I thought I was over it. August 1993 was so long ago when the unthinkable had occurred. My son suffered from schizophrenia but the roller coaster ride my family had traveled along with him for the previous 9 years from symptoms of an illness aptly described as “the most devastating of all diseases” was in a relatively stable state. At least I told myself myself that was so. His father and stepmother resided on Vancouver Island and I lived in a rural area in Northern BC. I had previously reached an impasse where I could no longer handle monitoring his medications and had passed on responsibility for his mental health to them. They had admitted him into a group home in Nanaimo. My son and I still kept in constant touch and although he usually said he was “fine” when I inquired about his health I knew the medications were not as effective as they should be.
I had taken the liberty of writing a letter to my son’s psychiatrist and mailed it along with a newspaper clipping advocating the effectiveness of a new medication called Risperidone. According to the article the medication helped curb psychosis symptoms in 80% of patients. My son was admitted into The Nanaimo General Hospital on a 23 day trial basis of the drug. As it turned out, Risperidone did not curb his symptoms. In fact his condition actually escalated at times after he was discharged from hospital .And because my son was intelligent and knowlegable about his symptoms, he called for help when the voices in his head began urging him to perform an act of violence. He was taken to the hospital by paramedics who understood his perilous mental condition.
The problem was the medical doctor who admitted him, observed him eating dinner, and given him another dose of medication was unable to recognize that my son’s psychosis had worsened to the point where he was a danger to himself and others. The psyche ward was full and the only alternative would have been for the patient to be taken by ambulance to a hospital in either Comox or Victoria. My son was discharged from hospital back to the group home where he was living.
The doctor’s error in judgement and the fact that the group home attendants were unable to recognize symptoms of extreme mental illness, had culminated in the death of a fellow group home resident. The young man had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My son was in a jail cell when he learned the horrible truth that his body had taken the life of another human being. He was hugely distraught to the extent that he was put on suicide watch for several days. When my daughters and I got to see him he had bruises from throwing himself repeatedly at the walls of his cell. I noted several deep marks on his arms from self-inflicted cigarette burns. I hugged him and felt so terribly sorry. My son had never been violent. He had always been the artist and writer in the family who loved books and music.
The only good that came out after the trial and 5 years of incarceration in a mental health hospital in Port Coquitlam was the publication of a book which I hoped would help other families dealing with what our family had gone through. My son was eventually put on an effective antipsychotic medication called Closapine which curbed his symptoms. To this day I thank the Good Lord for compelling those wonderful researchers into inventing the drug.
The book was successful in that I received many phone calls and letters from other mothers and family members with loved ones who had symptoms of psychosis. It was far from a best seller but it did receive a British Columbia 2000 Book Award and as a result was distributed in school libraries. For several years mental health workers and college students included the book as part of their research projects. My son who’d assisted me with many passages in the manuscript- as did several others who’d been involved- eventually read the book. He told me it had been painful but he’d managed to get through it.
I have often recalled the memory of the woman who’d huddled on a bench across the room from me and my family during my son’s trial. She was the mother of the young man who was killed and was there to provide a Victim Impact Statement to the Court. I was in an agony of guilt and sympathy for her. I still had my son but she no longer had hers.
And now twenty-three years later with my son as mentally well as he can be with the help of a medication that works for him, I am reliving the agony as I
read the vitriol against Vince Li on Facebook pages. In one sense Li is luckier than my son was in that the medication he was put on worked so well to curb his symptoms. My son was put on so many combinations of meds over the years before they finally found the one that worked.
The Manitoba Review Board has given Vince Li an absolute discharge from the mental health hospital where he has been incarcerated since his deranged mind caused him to commit a horrific fatal assault against a fellow bus passenger.
The mother of the boy he killed has been very vocal about her anger and fears and I don’t blame her a bit.
I keep thinking about that woman huddled in the Nanaimo courtroom back in the spring of 1994. The Nanaimo newspapers had rightfully emphasized that my son was a victim of a flawed mental health system in that city. But the mother of the young man who died was hardly mentioned at all. I had made up a card with my heartfelt feelings on it and given it to my son’s lawyer but I don’t think she ever received it. My son’s lawyer had said it was unlawful to communicate with her in any way. It could jeopardize the outcome of the trial,
I feel strongly that the Manitoba Review Board has made the right decision in the Vince Li case. Mr. Li’s medications and his mental health will continue to be monitored but only by the public health system where he happens to live.[No longer by what is essentially an off-shoot of the Criminal Justice System] Mr Li has been deemed competent and caring enough to take the pills that will be administered to him on a regular basis. He is not a Paul Bernardo or any other type of psychopath who is unable to empathize with his fellow human beings. I am certain that Mr. Li will stay on track for the rest of his life.
I am grateful that the victim’s mother has spoken out so loudly expressing her anguish and fears. She desperately needed to be heard and sympathised with. Perhaps one day the victim’s family members will be invited to participate in the hearings that are held as part of the Review Board process. The victim’s family members need to be heard – as well as the loved ones of those who have committed unprovoked attacks on others while in the throes of psychosis.