Poverty was also a side effect of the lithium poisoning. I had been an administrative assistant in the New York State Office of Mental Health when I became Dr. Jenifer Rich’s patient. When I left her, I was on Welfare.
I had a friend who was a psychiatrist (I am neither bragging nor apologizing). Dr. Frank Reed picked me up for lunch one day, declared that I looked great and asked what I’d changed. I told him I’d stopped taking the lithium. He slapped his hand on the steering wheel, laughed and declared that I’d invented a new treatment modality: withdrawing medication.
Now too damaged to support myself, I applied for and got Social Security Disability (SSD) in the summer of 1991, and got a new therapist. Dr. Paul Cohen was a psychologist and a nice Jewish boy from Long Island who had devastated his mother by deciding not to go to medical school, although both his aptitude and his achievement qualified him for entry. I saw him twice a week. He told me he thought I had sleep apnea and I told myself he was crazy.
I went to an “alternative” doctor who had abandoned pharmaceuticals and was treating with nutrients. Dr. Charles Gant diagnosed me with a severe intestinal yeast infection, neuroendocrine imbalance, food allergies and hyperinsulinism. I went to the endocrinologist who was treating the nephrogenic diabetes insipidus and asked her what hyperinsulinism was; Dr. Barbara Feuerstein said it was diabetes mellitus, type II. I stopped eating foods with sugar or yeast and severely curtailed my carbohydrate intake. I took such nutrients as Dr. Gant ordered and I could afford. I got a little better.
In the same office with the alternative medicine doctor was Dr. Stephen Wechsler, a chiropractor and another nice Jewish boy from Long Island. After my first adjustment, I pitched into a screaming black depression. At the second adjustment, Dr. Wechsler claimed responsibility for causing it and reversed it with another adjustment. Follow-up adjustments seemed to make no difference in my overall health, so I stopped seeing him.
I went to more psychiatrists who put me on more medications and gave me more diagnoses. I now had personality disorder (no specific origin), borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I was apparently disordered all over the place. I also was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I took birth control pills for premenstrual syndrome, painkillers for fibromyalgia, antihistamines for God knows what, and whatever else the doctor du jour ordered.
I hadn’t had a date in nearly two decades, which I attributed to having become grossly obese. My depression was more or less constant and when I would become suicidal, my hospitalizations would now last five to ten days. I had frequent infections—gastrointestinal, urinary and vaginal.
I acquired yet another psychiatrist who prescribed yet more drugs. Dr. Nasri Ghaly was both an Egyptian and a Coptic Christian, and he—and he alone—accepted Medicaid. Actually, he thought Medicaid did not pay for psychiatric treatment so he freely treated poor patients. He believed that sick people should be helped; the suffering should stop.
I was suicidal again. Dr. Ghaly prescribed a new antidepressant and I remained suicidal. He increased the dose and I continued suicidal. He increased the dose again and I was still suicidal. He admitted me to the hospital and we talked. I was lying in bed; he was standing with one foot on the windowsill, his elbow on his knee, his chin in his hand, looking out the window. We discussed the pros and cons of increasing the medication versus discontinuing it, then he asked me what I wanted to do. I was happily to learn that when Dr. Ghaly knew what to do, he did it; when he was uncertain, he would ask for my input.
I took a long look inside myself, breathed deeply, divided by eleventeen, and said, “Stop the drug.” He did. I slept for two days and three nights, then woke up happy—withdrawing the antidepressant had stopped the suicidal feelings, but we didn’t learn the lesson.
I worked as an administrative assistant at the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance, and listened to Director/Chief Advocate George Ebert rail against electroconvulsive therapy (ECT—shock treatment) and forced drugging, and talk about how drugs were being used to control us. Secretly, I thought he didn’t know what was good for him. Drugs would have been good for him—that was clear to me. After all, they helped me, didn’t they? We had a falling out and I moved on.
Dr. Ghaly was the only local psychiatrist who did the new ECT. As we ran out of drug options, he encouraged me to try ECT. The preparatory work-up included x-rays; the x-rays showed spinal arthritis. The ECT was weird, frightening, had short-term side effects and didn’t do me any good.
The kidney disease frequently caused me to dehydrate. Semi-conscious, I would be mistreated by ambulance attendants who didn’t understand my illness, then I would be transported to ERs where I would be subjected to the pain of tourniquets, IVs and abusive nurses who looked more at my psych history that at my kidney disease.
Somewhere along the line, I complained of some physical problem and Dr. Ghaly told me he could fix it with acupuncture. I tried it and it worked, so we continued to use acupuncture occasionally for bodywork.
By 1999, I was so fatigued that I had to have assistance from home health aides. I had lost most of my teeth to caries and infection, and had to go for frequent dental checkups. I was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea, but could not tolerate the necessary breathing machine. I was repeatedly depressed and, therefore, rarely had any close friends. I could no longer get up in the morning and so was unable to worship with the congregation of which I had been a member for twenty years. (To be continued)