by Cindy Hasz, R.N.
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
July 8, 2001
SAN DIEGO -- It's been over two weeks now since Andrea Yates killed her five children. Immediately after it happened I heard snippets of news about the horror, and saw the supposedly grief-stricken father holding a family photo out on the lawn of the family home as he talked poignantly about his wife's mental illness.
I successfully avoided letting it touch me for awhile -- I went numb. I saw Marie Osmond on talk shows talking about Post-Partum Depression -- everyone jumped on the PPD bandwagon. It was the tidy answer to the unthinkable: a mother who kills her babies.
That had to be it. Yates was another woman who fell over the hormonal edge into the abyss of a peculiarly feminine psychosis.
And the father! Can you imagine his grief? Yet even in them agnitude of his loss, modeling (as one expert in the field wrote) "anincredibly humane response," he assured us how much he loved his wife. Inan interview for Time magazine Rusty Yates offered his reflections in an"eerily lucid, coherent" (read detached) way about what responsibility hemight have had in all this. I still felt confused. There was somethingmissing.
As I read about her history, I found myself absolutely amazed to find that Andrea Yates had been on the powerful antipsychotic, Haldol. As a portrait of a woman struggling desperately to meet expectations emerged against a background of significant others who were equally out of touch, I found myself up on my feet and raging about the systemic failure that led to a preventable loss of so much innocent life.
As a medical professional familiar with Haldol, I know it is not your ordinary pick-me-up or mood stabilizer. It is an infamous anti-psychotic that should throw up a red flag to anyone in the field thata serious psychosis is present. DANGER is what Haldol says topsychiatry professionals. The thought of someone on this medication caring for one childalone is itself crazy. To have expected Andrea Yates to take care of five children when she had a known history of PPD, had already attempted sucide and was on Haldol is just plain unthinkable.
It's my experience -- one common to anyone working with families - that rarely is just one person in a family "ill" to such an extreme egree. Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalysist, observed that many imes the one who the family presents as having "all the problems" issimply mirroring the pain, dysfunction and yes, evil that the othersrefuse to acknowledge.
This is what I see in the Yates case, but analysis aside, I'd liket= o ask some simple questions:
Where was this devoted "humanitarian" of a father -- a literal rocket scientist -- as his wife cared for their five children and her own ailing father, whose death two months before the murders reportedly devastated her? Why did Rusty Yates not get her help (with childcare,schooling, counseling) that she so obviously needed?
Why didn't he give his children the protection they needed?
What sane parent would jeopardize his children's welfare if there was even the potential that harm could come to them?
Rusty Yates knew his dutiful wife was going over the edge. In the Time interview he said he watched her as "she just spiraled down." He spoke like some catatonic air traffic controller who sees a plane is in serious trouble and sits back to watch what happens next. Just what lurks in the heart of this man? Andrea's brother, Brian Kennedy, alludes to it, I believe, when he says, "The truth will eventually come out."
Andrea Yates should be held accountable for her actions, but I think she should not be the only one in prison. Rusty Yates, the high-profile "Christian" who found it necessary to pray before, during and after simple outdoor activities with his children, ought to be thoroughly examined -- so religious in the outside world and yet so hard-hearted with his wife and children at home. Sadly, it is not rare to find an overtly religious person being quietly cruel to his or her family. Such exhibitionist religious behavior often belies an underlying imbalance and rigidity. In an atmosphere of competition and repression that was apparently the Yates family culture, ungodly things can flourish.
Yes, I think Rusty Yates, who looks as squeaky clean as the bathtub his children drowned in, ought to be locked up instead of his wife for callously ignoring his wife's needs (if not worse) and for criminal neglect of his children.
Maybe you think I am being too hard on poor Mr. Yates -- unfairly singling him out for blame. All right, I'll pass the blame around.
How's this: The doctors and nurses involved in this case who simply turned the other way when they should have intervened to save this pitiful woman and her children belong there, too. Doctors, nurses and social workers are legally bound to report to the appropriate protective agency a suspected incident of abuse, and are under at least a moral obligation to act decisively when abuse is not only possible but probable.
This hits home for me, because I recently lost my job protecting a frail, elderly woman from a potentially abusive situation. There was a price to pay when the business entities involved did not appreciate my proactive approach. But the patient and her family did, and that's all that matters to me.
Anyone who paid attention to the very unambiguous medical aspects of this case -- which clearly dictated an appropriate path of action -- would tell you that we don't leave children alone with a suicidal psychotic and then wonder why they were murdered; PPD was not the prime suspect here.
Yes, the principals in this case will most likely hide behind the "complexities" involved -- Andrea's illness and other convenient smokescreens which absolve the conscience from passivity -- but in this case the prescription was crystal clear.
Protect the children.
Andrea Yates was going down for the final time. They all suspected it. Her husband knew it. She needed someone to throw her a life jacket. But no one cared enough to intervene. They couldn't get up enough moxie to lift a finger to save her from drowning in her own sea of psychosis and taking her little ones with her.
That is the real pathology.