Bits 'n'n Pieces: Novel tells tale of son's illness

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

When he was about 16 years old, Pamela Deane Stanek's son — "just a regular kid," she said — started acting alarmingly odd.

"He wouldn't go to school," she said. "I thought he was on drugs, but I wouldn't confront him, because he was so belligerent. I tried to watch him and see where he was going, but it was almost impossible to control him."

Stanek's new novel, "The Translation of Max," opens with a fictionalized episode that's both terribly disturbing and all too typical for those days. It begins inside Max's hallucinating head, as he fingers a pistol and eyeballs a pack of alligators that are slithering up the front lawn toward him. It continues as Max unleashes a torrent of anger and foul language at his desperately confused, frightened mother.

When Stanek finally managed to get her son evaluated, it took medical professionals all of 10 minutes to rule out substance abuse and point toward the real diagnosis: schizophrenia.

"It took a while to be sure," she said. But what followed was years and years of hospital stays and attempts at different treatments.

Stanek's son — his real name is Adam — was a regular fixture in the mental health ward at what's now called Vancouver Memorial Health Center, the hospital on Main Street in Vancouver, and became a veteran of ambulance treks up to Western State Hospital, the secure psychiatric hospital near Tacoma.

"He went through so much grief and they tried so many meds," Stanek said. "He was good about staying on them, but they didn't work."

Until, finally, one did. Clozaril is an anti-psychotic medication with some serious side effects that generally isn't tried until other meds have failed. For Adam, after years of agony, it did the trick quite handily.

"He got stable immediately," said Stanek.

He's stayed stable for the past 15 years or so, she said. Now in his mid-40s, Adam lives on his own and collects Social Security disability benefits plus income from "odd jobs." He knows when he's not feeling quite right and needs to go "get a tune-up" -- that is, an adjustment in his dosage.

"He is one of the nicest people in the whole world," his mom said.

And Stanek, 71, a retired English teacher who published a children's book a couple of years ago, knew that her next writing project would be the painful, but ultimately triumphant, story of raising him.

"It was so intense for so long a time that I really didn't have time to stop and think about it. But in a lot of ways it made me stronger," she said.

Her fictional version of Adam's struggle with schizophrenia, "The Translation of Max," is available at Amazon.com. The author — whose pen name is Pamela Deane -- will sign copies from 2 to 4 p.m. March 15 at Cover to Cover Books, 6300 N.E. St. James Road, Suite 104B.

"There's a wonderful light at the end of this tunnel," said Stanek. "Maybe for other people going through the same thing, it can offer a little insight, a little hope. I think it was very therapeutic for me to write."


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.