Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who Is The Alien?

I had a surreal experience yesterday. I watched District 9.

Well, watching a movie, no matter how insane, is almost never a surreal experience (Eraserhead is an exception, but I don’t necessarily recommend that to anyone, either). District 9 is a good film, using aliens who have faced a disaster who are then moved into refugee camps by people of Johannesburg, South Africa, as a way of speaking of humans inhumanity to other humans, although of different kinds. It is science fiction social commentary at its best—working at the level of a compelling story and a coherent commentary on the myopic nature of our culture.

Just before I plugged the movie in, I received the latest news in a terribly tragic story of one of the homeless community in Gresham. Mike Bighaus is a man who has been schizophrenic for years, with little or no help. Without any housing or nurses, he would go into a clinic to get his medication only as he was mentally stable enough to go through the extra effort. He knew he needed his medication. He would see things no one else could see, and sometimes had self-aggrandizing visions. He would occasionally be so irrational as to be threatening, but the homeless community knew how to deal with him, and there were few problems.

Over this last holiday season, he had failed to get his latest medication before the clinics closed for Christmas, but he already had plans to stay at his parents’ house over the holidays, so he figured all would be well. His mother was a caring nurse practitioner, and his father was retired. They would care for him.

Christmas night, he took the rifle he parents kept in their home and shot his mother to death. The police were called immediately but Mike had wandered about the Oregon community with the rifle. They blocked roads, sent out alerts, sent police cars all over the community. Many hours later Mike comes walking back home with the rifle as if nothing had happened. The police surrounded him and Mike surrendered the rifle with no resistance. He was immediately arrested.

He had his first hearing, where he was strapped down, both head and body, and his mouth gagged. He muttered throughout the arraignment, possibly not even knowing what was going on. In his second arraignment, where he was indicted for murder, he was not even present, being in the hospital for a leg infection.

Last night, I found out that the infection was one of the antibiotic resistant infections. So they amputated his leg, without consulting family. His other leg also has an infection and so they are looking to amputate this leg as well.

This was all running through my mind as I watched District 9, and I thought of the mentally ill. The mentally ill are often placed in homes or camps, apart from the rest of humanity. There are ways to solve some of their issues—granting housing where helpful medication can be offered, or providing employment that would work around their mental weaknesses—but few seem to be thinking of how the mentally ill can actually be helped as individuals. They are seen as a pathetic, stupid, dangerous group. They are rarely dangerous, and in fact, they rarely use the capacity for violence they have—they are statistically less likely to use violence than “normal” groups. But because they need some extra attention and thought, they are rather just ignored, cast aside. Eventually policies will be made against them “for their own good”, which is really for the comfort of society. If this means more end up in prison, or locked up in mental health facilities, even though preventative care could mean a semi-productive life, then so be it.

The mentally ill truly are the aliens in society. And yet the difference is, they didn’t come from a spaceship, hovering over our homes, but they are part of our own families, we grew up with them. But when they become homeless, although they’ve lived in our communities all of our lives, they become “transients.” When they are seen at soup kitchens, they become “bums” although they’ve done all they can do to survive. Even though legal medications didn’t help their ailments, or they couldn’t afford them, when they use illegal drugs to help them feel better they are “addicts.” And when they are unable to fill out the complicated paperwork for assistance from the government because of their social weaknesses or depression, it is considered that they didn’t “ask for help.”

Of course I have no sympathy for Mike being arrested. He is clearly dangerous and needs to be restrained. What I am saying is that this tragedy could have been averted, if Mike had been cared for by more than just his family. He needed a community with resources to get behind him, giving him the medications on a regular basis that he did not resist taking, and his mother could be alive today. He wouldn’t be in prison. He wouldn’t have his leg amputated because care would have been given ahead of time. Or, if he hadn’t been in jail at the time of this severe infection, they might have tried alternative treatments—of which there are many—instead of jumping to amputation.

Mike has been dehumanized. And it could be said that he deserves it because he shot his mother, and I could understand that perspective. But he was dehumanized long before this crime, when he had to live with his severe mental illness, with little or no help. When he needed assistance, he was blamed for that which he could not control.

And I think the best lesson I learned in watching District 9 at the same time of hearing of Mike’s amputation is that dehumanization of the poor and needy do not dehumanize the one being treated poorly. It ultimately makes the authorities less than human. In District 9, it is clear that it was not the aliens that were unhuman—they had very human responses to their situation. Rather it is the police, the system, the family that judges that becomes less than human.

In the case of Mike Bighaus, who is less than human? Mike, who has been struggling with his illness and left to his own devises? Or the system who ignored Mike until he had become so ill that he killed his mother? The system that takes away his legs without searching for other treatments? The system who treats Mike as little more than an animal?

I have great sympathy for Mike’s family. They didn’t know what to do with Mike and then they face this tragedy. It was Mike’s cousin, who sent me a message about his amputated leg, horrified at the treatment Mike has been given.

I also pray for this system that treats the poor like semi-human. May God teach the “justice” system how to be fully human.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting "Who is the Alien." A funeral was held for Vivian on Saturday. My mother said the family was told (by a church advocate for Mike Bighaus) that the MERSA infection was now in his blood stream. What does this mean?

My husband had MERSA eight months ago and was treated by having the wounds cleaned/drained then packed with gauze by a doctor every other day. Certain antibiotics work with certain strains of the MERSA. He tried three types, the third worked. He was cured in about 3 weeks. His insurance only covered a small percent and now we have 3,000 in medical bills to pay. But, he's alive and still has his limbs.

Thank you for listening, caring and understanding. Bighaus Cousin

Anonymous said...

I have known Mike Bighaus and the Bighaus family very well for about 20 years.
Mike does not deserve any sympathy. He chose his path and continually reinforced that decision. He chose to burn out his brain with drugs and alcohol over and over again. His family tried to help him straighten out for years. They paid for rehabilitation treatment, medications, housing, groceries, and anything else he needed. They took him shopping and visited him religiously when he was in many different rehab centers and they'd pick him up and take him to their home for holidays and special occasions.
Mike Bighaus received more help than he deserved and he spit on it continually with his bad decisions.
The blame for this tragedy and his current state rests squarely on Mike's shoulders. To blame this on society or some "system" is pure bleeding heart crap. If no one is forced to to take responsibility for their own actions there will always be animals like Mike walking the streets. Mike ripped a huge hole in the life of the Bighaus family and that of the local community.
He is no better than a mad dog and should be put down.
Mike chose his path and he's getting exactly what he asked for.

Steve Kimes said...

It is interesting to me that Mike's family, who knew him better, take a different point of view.

You seem to misunderstand what mental illness is. It is limitations of choice. It is constantly seeking what will make one feel better, and thinking that the wrong choice is the right one.

And you misunderstand my point. I did not say that Mike deserves sympathy. Even those with mental illness can choose a path of gentleness, and most do so. What I said is that this situation is simple tragedy piled upon tragedy all of which could have been averted. If there were people who, unlike you, could put themselves in Mike's place years ago, and find out what he really needed to make his life work, then his mother would still be alive.

One of the things that causes the gravest destruction is the pointing of fingers saying, "You have a responsibility to do this", rather than someone thinking "Why is this person doing this, when it makes no sense for their life?"

Life only works for everyone with understanding. And when we refuse to understand, but just demand conformity, that's when tragedies occur.

Julie said...

Thank you for posting "Who is the Alien" so right on. I also was a Bighaus Family member and appreciate that there are people out there that actually understand Mental illness unlike anonymous people that dont even have the courage to leave their name after making comments like those. Get yourself some education.


Steve Kimes said...

A rumor is on the street that Michael has passed away. Is this true?

Julie said...


I will check on that and get back to you.


Julie said...


I checked, and it is just a rumor.


Steve Kimes said...

Thanks, Julie

Anonymous said...

As of Sunday, 3/21/10, Mike Bighaus is still in the State Sanitarium Mental Hospital. Thanks, Bighaus Cousin

Stacker said...

Mike was one of those friends that i exchanged an "I love you man", with many times. He was one of my best buddies for a long time. I could see through the mental disposition he had come to share his life with. I feel tremendous pain for what his daily struggle must have been like. I can't even begin to try to understand where his head must have been when he pulled that trigger Christmas day, but i do know that Mike was not there that day.
Mike was a very smart guy. Anyone that really knows him would no doubt agree. I recently released from prison. I didn't get a chance to have my own personal reunion with Mike after not seeing him for nearly 2 years. I wish i could have helped him in some way. I find myself wondering if i could have been there for him in some way to prevent this tragic path of darkness he has had to travel alone. But I would be a fool if i actually believed i could have changed Mikes ways. It never worked before. All said, the bottem line is, in my opinion, Mike has allowed himself to be a victim of his own actions. But "****" all the mother ******s that didn't do their job, that they are paid for, and making the decision to cut off his leg(s)! People who try to play God... I miss Mike and think of him from time to time and think about the good times we've had. I hope the best for Mike. My sympathy goes out to anyone hurting from this crazy s***. I feel it...