I seldom had enough energy to travel the two hundred seventy miles to where my family lived. My family did not come to visit me. Two of my sisters and my father were randomly angry at me for being unable to go to the mall and “shop till I dropped,” or get up early, or conform to planned activities. I was in pain most of the time.
Then Dr. Ghaly got sick and was out for six months. I was admitted to a strange hospital–Upstate Medical Center–with a stranger resident who wrote that I had taken “every antidepressant known to man,” including but not limited to Anafranil, Celexa, Desipramine, Effexor, Elavil, Pamelor, Paxil, Prozac, Remeron, Restoril, Serazone, Tofranil, Trazidone, Vivactil, Wellbutrin and Zoloft. The resident diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder again and when I came back from pass with acute sciatic pain, he refused to treat me, viewing it as the behavior of a “borderline” patient. The resident’s attending psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, type II. They both dumped me on the street without treatment.
I went back to Dr. Ghaly, who admitted me to a private hospital–Benjamin Rush Center turned Four Winds–and began treatment with a mood stabilizer as well as a mood elevator—Lamictal and yet another antidepressant. My Medicare coverage maxed out and I was forced to leave that hospital. I was admitted to a Catholic hospital (St. Joseph’s), Dr. Ghaly went on holiday, and Dr. Jane Kou, the psychiatrist covering for him, spent ten minutes with me, then wrote an order for me to go out on pass alone. While out, I collapsed psychologically and did what I’d been taught to do: I took pills. When I did not return to the psychiatric unit, Dr. Kou made no attempt to find me. At midnight, she ordered a technical discharge while I lay unconscious and dying.
The next morning, I was ambulanced to the emergency room. Despite extensive lab work and multiple interrogations, we never could identify exactly what I took but it probably included Desipramine, something with codeine and some little blue pills.
I spent the next month on life support in the Intensive Care Unit. I had a heart attack, lung infection, kidney failure and diabetic crisis, among other things. The medical response to the drugs I had taken was to give me more drugs. Instead of taking pills, I now got my drugs through a line into my heart. I was given multiple anesthetics, blood transfusions, mega-doses of antibiotics, insulin, and only half the necessary medication for the kidney disease. I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while I was unconscious—apparently I just looked schizophrenic. Every time they tried to withdraw the ventilator, I stopped breathing; nobody had told them I had sleep apnea. I failed to die. Cost to the taxpayer: $86,700. Cost to me: incalculable.
My pastor, Rev. Craig Schaub, came to my bedside every day that I was in the ICU. After I was transferred to psychiatry, he came every week or two. We talked. I was angry at God; Craig said God could handle it. My father was an abusive alcoholic; Craig referred to God as “she.” My mom called me every Saturday night for years; through the female image, I began to have access to the concept of a loving God.
I spent six months living on the inpatient psychiatric unit. Because of my medical problems, no agency would take me home. I was diagnosed with essential tremors; the tremors stopped when the heart medicine was stopped. Dr. Ghaly put me on Neurontin as a mood stabilizer. When my hair started to fall out, he prescribed a medicated shampoo. I felt so good that I didn’t mind the prospect of being bald—I would volunteer in the kindergarten and let the children paint my head. The Neurontin made me feel great.
I had such severe pain in my feet that sometimes I couldn’t walk. Dr. Ghaly suspected diabetic neuropathy. When I asked him what the treatment was, he smiled sadly and said, “Neurontin.” I was diagnosed with very painful chronic impingement syndrome in my left shoulder. I became acutely paranoid and planned to blind myself by scratching out my eyes with the spiral binding in a notebook. One morning Dr. Ghaly said, “I don’t know you. What is going on? You have never been like this.” In twenty minutes of lifesaving clarity, I realized it was the Neurontin and told Dr. Ghaly to stop it. Stopping the Neurontin also stopped the neuropathy, impingement syndrome and paranoia.
Dr. Ghaly insisted that I try Wellbutrin again. I called Dr. Cohen and asked him why I had stopped it in the first place. Dr. Cohen said it was because it had put me in a constant state of premenstrual syndrome. I took it again, and stopped again because it made me so irritable that I was constantly at war with the staff.
Dr. Ghaly told me I could go home if my mother would come stay with me for a while. She came, I went, and I began to listen to her plaintive queries about my suicide attempt. Suicidal, I had gone voluntarily to hospitals three times in five weeks to protect my safety. Not trusting myself, I trusted doctors enough to let them put me behind a locked door to ensure the continuation of my life. Jane Kou, a doctor who didn’t know me, spent ten minutes with me and then sent me out on pass. When I failed to return, she did nothing. My mother asked, “Why did you have to have a doctor’s order to leave the hospital if it didn’t mean anything?”
On the anniversary of the day my mother had given birth to me, she sat beside my bed in the ICU and tried to decide where to bury me. I was tolerating what I had been through but I could not tolerate what my mother had been put through. I filed a complaint against the doctor with her licensing agency, the New York State Dept. of Health, Office of Professional Medical Conduct. The OPMC only read half the relevant hospital charts, investigated me more than the doctor, interviewed the doctor, and found her faultless. According to them, the doctor had not used poor judgment. (To be continued)