The state’s mental health system has been under tremendous strain in recent years. Cuts to services in the community, combined with dwindling in-patient beds, mean patients in crisis end up waiting days for treatment--sometimes longer-- inside ill-equipped emergency rooms.
Last summer, two violent attacks inside Manchester’s Elliot Hospital ER brought to light just how unstable the situation has become.
Donald Wyman was one of the victims of those assaults. He worked as a nursing assistant, but six months later, he’s still working toward recovery.
Amy and her husband Don met at Elliot Hospital nearly two decades ago. She was just 19, a new nursing assistant, and by her own admission, not all that attracted to Don, who has some years on her. For his part, he was willing to put in the time.
“We didn’t become a partner, but we knew each other, and then later on, we fell in love,” says Don, through a halting speech pattern.
Seven years ago, they finally married. Amy recalls some of the early courtship.
“He liked to go hiking, he liked the outside. Our first time together, not like a date but the first thing we did together as a family, we went camping. He liked the outdoors,” says Amy.
“Remember we went up to Maine and we watched, turned into the mountain, the rain?” asks Don.
His words are often now scrambled due to a condition called aphasia. Amy, before just wife and mother, now serves as translator, too, helping 52-year old Don express his thoughts.
She says in all the conversations they had before the incident, he never expressed concern about his safety working inside the ER. But she had her own fears.
“Because of different stories that he would tell me,” says Amy. “I’ve worked down there as well, so I kind of knew the kind of patients we would get.”
Last July 8th, they were both on duty, Amy upstairs in the psych ward, Don in the ER.
“They called me from the Emergency Room and asked me to come down, because something had happened to him,” says Amy. “They really wouldn’t tell me what had happened to him. And then they initially thought he had gotten shot, or hit with something, because of the blood, and he was bleeding to death and barely breathing.”
Don doesn’t remember the incident.
“I can tell you something happened at work, but I don’t know all the details,” he says.
His attack allegedly came at the hands of a 33- year old patient who had been held inside the ER for three days waiting for a psychiatric bed to open up.
During the struggle, another staff member suffered a broken cheekbone. Don’s injuries were far more severe.
“That day, initially, he had a traumatic brain injury, and he had broken most of his facial bones, under his eyes, his orbits, his nose, his jaw, his cheeks,” says Amy.
He also tore his rotator cuff, and lost four front teeth. In the early days of his recovery, blood clots led to two strokes. Vision in Don’s right eye is basically gone, and his speech, though improving, has a long way to go.
In October, the suspect, Ansel Kinglocke, was deemed incompetent to stand trial and remains incarcerated.
The Wymans try not to spend time thinking about it.
“I think that I do blame him. I mean, do I sit around and hold a lot of anger toward him every day? No, I don’t,” says Amy.
Don adds, “I don’t sit there and whine or nothing. I got things to do, so I keep myself busy.”
Don is busy with therapy, both occupational rehab for his shoulder and twice-a-week speech work.
He also has a daily session with a life coach. They go out into town, practice ordering coffee and doing routine tasks.
At home, Don, who used to be the family cook, is regaining some of his domesticity. Between this marriage and prior ones, there are five kids.
They battle the wake of toys and sneakers and clothes and crumbs left behind.
“He actually really likes to clean now, which he never did,” Amy says with a smile. “He cleans all the time, actually.”
And though he doesn’t always put things back where they belong, Amy appreciates the help, and the consideration he still shows her.
“I want to take very good care of her. But sometimes I don’t understand, or I don’t think well. I’m learning,” says Don.
They’re both re-learning…how to communicate, how to get through chores, and kids home sick from school.
Another change is their new home: they moved from New Boston to Manchester to be closer to family.
Amy is now back at work, part-time, at the Elliot. She says she misses having Don in the building with her.