Sunday, December 27, 2009


Mike Bighus has severe schizophrenia. He takes he medication on a regular basis—a shot of haldol every few weeks. After his shot, he sleeps for a few days and then is as normal as he can. A few days before his next shot is scheduled, he begins to decompensate and have emotional problems. Occasionally, he would threaten someone for an imagined fault, but his friends would ignore it, knowing that he’ll be better after he takes his medication. If he took oral medication every day, he could avoid these highs and lows, but he is just too unstable to take oral meds every day.

Mike is homeless, because he’s never been stable enough to remain in any home. He stays in Gresham, to be in an urban setting, but remaining close to his parents who lives in Sandy. The street community helped him when they could, but he never really made friends with them. It was too difficult to make sense of him, to track his moods. The street community often accepts those who are unstable, so they just worked around it.

This last holiday season, Mike was unable to get his medication on time. He was a little unstable, but he was still determined to stay with his parents over Christmas, because he doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with them in their home. His mother is a nurse practitioner, so she understands some of what he’s going through.

We don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow Mike got a hold of the rifle that they kept in storage and he shot and killed his mother. On Christmas day. After this deed, Mike strolled around Sandy with the rifle, and then he wandered back home, where the police had blocked off roads and searched all over the town for him. Mike peacefully surrendered the rifle to the officers and he was arrested for the murder of his mother.

Why did this tragedy happen? Well, it happened because Mike had become too unstable. But this answer just encourages the wrong fear that many people have of the mentally ill. Most of the mentally ill are not dangerous, even the severely mentally ill and schizophrenic. The mentally ill, for the most part, do not deserve to be locked up or kept on such strong drugs that they no longer are able to think for themselves. Most of the severely mentally ill can work, can function in society and can live a decent, if alternative, lifestyle.

The real question that should be asked is: How could this tragedy have been averted? Perhaps if Mike had been living in a house he wouldn’t have had the extra stress that would have sent him over the edge. But we can’t really point our fingers at the parents—they had probably helped Mike for years and was at the edge of their patience and knowledge of how to help him.

Perhaps if Mike had been able to take oral medications every day, he would have been more stable, especially if regularly monitored by a doctor. That would mean that Mike would have to be in a group home. But would any group home have taken Mike in? Probably not, because he was too unstable to begin with.

The fact is, there is no place in our society to help people like Mike. Some think that the homeless should be more responsible for themselves, but there are certain people who need to be helped because they cannot help themselves. It is a positive thing that in our society we give people freedom, but when that freedom leads to tragedies like this, is the cost worth it? Wouldn’t it be better to have money in our society to help the severely mentally ill, to make sure that they all have housing and regular medication if they need it?

In the end, wouldn’t it be less expensive. Mike will either be imprisoned or hospitalized for the rest of his life, after a trial. Wouldn’t it have been less expensive to place him in a group home that assists those with severe needs like Mike? Certainly it would have been less costly than losing a nurse. Less costly than a man who has to live the rest of his life without his wife, knowing that she was taken at the hands of their son.


andy said...

This is indeed a tragedy on many levels. Every time I hear storied like this I fear the impact on those suffering from mental illness from those who only understand what the media tells them. There is so much fear of those who act and respond to situations in ways deemed inappropriate or unacceptable. "If they act that way, what else are they capable of?" And that fear propels us to act inappropriately to the ones most in need of being loved, accepted, and included in the lives of others. Lord have Mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Anonymous said...

We just found out Mike's leg was amputated after he was arrested. The advocate for Mike told Phil he had a MERSA infection and his leg had to be amputated. MERSA is treatable! When one goes to jail, they don't let you have your meds and it takes about a week to see an MD. He may lose his other leg too. The police make me sick and terrify me with their cruelty. Bighaus Cousin.

Steve Kimes said...

I just don't know what to say. I will pray. Do you think Mike would want any of the folks he knew on the street to visit him? Maybe I can arrange it if he's interested.