Last weekend I found myself holding the head of a young lady named Hillary. As we waited for an ambulance to arrive, I feel certain she shared more with me than she had with most. It is strange how a routine trip to the store, suddenly turned into a memory I’ll carry with me for a lifetime.
After a wonderful getaway weekend in Oregon wine country, Stephanie became ill so we cut our last day short. When we arrived home, she quickly crawled into bed and asked softly if I would go to the store and pick up some 7-up. It was my quest for clear liquids that placed me in our local Plaid Pantry just as Hillary was attempting to checkout.
As I entered the store, I had heard the clerk ask her if she was okay. I heard Hillary say, “No, I don’t feel right.” But, I continued to the back of the store as I was more concerned with Stephanie’s condition than that of stranger. Just as I grabbed a two liter and made a step toward the counter, I watched this frail little girl crumple backward into the display directly behind her. I yelled to the clerk to call 911 as I dropped my keys and bottle to the floor. When I got to Hillary, I wasn’t sure what had happened. I knew from first aid training I wasn’t suppose to move a her, but it seemed just too strange to leave her trembling half crunched over with her head and back laying in bad convenience store snacks. So I opted to assist her in laying down on the floor and that is how I found myself holding the head of a stranger.
Not being sure if this young woman was having a seizure, simply passed out, drug overdosed or was having a bad reaction to some medication I began questioning her. “What’s your name?” I asked. With her eyes closed she muttered, “Hillary.” “Have you had anything like this happen in past, Hillary?” I inquired. Still with her eyes closed she mumbled, ” No.” “Have you taking any drugs?” I persisted. “No.” she said firmly. “What about any medicine?” I pressed. “No.” she responded defiantly. “How old are you?” I asked. “21” she said as she began to slowly open her eyes. (She looked more like a 14-15 year old.) “Have you eaten anything today, Hillary?” “No.” she said cautiously.
As I watched her rail thin stomach convulse up and down, felt her head grow warm and moist, and smelled the heavy odor of cigarettes on her, I grew certain she had passed out from not eating. It was then I noticed that she had only being trying to buy Gatorade and bottled water. So I asked, “When was the last time you ate anything?” She slowly replied, “I’m not sure.” And then as our eyes fixed on to one another’s she softly confessed, “I …. have…. issues with food.” Gently I replied, “So how long have you suffered with anorexia?” She laid still for few moments with her eyes shut while I continued to kneel holding her head. Then her eyes opened and she cautiously said, “Since I was 14. I was sent to rehab for it after I went into cardiac arrest during P.E. in middle school.”
As the paramedics came through the door to provide real assistance I said to her, “Hillary, you are a beautiful young woman. I so hope you are able to get the help you need. I hope you know you aren’t alone. There are millions who suffer from anorexia. We both know you may likely die from this if you don’t get treatment.” She nodded slightly in agreement and with her eyes locked on to mine she said three times, “Thank you for helping me.”
As I drove home I wondered what would become of Hillary. I thought about a woman from my hometown of Albany, who died of anorexia several years ago leaving 2 small children and a loving husband behind, despite having co-workers and family members love and support. I thought of my friend Cindy and her daughter who is suffering with the disease. In working with NAMI, I have learned the prospects for those suffering from a mental illness who don’t have access to care rarely improve. So I prayed for Hillary as I sat in my car outside my house and hoped our short time spent together some how started her down a path to recovery.
Anorexia Nervosa effect 8 million people a year with vast majority being women. 1 in 10 American women suffer from anorexia. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old. Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment. Treatment of an eating disorder in the US ranges from $500 per day to $2,000 day. The average cost for a month of inpatient treatment is $30,000. It is estimated that individuals with eating disorders need anywhere from 3 – 6 months of inpatient care. Health insurance companies for several reasons do not typically cover the cost of treating eating disorders.
For more information on anorexia visit http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm