How Much Is Your Life Worth...
Tuesday, March 12, 2019… It started like any other Tuesday at the Residential Facility I used to work at. I had just finished hosting a DV training for my staff and I got word that a client who had AWOL’d the week prior had been hospitalized (5150) and was wanting to return into treatment. The client had been cleared by the hospital and the hospital reached out to coordinate care. I did have my reservations but after communicating with the hospital treatment team and our facility treatment team, we welcomed the client back into treatment.
As part of my former role as the Clinical Director, I would meet with all incoming and returning clients to talk about the treatment program, get to know them and identify their level of motivation for being in treatment. I was meeting with this client in my office. The conversation started out fine… hopes she had for her life free from addiction, wanting to get sober for her family and her child and then the conversation started to shift. The client started talking about a darker part of her story and her experience being incarcerated. My heart started to race due to statements she was making and how she was glorifying being incarcerated and I worked to ground her and bring the conversation to an end.
This client talked about wanting to harm someone so she can go to jail. I asked her, what does she mean by “harm”. To which she replied “I want to kill someone” and then I saw her eyes go black as she said “I am going to kill you” and aggressively lunged from the sofa to where I was sitting behind my desk. In that instant I wondered if I was going to die as this client began physically attacking me. The only way out of my office was to cross in front of where the client was. I WAS TRAPPED and my only thought was dear God, please don’t let me die.
Our agency had office doors that automatically locked when the door closed and could only be opened with a swipe key card. Because of my position with this agency there were only two other Directors who had access to my office and I had no clue if they were onsite. There was no panic button, no onsite security, no other way out of my office, no one to come and help me; I had to get the door open for my freedom.
In what felt like hours, I endured physical blows to my body from this client, objects being thrown at me, my office completely trashed. I managed to get out of my office, shaking, trembling, in shock and fear for my life. A staff member was already on the phone to 911. They heard me screaming for help and the commotion that was coming from my office. I ran outside to the front of the building and had the biggest panic attack of my life. Shortly thereafter one of the managers had heard what happened and came outside. It took the police over 30min to arrive on-site and at least four different 911 calls for help.
When the police arrived, they were assessing the situation, my mind was still racing and finally they arrested my attacker; the client. Paramedics came and checked me. The bruising hadn’t yet started to show and my blood pressure was through the roof and wasn’t coming down. They didn’t transport me to the hospital because there wasn’t any blood on me and my body was still in shock. From what my mind could comprehend at the time, I just wanted to go home to my safe place and sleep. After they left, I tried to stand up but couldn’t. Turns out my toe was broken during the attack and because of the adrenaline I didn’t feel the pain.
Because it had taken over 30min for the police to respond, I decided to drive myself to the Emergency Room. BIG MISTAKE --- I was disoriented and stuck in LA traffic and by now the pain in my foot was unbearable. I called my sister to keep me distracted and thank God for her. I made it to the hospital and the medical team was beyond excellent. I called my friend from the hospital and the next thing I knew she was racing through the ER doors to support me. 10 hours later I was home and collapsed into bed but couldn’t sleep. My foot was in excruciating pain, every little noise jolted me awake and when I closed my eyes, I saw my attackers face.
The next day the bruises showed up and I had to go back to the police station so they could document the bruising for their report. About 2 weeks later I was called to court to testify and it was the 1st time I faced my attacker since the incident. I remember talking to the attorney ahead of time and he was walking me through what would most likely happen and informed me that a deal had been offered with a couple years of jail time with the defense of diminished mental capacity. I remember thinking, is that all my life is worth? As a mental health professional, I felt betrayed by my profession. Would the judge accept the defense of diminished mental capacity? I remember telling the attorney, the client was in her sound mind when she attacked me. She articulated what she was going to do and then proceeded to attempt to kill me. When I was called to testify, it was as if I was reliving the incident all over again as I recounted the events and answered question after question by both attorneys.
My attacker went to jail that day and I did not hear anything until 1 year later when her official sentencing took place. That year was one of the hardest years of my life. I continued on at my agency for 11 more months. I would like to say that changes were made, safety protocol established, client screening protocol adjusted but NOTHING changed….it was as if the attack never happened and it was NEVER talked about at our agency. I can’t tell you why I stayed but when I put in my resignation it was as if I got a part of my voice back.
As part of my healing, I reached out to my all-time favorite soap actor and Mental Health Advocate Maurice Benard, aka “Sonny Corinthos” of General Hospital. The message he sent me was so inspiring and continues to help me on my journey of healing. Thank you, Maurice!
I am writing my story as part of my healing. The 2-year anniversary of the attempt on my life is this week, March 12th and it is by the grace of God I am alive. In honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to share my story with my voice today. I contemplated leaving the field after this incident but I know I have a lot to offer and the ability to help the clients I am fortunate to work with. Thank you for reading my story and being part of my healing.