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The Farmers Changed the Time

My time as a residence hall director was rich with interesting characters encountered during a fun and free time in their lives. Sometimes, however, we also saw students who were in difficult places in life and were genuinely hurting. On one such occasion, I received a phone call sometime shortly after midnight, just a few days after the fall conclusion of daylight savings time. It was not uncommon to get calls and requests that late at night as guys were continually up, coming and going at all hours. 

This call came from one of my younger residents; I think he was a sophomore at the time. He was calling from the lobby courtesy phone, which means he was standing about twenty five feet from my front door. “Hey, Rozell. Man, I need to talk to you for a minute.” There’s really an infinite number of directions an introduction like that can go.

I went out to the lobby to talk with him and see what he needed. “Dude, Rozell, my roommate is flippin’ out on me, and he just pulled a knife on me and I don’t want to go back in there.” Roommate conflict was not uncommon in the dorms over the years, and we often had to make peace or make other arrangements for residents. A knife or the threat of physical violence certainly merited more, and more immediate, attention.

I asked him what they had been fighting about, and he explained, “We weren’t fighting about anything. I was asleep. He was talking to himself when he flipped on the light and woke me up. He was yelling at me about all kinds of stuff and accused me of changing the time on his watch, and he threw his watch across the room at me. I stood up to talk to him when he came right up to me.” In a quieter but more emphatic voice he continued, “Dude, he reached over and yanked my boxers down.”

Now, I couldn’t figure any of this out. I didn’t know if the roommate was angry and hostile, or joking around, or what. The resident in front of me was obviously shaken, and he was one of our better residents; he was someone I trusted to be straight with me, so that gave his story more credibility. He did not want to go back there to his room, so I told him to hang out in the lobby while I went and talked to the roommate.

Before I went to confront the roommate, I called my partner director, briefly outlined what the resident had told me, and asked him to come along with me to check on the roommate. It’s always better to have backup.

So my partner and I went and knocked on the door. After several more knocks and calls through the door went unanswered, we let ourselves in. The light was full on, and this brother was laying there in his bunk stark naked. “Hey,” I said. “Wake up. I need to talk to you.” He sat up for a moment and I asked him if he was alright.

In this job, I had been called on at times to confront drunk student, hostile students, football players, those who hated me, and I’d never really been intimidated by any of them. After being in this room, on this occasion, for about thirty seconds, I was already pretty freaked out. This guy was not all there, and it was abundantly obvious.

As my partner and I stood there in this guy’s dorm room, he stood up quickly and took a couple of large steps toward us, still naked. my mind was obviously scrambling pretty fast, trying to figure out how best to play this. At first he wasn’t really answering our questions, he just wasn’t engaging us in conversation, but after a few moments he started to talk.

I wish I could remember more clearly all of the nonsense he was saying. Apropos of nothing, he asked us, with a rhetorical flourish, “Do you know who changed the time? It all started with the farmers. The farmers changed the time.” He continued to make a stream of disjointed, random statements about daylight savings time and other things we couldn’t quite follow. He talked repeatedly about talking to himself, talking to God, and himself being God. He talked about being the victim of some group that may have been the farmers, but maybe not, too. At one point he turned to my partner and me and said, “Well, take your pants off if you’re gonna stand there.” No, we said, We’re fine like this. What he was saying was at times hilarious, and at other times nonsensical and scary. It was hard to stifle a nervous giggle, but there was a big, naked guy standing in front of me, and I was terrified.

My partner and I went back out into the hallway to confer. I didn’t really think this guy was yankin’ our chain, but still I figure I had to give him the option to suddenly get better when faced with the reality of the men with restraints coming to get him. And so I gave him the same line I’d given demon boy more than a year before.

I said, “Hey, man. I don’t really know what’s going on with you, but I think you need some help, so I’m gonna call 911. When they get here they’re gonna come with an ambulance, they’re gonna put you in restraints and take you to the hospital. Even if you tell them you’re just kidding around, they’re gonna keep you overnight for observation. It’s gonna be a big deal, so if you’re screwing around, now’s the time to knock it off.” He just sat there and didn’t respond. After a moment I added, “So I’m gonna call 911 now. It that okay with you?”

“Yeah,” he said, “That’d be okay.” It was then that I really knew he wasn’t messin’ with me, and that he probably was having some kind of mental breakdown. As he sat there it seemed that whatever other voices were scrambling around in his mind, there deep down somewhere he was hearing what I was saying, and he knew that he was coming unhinged, and he needed some help.

We called our boss and consulted with her. We called campus police and had them come over. Before calling 911 outright, we called the 24 hour mental health crisis line and spoke to the on-call person. She said we’d have to call and wake up a judge to have the guy committed just then. It was just before 5AM at this point, so once it was established that there was no immediate danger, it was decided to wait until office hours, just a couple hours away, to take him in for a psych evaluation. We checked in with Farmer Boy a few more times, and once he assured us that he was not going to hurt himself, and that he was not going to leave his room, we left him there for the next couple hours.

At 8AM I went back to get him (he was, thankfully, fully dressed). We were met by the dean of students, and the three of us drove to the mental health center for an evaluation. I heard later that day that he was diagnosed with an initial onset of schizophrenia with religious delusions.

Unfortunately, that community did not have the resources to handle this kind of case, and so he was transferred to the nearest psychiatric hospital more than an hour’s drive away. The only way to transfer him that the System had in place was by State Trooper. And so he had to ride alone, for an hour, in the back of a Statie’s cruiser, before entering what must have been the terrifying phase of admission into such a facility and the long road of dealing with the newly emerged, and probably lifelong mental illness.

It must have been scary for him, both to wrestle with the voices inside his head, and to enter alone into the mental health system. One thing I don’t remember is any contact with the parents, or when the parents became involved. I don’t even remember this guy’s name anymore. I wonder about him now and wonder how he is doing today. I wish him the best.

Posted on Friday, November 13, 2009 at 08:28PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments3 Comments

Reader Comments (3)

OK, ya, that was sad. But now I remember why you wrote (in a previous post or perhaps on FB) that while we might give up worrying about whether our child will walk on time or learn her first words on time (etc), the "parent worry" never goes away because there is always some NEW worry to accompany their growing up. And you mentioned schizophrenia. And now i know why...you witnessed the - for lack of a better word - scariness first-hand. There is always something to worry about.
November 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMindy Estrada Dyer
The mental health system in this country is dreadfully inadequate, especially for minors. I have unfortunately played a small part of scenarios like this working in a community ED, probably about 5 times a week. Its my job to clear patients like this medically before a formal psych evaluation by a mental health professional. So I make sure they aren't high, or intoxicated, or have a thyroid crisis or some other medical problem causing them to have paranoia, suicidal ideation, and/or hallucinations. Recently, we had a minor with a crisis similar to the situation you describe above. Normally, once a determination has been made to hospitalize a patient for the mental health crisis, the counselor looks for beds. While we have 19 psych beds in our 100 bed hospital, we aren't accredited for minors, so if they are under 18 as this young man was, they must go somewhere else. It takes days to find a placement for a minor in NY state. From our facility, they are transported by ambulance to a place often 2 + hours away. Unfortunately, our young man last week also had juvenile diabetes. None of our usual contenders felt comfortable handling both his psychiatric and medical needs. So he sat in our ER for 8 days. Can you imagine being a teenager confined to a small white walled room adorned with NOTHING, dressed in only a hospital gown, for 8 days? Would this make your psychatric condition better or worse? Eventually, a placement was found in Virginia, over 8 hours away. (you would pass NYC, Philadephia, Washington DC, and Baltimore enroute) Ambulance transport could not be coordinated, but finally, the parent felt comfortable enough transporting her most precious possession in her personal vehicle. I wonder if this young person has been helped or set back even further after this long ordeal...

A great read on the subject is "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness" by Pete Early.
November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterC
damn farmers.
November 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwatson

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