- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

The anguished plea, uttered repeatedly, drifted into the sleep-dulled consciousness of Kathi Johnson early Oct. 29.
She and her husband, Terry, roused themselves and rushed to the room of their 19-year-old daughter, Lindsey Nichole.
"She was laying on her back with her hands crossed over her chest and blood all over her belly area," Mr. Johnson said.
"I grabbed her left arm and moved it out of the way and her hand basically flipped over and hung down. She had almost cut it off. I just started screaming and grabbed her hand and forced it back on itself to keep it tight."
Lindsey, deep in the throes of schizophrenia and manic depression and hospitalized many times, had used an electric circular saw in the garage to nearly sever her left hand at the wrist. Somehow, she had managed to return to her room upstairs.
The Johnsons wrapped towels around the wound and applied a tourniquet.
Medical personnel who arrived 10 minutes later were surprised that she had not bled to death. Heat generated by the saw had cauterized some of the blood vessels when it ripped through them, Mrs. Johnson said.
Lindsey's attempted suicide climaxed a year in which she had jumped from her mother's moving minivan, vanished from home, lived on the street and was sexually assaulted while homeless.
It also was a year of anxiety and frustration for her parents as they desperately sought long-term hospitalization for their child, a dilemma faced by many families ravaged by mental illness.
"We're fighting for her life," Mr. Johnson said.
The Johnsons tried for months to get Lindsey into a state-run psychiatric hospital, Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg. She finally was committed to Eastern State on Dec. 18, a day after a reporter called the state mental health department about her case.
The Johnsons' battle for long-term care in a state hospital bucked the trend toward community-based treatment for the mentally ill.
A day before Lindsey was admitted to Eastern State, Gov. Mark R. Warner announced that he would propose closing wings in five state mental hospitals during the next 18 months and shift hundreds of patients to community-based, state-funded care programs.
The plan, however, provides no new money for mental health because the state is struggling to close a $2 billion budget shortfall.
Valerie L. Marsh, an advocate for the mentally ill, said she does not know what will happen to people such as Lindsey if beds in state hospitals are reduced and community programs can't provide long-term, closely monitored care.
It's a perplexing problem for state officials, as well, but Dr. James Reinhard, state mental health commissioner, noted that many people with severe mental illness are being treated successfully in the community.
Lindsey's suicide attempt with the power saw put her in a private hospital for five weeks, the longest continuous care she has received since developing serious mental illness over the past year. She had been improving under new medication until renewed suicide threats in the past month resulted in another emergency hospitalization.
Brief stays in various private hospitals have done little for Lindsey. "They stabilize her a little bit, tweak her medication and send her on her way in hopes she will be OK," Mr. Johnson said.
The Johnsons both work. But they don't dare leave Lindsey alone because of the ever-present possibility of suicide.
The Johnsons, who moved to Virginia from Minneapolis in 1999, said they were told repeatedly that Lindsey did not meet criteria for acute care at Eastern State or that the hospital was full.
Miss Marsh said getting admitted to a state hospital "has nothing to do with clinical needs."
"Cruel fact: Chop off your arm. We ain't got a bed," she said.
Lindsey's case illustrates the condition of Virginia's public mental health system, Miss Marsh said. "It is in shambles. It's a national disgrace," she said.
Dr. Reinhard said Virginia and most states "have challenges" in treating those with serious mental illness. "We have our work cut out for us," he said.
Lindsey, whose hand was reattached by surgeons, said in an interview that she "started having weird thoughts" in the fall of 2001. "Things like the world consisted of ," she paused. "I don't remember."
She turned to her parents. "I wish I would have told you guys what thoughts were going through my head. They were so weird."
Later Lindsey started talking about "going north" a code phrase for killing herself, said Mrs. Johnson, prompting another emergency hospitalization. Her commitment to Eastern State last month was her 11th hospital admission in just over a year.
In April, Lindsey jumped from a van driven by her mother. The van was traveling 30 mph, Mrs. Johnson said.
"She just opened the door and jumped out," Mrs. Johnson said.
Lindsey was knocked unconscious and needed stitches in her head.
She vanished after recovering. "She was on the street, and we could not find her," Mrs. Johnson said. "She was raped. She was staying with whoever she could hook up with."
Police found her in Norfolk.
The suicide attempt with the saw occurred six days after she had been released from another emergency admittance at an area hospital and three weeks after her doctor wrote: "There is absolutely no way Lindsey can fend for herself at this point."
"We begged" for admission to Eastern State, Mrs. Johnson said. "Had she gotten that long-term care, a lot of our problems with her would have never happened."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide