David and Goliath—Struggling with Schizophrenia
The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 has caused a number of states across the country to review the effectiveness of their behavioral health programs and make changes based on measurable evidence. But in the rarified air of the policy-making world, it’s easy to lose touch with the everyday struggles of individuals coping with mental illness, in the context of their families and the broader communities in which they live.
I would like to tell you a story about one of these individuals. It’s a David and Goliath story, in which David was able to fight off a monstrous “giant” called schizophrenia for three decades, with the support of family, friends, and mental health professionals, as well as his own stubbornness and self-determination.
A Life Full of Promise
He was a beautiful baby, the first male child in his family, who grew into a handsome, charming young man. David had many, many rules to follow in his home growing up, and he managed to break every one of them. He always seemed to come up with a new and creative reason for these minor infractions; the cat ate my homework, the game went into extra innings, my kite got stuck in a tree, I had a flat tire, the coach made us do laps around the field—you get the idea. But he was a charmer, and his parents couldn’t help but forgive him for his little infractions. He certainly knew he was loved.
Dave’s baseball playing was the stuff of local legend. He played on the Maryland State All Star team as a pitcher and a shortstop. He never missed a ground ball. And his parents never missed a game.
He was as much a leader off of the field as on, especially when it came to neighborhood antics. Dave once led his friends at midnight to jump off the local pool high dive, holding pool umbrellas, to celebrate the team’s winning the Maryland State Championship.
Even during his down times, he never missed sending a birthday card to his nieces and nephews. When he was a teenager, just invoking his name was enough to keep the local bullies from being mean to his siblings. He once drove four hours in the middle of the night to rescue his little sister from a highway disaster.
The Struggle Begins
Then he experienced his first psychotic break. It was during his first semester in college. The diagnosis came quickly: schizophrenia. He was devastated, and so was his family. But Dave was lucky in many ways. His family understood something about mental illness, and they gave him their support. He had health insurance, and he proved responsive to medication.
He was in and out of the hospital many times over many years after that, until he learned the lesson of how to avoid certain stressors including college or very demanding jobs, of taking medications all of the time, and of no drinking or drugging at all, EVER.
Fast Forward to 2008: Dave was able to stay out of the hospital for many years until his mom got sick. She recovered well, but the idea of her mortality gnawed at him, and he began to go downhill. He lost his job. He was arrested at the local mall for assaulting a police officer. And he ended up back in the hospital. The hospital staff wanted to keep him there to stabilize him, but he was able to charm them into letting him go home.
On June 23, 2008, the Frederick Police were called to his apartment complex at 3 PM. Dave had been running around his complex, throwing buckets of water on neighbors. The apartment manager told the police that no one wanted him arrested. They just wanted him to get help. The officers passed along that message and strongly urged Dave to go see his doctor. Since no one was willing to press charges, the police left.
At 6 p.m., Dave called his brother’s home, and spoke to his sister-in-law. She could not understand a word he said. Knowing his recent history, she called Frederick Mobile Crisis. Mobile Crisis came to see Dave at 6:30 PM with the Police. Dave had empty alcohol bottles in his home, as well as a marijuana pipe. He had not been taking his medications and was clearly in a psychotic state. They saw a shovel in the corner of the apartment and a hole that Dave had created in the ceiling (to get the voices to go away). Mobile Crisis assessed that Dave was not doing well, but they believed he was not an imminent danger to himself or others.
At 2:30 a.m. on June 24, the Frederick 911 center received multiple calls from Dave’s home. As per standard procedure, they sent a policeman out. The dispatcher radioed the officer to inform him his destination was the home of Dave, “…the guy who had assaulted you at the Frederick mall a few months ago.”The officer’s only response was, “Oh, great.” There was no discussion of sending more than one officer.
When the policeman got out of his car, he observed Dave standing in his apartment doorway, about 50 feet away. Dave was holding a hammer in his hand. The officer asked Dave to put down the hammer. Dave did not put down the hammer and began moving toward the officer. When he was 20 feet away, the officer shot him nine times. Dave died at the scene.
I know this story well. It is the story of my brother, Dave Bauman.
There are some things to celebrate and others to cause serious concern in this true story. Dave was blessed with a loving family, involved friends, a faith community, and some personal attributes.These assets helped to make his life meaningful and even happy, most of the time.The celebration of his life also brings some measure of peace to his family.
At a time when many states (including Virginia) are reviewing the effectiveness of behavioral health programs and how the providers and emergency responders communicate with one another, Dave’s life gives us a chance to look at how can we ensure that individuals with behavioral health concerns live a fulfilling and safe life. I am heartened by recent efforts in Virginia to review mental health emergency services in the wake of the Deeds family tragedy. I am heartened that there has been a significant effort to train emergency responders to intervene thoughtfully in situations that involve an individual with mental illness or developmental issues. But one incident such as what I just shared is one too many.
Let’s use this forum to share our thoughts about how to continue to improve emergency mental health services. I invite you to a discussion in the comments below – together we can continue to make a difference.