One morning, a few Perham residents came across a girl who was acting odd. Her body was moving as if she had no control over it. The residents walked up to her and tried to speak with her, but she was catatonic. These residents called the police department who then came out with an ambulance and took the girl to Perham Health emergency room. It's likely that the actions of these residents saved this woman, Lacey's, life.
Lacey's mother, Margret Rousu, who lives in Callaway, as a part of the White Earth Indian Reservation, said it's incredibly difficult to get an adult struggling with addiction the help they need. Lacey, 27, has struggled with drug addiction since her late teens. Since 2018, because of drug use, she has been in and out of psychosis.
When in a state of psychosis, Lacey will walk through the woods barefoot and in shorts for miles, but, Margaret said, this wasn't a good enough reason for her to be committed. One time, Lacey was talking to the trees and flowers, and a mental health professional dismissed Margaret's concerns. Margaret said this person who was supposed to help her daughter dismissed these worrying actions because this mental health professional believed talking to plants was something Indigenous people do for religious purposes.
"To be told that as a mother who knows her child, to me that was just another roadblock and barrier to get (Lacey) the help she needs," Margaret said. "Even though you're Indigenous doesn't mean you talk to trees and birds and rocks." Margaret continued, saying Lacey's actions were clearly from psychosis, not spirituality. She had been trying to get her daughter help since 2018.
At the end of 2020, Lacey was in another state of psychosis where, according to Margaret, she wasn't responding properly. She had a screwdriver and was tapping the blunt end on a wall.
"It worried me," Margaret said. "Not because she was going to hurt me but because of her state of mind." So, Margaret called a mental health help line who instructed her to call the police since Lacey didn't want to go to the hospital.
An officer came and kept trying to speak with Lacey, but she was in a complete state of psychosis. Margaret said this officer got close to her face and kept asking if she was scared. Eventually, she told them she was because she was worried for her daughter and said she needed to go to the hospital. After this, the officer finally agreed to take Lacey to the hospital.
Lacey followed them into the snow with only one shoe on, saying she wanted to get out of the house and go for a ride. Margaret said it was clear to tell she wasn't in a good state of mind.
"(The officer) reassured me they were taking her to the hospital, and I was so relieved," Margaret continued. However, Margaret never got a call from the ER. Worried, she called the police department and found out her daughter was in a holding cell after being cleared for jail, where she was facing criminal assault charges. Margaret hadn't been told.
"What if the hospital had recognized this as a mental health thing and not a criminal thing?" Margaret said, "The whole system is so messed up."
After jumping through more hoops, Margaret was able to get the charges against Lacey dropped and get her taken to a hospital where she was committed. Eventually, she ended up at the Rewind Center in Perham.
Lacey was six months sober, when, on Tuesday, July 6, she relapsed. Then, on July 7, she was found by the Perham residents a few blocks from the Rewind Center. Those people called to get her the help she needed.
"I don't know who they are, but me and my family are so grateful for them and want them to know we're thankful," Margaret said.
After being taken to the ER in Perham, Lacey was holding herself and crying as if she were in pain. Her lung was collapsing, and her body was shutting down, so she was taken to an intensive care unit in Fargo, where she was put on a breathing machine and in a medically induced coma.
"You don't know what this does to a mother, to see your child in a state of coma with a respirator," Margaret said. "When I saw her, I broke down. I couldn't breathe. That's all I could do. As the mother of an addict, you never know what will happen with your child. You never know if you'll ever see them again."
Lacey has now been taken out of her coma. On Saturday, July 10, she was moved to a regular floor, and on Sunday, they took her off the sedative she was on. She was able to pull the respirator out of her throat and breathe on her own.
Margaret said, according to Lacey's doctor, everything that happened to Lacey was due to drug-triggered psychosis. She has been on an IV for the past few days, and, as of Monday, July 12, her kidneys are healing. The doctor said that, because Lacey's young, her body can still heal itself.
"(The doctor) told us there are way too many people from our area who live with kidney failure," Margaret said. "And to me, this spoke so strongly about the health disparities that happen with Indigenous people."
As said by the National Institutes of Health, Native American individuals are 1.2 times more likely to suffer from kidney failure than white people. According to the CDC, 25% of Indigenous adults have fair or poor health, whereas 14.1% of non-Hispanic white adults have fair or poor health.
Margaret said that Lacey's story is common among young Indigenous people. Her son and brother have also struggled with addiction. She continued to say that this goes back to generational trauma, due to the historical genocide Indigenous people faced. As Margaret has gotten older, she's learned who she is as Native American through considering that trauma.
"If Lacey's story can change one person's choice on using or dealing, if that can happen to one person, that can change generations of people," Margaret said. "You can make one change, and it impacts the next generation."
As of Tuesday, July 20, Lacey is doing much better. She's been released from the hospital and has been placed in a safe location to work on her recovery as she and her mother look for a treatment center that will meet her needs. Margaret said the doctors didn't think Lacey would be doing as well as she is now.
Margaret was shocked by just how much damage one use after six months of sobriety can cause. She encourages anyone struggling with addiction to think about the impact drug use can have on their own health and on those they care about.
She emphasized how important it was to thank the Perham residents who got her daughter help. She believes that, with so many horrible things happening in the world, it's hard to remember that there are good people sometimes. To her, this shows that there are good people out there who care.
Margaret wanted to say this to the Perham residents who found Lacey: "Thank you. I know in my heart that she wouldn't be with us today if they hadn't done that. It really reassures me, as a human being, that human beings are still good."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline at 1-800-622-4357.