man wearing a black jacket. Others. A young Hispanic staffer comes out and tells me that I can go up to the Medicaid office on the fourth floor and see how I can get Annie enrolled in Colorado Medicaid because they can't accept her Wyoming Medicaid. I have to pay a co-pay for her visit with the therapist this morning. Earlier, I heard a young black man speaking to a family member on the office phone. He needed someone to pay the co-pay because he had no money. The family member obliged and have the clerk a credit card number. I pass a security guard at the security desk and he looks bored. I would think that on some days he isn't so bored. The mental health care system can be daunting. Especially for those hearing voices in their heads. Or someone so manic that they've been awake for seven days and can't think straight. A big sign on the front door says, "No Weapons." A good policy here in the Wild West, where guns abound.

On the fourth floor, a woman in her 30s introduces herself as Sara and attempt to help me get started with Colorado Medicaid. She is a black woman from somewhere in Africa. I am a typical American in that I cannot tell one African from another. I wish that my wife Chris was here with me, as she lived in Africa as an Army brat and traveled extensively there. Sara could be from Ethiopia or Uganda or Somalia. It doesn't really matter but I wonder. She speaks with a heavy accent. She lives in Colorado now. She is trying to help this white retiree from Wyoming and his daughter. It turns out that I don't have the proper paperwork and IDs and I can't remember Annie's Social Security number, which is the gateway to all things bureaucratic. I wonder if Sara was on my side of the desk recently applying for a visa or food stamps or a place to live. If I was on the other side of the desk, would I be helping her or putting roadblocks in her way. She tells me that I can apply online and gives me a card with the URL address. She also gives me her card in case I have questions. I return to the first floor waiting room. It's lunchtime and it has emptied out. One Hispanic boy sits in a chair in the corner. I sit and wait, going through Annie's Social Security file that I brought with me.

A burly bearded white man and a petite Hispanic woman emerge from the backroom. They are young and wouldn't look out of place striding to a Lumineers concert to Red Rocks. They sit next to the 10-year-old black boy. They ask him what he's doing. He says he's waiting for something to eat. His mom and brother have gone to get it. The male therapist tells him to eat while the food is hot and then they will decide the best place for him. The adults are kind and not condescending. They chat for awhile and then leave, telling the boy they will be back when he's finished eating. As soon as they disappear, Mom and brother arrive with sacks of burgers and fries. The two boys take their food to the other side of the room and eat. The 10-year-old asks Mom is she bought any mayonnaise. She says no. He eats the burger. Between bites, thee trio converses in Spanish. I wish I knew more than a few words of Spanish. Not just to listen in but because it would help me understand other cultures that are our neighbors. Also, I could read Pablo Neruda's poems in their original language.

Annie eventually reappears with the therapist. He tells me that they covered everything necessary for a first visit and that he will be in touch early in the week to go over details of IOP, possible living arrangements, Medicaid, etc. He asks us if we had any questions and we say we didn't. We leave, passing a young white man having some difficulty pushing his walker through the door. He is young and disabled. I hold the door for him. Outside, a black woman wearing a long dress and a colorful head scarf paces up and down the sidewalk. A young Hispanic man spoke on his cell phone. The sun shone and it was warm for December, much warmer than it had been the past two days.

You know why I'm writing this. don't you? Meanness and ugliness is all we hear from President-elect Trump and his allies. Here in this mental health center waiting room pass the the people the Trumpians are saying all of those mean things about. The disabled. The mentally ill. People of color. The homeless. Immigrants. When the Trumpians take over on Jan. 20, all of these people will be targeted by regressive policies. Meanwhile, the rich will get richer and the nation will be turned into Trumplandia which will resemble the dystopian future of "Idiocracy" the movie.

Trump and his minions have made the world ugly in 2016. It's about to get even uglier.

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