Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's All In Your Head

I can't tell you how many times I have read stories or heard stories about the treatment of physical illness being overlooked because the patient has metal illness. It is often met with questions like,"Are you sure you are not just having a panic attack?" or " Are you sure it's pain or are you just upset?". Basically asking us if it is all in our heads.

I have a dear friend who lost her mother, because her mother had OCD. When she kept complaining of severe pain in her abdomen she was treated with kid gloves. No real x-rays or treatments were applied to see what was going on to cause such pain. Instead they gave her a nice pat on the head, threw some pain pills at her, and sent her home. They believed she was over exaggerating because she had mental illness. Six months of pain and hospital visits had the same equation over and over. When the medicine seemed not to help, her daughters both took time off to drive their mother two and half hours to a different hospital where much the same treatment was applied on and off  for five months.Until she became septic. You see, my friends mother had gallbladder stones. The hospitals were not aware because they refused to look. Her gallbladder became infected. She developed a fatty liver due to the medications they gave her. She lost weight until her face no longer was recognizable. Her skin became yellow. Her eyes became yellow. She was weak and having a hard time breathing. She became unable to walk. Her organs started to shut down. She finally got a surgeon who cared and did everything she could to save my friend's mother but it was too late. The emergency room doctors had repeatedly dropped the ball so much that nothing could be done to repair the damage they had done.  She became septic and all she needed to prevent this was to have a gall bladder removal. Because the hospital had decided that my friend's mother was faking it and not worth their time they sent her home in agony over and over again, killing her with the pain medications they decided would solve all of her problems, because obviously she was a mental case and was just out for attention. She died of renal failure with both of her daughters , her husband, and her grandchildren by her side. She was 45.

She did everything right. She went to the doctor. She went to the hospital. She told them what symptoms she was having. She told them of her medical history and she did what responsible people do, she told them the truth about her mental illness. She told them she had OCD and after that the doctors and nurses ceased to see anything else. They judged her a mental case and their judgment killed a mother, a sister, a wife, and a grandmother. She was a kind woman. She had been a teacher. She loved children. She taught Sunday school. Her life was unimportant to them because she had mental illness. That is unacceptable. Because of their actions my 25 year old friend and her 22 year old sister are motherless. They had no one to hold their hands when they got married. No one to tell stories of their birth on their birthdays. No one to call when they are sick and they just want to hear their Momma's voice. That was denied them because their mother had had mental illness and was treated differently because of it.

Now Nelly you say, that is one very sad story but surely this is a one time incident. No, sadly it is not.

I have experienced the discrimination myself with my first surgery. I had a stint put in my bile duct. I had a nurse who I could tell was not really happy to have me as a patient. I could not figure out why. I am a fairly nice person. I am not a difficult patient.

After my surgery my surgeon left the country for vacation so I was left to the mercy of the hospital. I started to have severe pain where my liver is located. I pushed my nurse button and told them I was feeling pain. The nurse at the desk said my nurse would be there in a minute. Fifteen minutes later and my pain was making it hard for me to breathe and still no nurse. I pushed the button again and told them the pain was much worse and I needed to see the nurse. I was scolded for pushing the button a second time and was told my nurse was with another patient and she would get there when she got there. By this time the pain was so bad I was crying. My husband had called to check on me and hearing my uncontrollable crying he decided to drive to the hospital and see if I was okay. He got to my room after a  fifteen minute drive and still no nurse. I was frantic and doubled over in pain. Finally my nurse strolls in with an angry expression on her face and doles out some morphine in my IV. The morphine did nothing for the pain and made me feel like I was going to vomit. Still in pain she decided what I need to "snap out of it" is to be wrenched out of my bed and walked down the hallway. I made it ten steps and doubled over. I couldn't breathe. She dragged me back to my room and called the cats-scan people to have me looked at. My wheelchair arrived pushed by another lady and I was wheeled down to the x-ray room. My wheel chair was run into every trash can, every wall, every cart in the hallway, and every door. I was bumped into the elevator doors so many times I had to actually reach out in my pain and pull myself in.
After my cat-scan was done I was told it was because they blow air in you bile duct to be able to see in there during surgery. I was still in pain and by the time the wheelchair lady got me back to my room I was still in a lot of pain. My nurse was waiting for me. She looked at me with disgust and said in the most ugliest and snarky tone,'"Is she still crying?". It scared me knowing that until her shift was over I was going to be left alone with this woman as my only source of care. She never once came back into my room. I could hear her talking about me and laughing with others in the hallway. On my chart it says I have OCD because I am honest and it is a real illness.  I want others to know because they are taking care of me and it is important that they do know. I do however, feel that if my mental illness wasn't on my chart that she would not have treated me like I was faking it to get attention. I have a hard time believing she would have ever treated a normal person with such discrimination and thinly veiled disgust. I believe that she thought I was trying to get attention and therefore treated me like I was a burden and someone to mock to her friends.

And I am not the only one who has been treated like this by medical staff. It is apparent to me that when faced with mental illness written on your medical chart, some doctors and nurses tend to feel you are just having a panic attack or you are just complaining to complain. Often times your medical needs are overlooked because they can not see past your mental illness diagnoses. Because they believe it is a possibility it is all just in our heads and we are just fine physically.

I have heard of people having head injuries and being asked if they are sure they are not just having a panic attack. I have had people wrongly assume that my physical pain was just me getting upset. I have seen medical staff leave mental illness sufferers in their hospital beds and not check on them their whole shifts because they don't want to "deal" with whatever complaints the person may have. After all, it's not like they are real people that deserve real care. Who would believe them if we made a formal complaint anyway, they are crazy.

This has to change. People are being judged by the one group of people that are supposed to be caring for us. Hospitals are supposed to give you care not leave you to suffer and send you home with pills or violently push you down the hallway because they think you are just trying to be difficult. How many people have gotten very sick or died because the medical field tends to not take us seriously? How many people have suffered because they deem us to be undesirable or unworthy of their time? I have had great nurses and doctors but I have also stared in the face of discrimination and been punished for a mental illness I didn't ask for in the first place. It's wrong and something needs to change. People are being mistreated and on a more scary scale people are dying just because they are being overlooked because of the words mental illness written on their medical charts. No one would put up with this if it was a racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is wrong and disgusting. No one would sit by and accept it if it was a religious discrimination. There are laws against such unacceptable behavior. Why would it even be conceivable that it is acceptable to discriminate against the mentally ill?  And if you can figure this out, please let me know so I can let my friend know why it was acceptable to have to watch her mother suffer needlessly and  die from something that could have been easily treated, I can explain to my children who were in the room with me why I was crying and my nurse was yelling at me and pushing me around, and I can tell all the others who have been swept aside, overlooked, and punished why we are supposed to be treated like this. I really would like to know.

Neurotic Nelly


  1. I couldn't even count the number of times this has happened to me. Even in psych wards they don't take us seriously. I have several physical disabilities that often go untreated while I'm hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. Last summer, I even had the psychiatrist that was supposed to be treating me REFUSE to give me my pain and anxiety meds for almost a week while I was inpatient because my drug screen when I arrived showed I tested negative for them. So he lectured me and made me feel like crap for a week about how either my husband or I MUST be selling my medicine. Finally, my GP convinced him to give them to me. After 3-4 days of taking them, and still hearing about how we were selling them (and refusing to treat my psychosis), I asked for another drug test. Again, I tested negative. I wish more than anything I had accused him of selling my medicine at that point. But as soon as those results came back he refused to talk about it again. He wouldn't even apologize for treating me so poorly. It's sad when the people that are supposed to be there to help are making the situation worse.

  2. That is horrid and absolutely unacceptable. This has got to stop. We have the right to decent medical care and the right to be treated like human beings. There are laws against discrimination and yet it happens all the time. Mostly because it is believed no one will believe us and they can get away with it. Unfortunately in some situations they are correct. It is unacceptable that this happening all around the world. It is unacceptable that having the words mental illness on your medical chart changes the way you are seen, heard, and treated. It just makes me sick!