Editor’s Note: This story is a follow-up to the two-part “Bipolar, off the Rails and Locked up in Korea” story written by a man who found himself in a Korean mental hospital before being drugged and put on a plane back to America. What follows is the story of his sister who had to try to get him back home in one piece.
By Mel Joyce
“If any of [Joe]‘s relatives are reading this page, please contact me. I am one of his friends in Korea.” This is what I found on my brother’s Facebook page on May 31st, 2009. I was stunned. My heart skipped a few beats, this was the reason that I had joined Facebook. My worst fears were taking shape before my very eyes!
I respond to my brother’s friend Jill as quickly as possible. She tells me that he hasn’t been at work in several days. People have seen him in bars drinking, dirty, talking to himself and throwing things. We discuss the situation and his friend says she’ll get a group together to go searching for him. They can’t find him. One friend finds him and he tells her that he has been locked out of his apartment and he doesn’t have a bed. She brings him a mattress to sleep on, but it doesn’t make him stay.
Every day my brother’s friend gives me a progress report to let me know if they have found him or anyone has seen him. He seems to wandering the streets during the day and go to bars at night. Each time I talk with my brother’s friend, we discuss the options. I’ve watched enough crime shows like ”Without a Trace” and read enough books to know this could end badly. At this point I’m kind of stuck. I don’t have a passport and my family isn’t too keen on my traveling to Korea alone anyway to find my brother.
A few times my brother emailed me and his friends to tell us he was O.K. However he wasn’t going to work or calling me. I knew he wasn’t O.K. just by some of the stuff he managed to post on his Facebook page. It was like he was trying to communicate in way he couldn’t otherwise. He would post music video’s. Sometimes the video would be the same song but different versions.So as long as I saw he posted a video I knew he was still alive. Everyday I’d check to see if there was a video. If a few hours went by and no videos’ appeared, I feared the worst.
Meanwhile I decide to contact the U.S. Embassy. I used Skype as my method of communication. I Learned through this that Korea is 12 hours ahead, so most of communications to Korea would be late at night into a.m. here. After several form letters from embassy I finally talked to a a real person: Bob. Bob and would talk about every day for six weeks before it was over with.
My brother didn’t register with the embassy when he went to Korea, so they have no address. in one of my many conversations with Jill, she shares my brother’s apartment address, work address and phone number with me. Then Bob tells me that even if they find my brother they can’t force him to do anything. They can only tell him that I am concerned and wonder where he is….. ugh. Then Bob asks if I think this is emergency and I say well yes. So they send someone out to look for my brother but don’t find him. So I pray that he’s o.k. and every once in awhile he posts a video on Facebook and I know he is still alive.
On June 8th at about 2:00 a.m. my time, I get a call from Bob. They have found my brother. He is dirty, messy, talking out of his head, acting belligerent. The police picked him up. They tell me before they can do anything for him I have to email a letter that requests that they take him to a mental hospital for treatment and that I was in a position to financially help him. I didn’t have a problem with the letter for him to get treatment, but paying the bill. Here in the states it costs a tremendous amount for care in a mental hospital. My brother has no insurance either. So I send the letter and pray it all works out. Then on top of that the Koreans want to talk to our parents, because my brother isn’t married, his parents must also give permission for them to place my brother in a hospital. My mom is in a nursing home at the time and my dad is in good health, but he doesn’t need to have to deal with this. So I tell the embassy the circumstances and they say write another email relaying that.
Once my brother was admitted, I called to check on him the next day. No one spoke good English. I thought to myself,this is going to be fun! I had sent in a email explaining the meds that he had previously taken,so they’d know what had helped in the past. I get a call from Bob the next day. My brother is refusing treatment and not eating. The Korean doctors want him to come to the States.
It’s June 19th and my brother is still in the hospital. Between June 8th and now, I have been in communication with Bob from the embassy trying to figure out what to do with my brother. I’ve researched air ambulance — it costs like $20,000, which I don’t have. I get my passport in case I need to escort him home–even though I’m not too sure about traveling there alone. My family doesn’t think it is safe. But the whole time the Korean hospital is saying he needs to leave for states and get better care and he needs a family member to be his escort.
It is during this time also that I am in Massachusetts visiting my newborn grandchild. So while trying to enjoy a new grandbaby, I’m also trying to help my brother. My son even calls our representative in Congress to see how they can help. The best they can do is expedite the passport that I applied for before I left, but no one wants me to go anyway. I call family members that have passports to see if they’d be willing to go over, because the Korean doctors are adamant that my brother come to states for help. My liaison Bob keeps me posted every day on my brothers’ progress: my brother won’t eat the meals they bring him was one thing. So while in Massachusetts trying to relax, I finally decide to call my brother to see what he wants to do in order to get a feel for his mental status. I go to Skype again.
When I talk to my brother over Skype, he is still displaying psychotic symptoms. He talks using metaphors, of being Jesus Christ, and thinking he knows stuff that no one else knows. He curses at me and says he doesn’t want to come back to the States and even if I flew over there for him, he’d refuse to come with me. He tells me if he got kicked out, he’d have to be tied down to be returned to States. I relay my conversation with my brother to Bob. Bob tells me that they can’t make my brother leave Korea if he is released (only If I have him declared incompetent,but that costs money too and lots of paperwork). So for now, my brother stays in the mental hospital. He is in no shape yet to be released. I’ve done all I can do at this point.
Some have said in comments here on the Three Wise Monkeys that my brother sounds like he has schizophrenia instead of a bipolar disorder. I thought the same thing in the beginning;however the doctors and medical literature says that some with bipolar can get psychotic in a severe manic state that mimic schizophrenia.
Eventually I start to get the feeling that Joe is beginning to feel better. He starts to call his friends in Korea. Joe says he doesn’t want to return to the States because he doesn’t get along with anyone, which isn’t true. It is another sign that he’s getting better, however; I’m the one person he actually gets along with. And I hear from Jill that he calls her every day. That also tells me that he is getting better. If I were there, I’d be the one he was calling.
Soon the embassy is telling me that when my brother is ready to be released he would be repatriated because he no longer had a valid visa to be in Korea.
The US government will loan him the money for his plane ride home and take away his passport. He will receive a passport just to get into the States. He can’t return to Korea unless he pays off his loan. Bob also tells me that my brother wants to come back to States now to my house.
On July 15th my brother arrived in the States. The hospital basically sedates him for the plane ride home. When I talked to Bob from the embassy he said my brother seemed very manic when they last talked. That probably explains why they sedated him. I pray the whole while I know he is in the air. I fear that I’ll hear on CNN about a plane coming from Korea that has to do an emergency landing due to an unruly passenger.
My brother arrives in D.C. safely. He has a five hour layover. The U.S. government arranges for someone to be waiting there for him to evaluate him and for two social workers to stay with him until his flight leaves for home.The two social workers call me when they see him get on the plane and ask that I let them know when he arrives home.
I meet my brother at the airport at 5:45. He seems O.K,but I know he’s not 100%. He only has a week worth of meds, so I call our local mental health community service board to get him an appointment in the a.m. with a case manager, counselor and doctor. There are many more meetings/Dr. appt that will follow. I’m just thankful to have my brother home,realizing this could have ended very differently.
It’s been a little over two years now since I was thrust into my own “Without a Trace” episode. My brother is stable. He will continue to be stable as long as he takes his one small pink pill in the morning and two large pink pills in the evening. He is fortunate that the doctors found the right combination of pills to keep him stable. It can take years sometimes to find the right combination of pills to keep someone with bipolar stable. My brother says the memory of the Korean mental hospital encourages him to stay on the pills,but it is always in the back of his mind that maybe someday he won’t have to take them.
I’m thankful for the social network Facebook and for the friends in Korea who cared enough to search for my brother. I’m thankful for Bob at the embassy who was my liaison with the Korean mental hospital doctors.I’m thankful for all the mental health professionals who have cared for my brother since he returned to the States. I’m thankful to God for carrying us both through such a challenging time. It has changed my perceptions of mental illness and the lives it touches every day. As a Christian “I am not exempt from suffering, but I am to be transformed because of it” (Elisabeth Elliot). My life has been transformed; he ain’t crazy, he’s my brother.
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