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David Cline shows off some of his pieces at a Daybreak Arts show at Montgomery Bell Academy in 2017. The red and blue face, and the face on the orange background are two of David’s pieces.
In 2017, Ellie Kane’s husband, David Cline, made a video for his Facebook friends at a Steak ‘n Shake, moving the phone back and forth towards his face and laughing.
“Hey-lo, everybody!” he said. “Y’all doing okay in Facebook land? Haha! Is that a closeup or what? Well, I watched the movie called The Spider-Man Homecoming. It was fantastic.”
This was a good day for David, who has bipolar disorder. David is a guy who loves sharing his interests and going to lunch with friends. He’s an artist. His pieces are bright — fluorescent, even. David’s painting name is “Clinecasso.” It’s a nod to the geometric shapes and happy, oblong faces.
Ellie loves David’s art. And she loves him. They’ve had a long run of 25 years together so far — which is something to celebrate.
“It’s hard,” Ellie says, “to want to still celebrate that, and he’s not home, you know?”
A gradual change, then a crisis
David’s not home because Ellie had to call the police for help back in January. Maybe it was the change in David’s psychiatric medicine dosage, or his diabetes, or the toll of the pandemic. Either way, she knew something wasn’t right.
“He was, to my eye, going through an exacerbated episode of mania,” she says. “I have gotten accustomed to, every so often, he gets manic. His medicine is adjusted long enough for him to come down. And then he’s balanced, he’s functioning.”
She says this time was different. “He’d only ever had a lot of trust with me. We had developed, you know, a communication where even when he was manic, he would listen to me if he wouldn’t listen to anybody else,” Ellie says. “I could look at him and say, ‘David, you’re manic. This is not healthy, I know it feels good, but you don’t want to get really sick, do you? You remember being sick. You don’t want to do that.’ And he would listen to me. This time it was, like, he was not reachable.”
In retrospect, Ellie says she had seen some signs throughout the year. She recalled one time when they were putting away groceries. She told him to put the salad in the left bin and the asparagus in the right. But David, he just stood there. So, she said it again and he still didn’t know what she was talking about.
“OK, let’s do this one at a time,” she told David. “Put the salad in the left bin.” And he said, “I don’t know what ‘left’ is.”
She knew these lapses can happen. “Anybody that’s got any kind of mental illness has these lapses,” she says. “I do. And it seems like, you know, past 40, brain cells start going anyway. But there were these times where like he just didn’t know the things that everybody knows.”
But then David started talking to people in the television, and getting verbally aggressive. “Then when he realized they [the people in the television] weren’t real, he’d say ‘change the channel’ and then he’d be talking to the person on the next show,” she says, “and then he’d say, ‘change the channel.’ ”
Ellie got scared, and put on Bewitched. She thought it was a fun show he could handle. “Well, he got mad at the person for supposedly calling me a witch,” she says. David yelled, “My wife is not a witch! You shut up.”
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is not him,’ ” she says, “and it was scary because you don’t know how far off in left field the brain can take somebody that you know to be completely different than that. And so he was getting worse and worse. Then he wasn’t eating that much. He wasn’t drinking that much.” David would take a couple bites, but then Ellie says she couldn’t get water in him.
Ellie videotaped one of these moments back in January, during a snowstorm, when things got really bad. She was trying to process and understand this sudden change. She hoped some friends online may have advice.
“Come on. You got to eat,” she said in the video. “You don’t have to use the fork on the toast. You can pick up the toast and put it to your mouth and bite it.”
In the video, David slowly brings the slice of toast up to his face, but stops about an inch away, and starts biting in the air.
Things like this were building up. That day that she first called the police she knew one thing for sure: She needed to get David to the hospital — which wouldn’t be easy since this was a mental health issue, and he wasn’t a clear danger to himself or others. His psychiatric care provider didn’t have clearance to get David into a psychiatric hospital, and she says his regular nurse couldn’t help either.
‘It shouldn’t have to be that hard’
She thought her best bet would be to go through Mobile Crisis, a program of Mental Health Co-op. They run a 24/7 phone line for people who are experiencing a mental health emergency. They’re there to offer guidance and, in some cases, dispatch crisis counselors.
But the only way to get him admitted, Ellie says, was to go by ambulance and have one of those crisis counselors meet them at the ER.
“That’s the only way to do it where the person themself isn’t asking for it,” she says. “That is a big, huge freaking obstacle that has to change where somebody is in an obvious mental breakdown of some sort, and they won’t too readily do anything about it because the person themself isn’t asking for help. Well, how the hell can they ask for help when they’re beyond being able to do that?”
Ellie says first responders didn’t pay attention to her. They didn’t understand what she was saying about her husband’s situation. Still, they did get him to a hospital on Dickerson Pike. But then communication with the Mobile Crisis unit broke down. By the time a doctor had seen David, the Mobile Crisis employee had gone home for the day and all Ellie was told by the hospital was that David had been checked out and was ready to come home.
But, in her mind, she says he was far from ready to come home, and she says they’d already had him sitting out in the waiting room by himself for a couple of hours.
That night was the worst. David became incontinent. And Ellie wasn’t able to physically handle a man his size. They made it through, though. And the next day, she tried again.
This time, she says Mobile Crisis advised her to call the non-emergency police number and emphasize that it was a mental health crisis. So she told them: “My husband has been in a serious mental decline for the past 10 days and he’s been getting increasingly worse each passing day.”
She says she didn’t want to call the police. “I hear stories all the time of people getting killed because they’re mentally ill and they act up,” she says, “And I did not want to have to call the police, but it seemed like my only option at that point.”
The responders who came out, Ellie says, were wonderful. One in particular assured her “that I am going to do everything in my power to get him the help he needs.” She says she thought David would die if he didn’t get help fast, and she finally felt heard.
David was in the hospital for about eleven weeks. And he did almost die — with a diagnosis of malignant catatonia. It took multiple hospitals and teams to get him the treatment he needed. Months later, he’s still struggling, but Ellie’s fierce advocacy may have just saved his life.
“It shouldn’t have to be that hard. It should be easier to get help for somebody you love,” Ellie says. “Just because it’s the mind doesn’t make it any less of an emergency.”
In this video, David Cline talks to his Facebook friends the day he came home after about 11 weeks in the hospital. His wife, Ellie Kane, says this was during a few days of clarity before another decline.
Filed Under: Features, Health Care, WPLN News
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