Anna the Embed: How I Got Diagnosed with Narcissism (Part IV)


None of these places will investigate your complaint and find in your favor.  Last year seven thousand citizens in this county filed complaints against their doctors; only four hundred were upheld. 

Reality is this: you cannot change the world, nor can you get the medical industry to treat you nicely.  No regulatory agency will find in your favor when you file a complaint, however, filing a complaint will do several things:

  • It will make you feel better.  You will feel powerful, instead of feeling as if you are a victim without options.
  • It will scare the shit out of the person or agency against which you file the complaint.  They risk, at worst, losing their license, being put out of business, forfeiting their source of income and being publicly shamed.
  • It will get you kicked out of the hospital where your doctor practices.  You will get a certified letter telling you never to darken their door again.

I have two such letters, one being from the medical director of the Embed’s hospital.  She doesn’t know it but she isn’t supposed to be seeing me.

            At this point in our conversation, the Embed tells me that maybe after time, when she is more experienced, she will have a tougher skin and this kind of thing won’t bother her.

            I mentally gasp in dismay and want to cry out, “No!  No, child, the answer isn’t to become more insensitive to pain!  It is to admit your pain—as you just have—and then work with it.  Do you think I want to hurt you?  Didn’t you know I didn’t know you were in pain?  Don’t you know that the answer is for us to be more human together?  I will tell you how you hurt me, and you will tell me of your hurt, and then we will begin an entirely human dialogue to carefully untangle what we have done to each other so we can learn never to do it again.”

            That is what I want to say, but we are both embedded in a system that says doctors know and patients don’t know, and the teacher will not learn from the student.

            At this point, the Embed moves over to show me her report from our first interview.  It is a marvelously crafted form from a computer printer and states that I have borderline personality disorder.  Next to the printed words, she has carefully inked in a diagnosis of narcissism.

            Stunned, I ask her what that’s based on.  She mumbles something generic and nonspecific.  I insist on knowing the criteria that led her to this unheard of diagnosis.  The Embed breaks contact with me, hurries to her desk, pulls out a book and tells me that I have displayed a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and haughty arrogance.

            In the first place, I say, we all have a sense of entitlement.  All people believe they are entitled, for example, to breathe air and drink water.  What you have just read, I tell her, makes no distinction between a state of normal entitlement and a state of pathological entitlement.  And when did I demonstrate a lack of empathy and haughty arrogance, I ask?

            The secretary, says the Embed.  Your interaction with the secretary was very upsetting to her.

            It is hard to talk when your mouth is hanging open in amazement, but I managed to tell the Embed about my first interaction with the secretary.

            The transport driver pushed me in my wheelchair into the secretary’s office.  He was asking me when he should return to pick me up and was trying to give me his telephone number when the secretary demanded the spelling of my name.  I firmly said to her, “Excuse me.  I’ll finish with [the transport driver] first.”  When he and I had concluded our business, I turned to the secretary and gave her my full attention and courteous cooperation.

            She was obviously miffed, and her miffledness has now been turned into a diagnosis of mental illness on my part by the Embed on her part.

            A diagnosis is a judgment.  It is a judgement that follows a patient and can have damaging consequences, much like a court judgement.  The difference is that, in a court of law, a judgment cannot be made against a citizen without the citizen having the right to confront whosoever gives testimony.  In the psychiatric system, a rude secretary can give testimony to a doctor and the doctor can make a judgement against the patient without the patient ever confronting the secretary.

            The secretary, by the way, was eating lunch at her desk.  She is a New York State Civil Servant.  Her union guarantees her a lunch break.  I know this because I used to be in the same union when I worked on the other side of this campus.  In all likelihood, she used her lunch break to attend to some business other than eating and is now making up by having her tacos and root beer spread over my insurance papers.  I find that offensive.

            I also am offended by the fact that the secretary is dressed for the beach.  She is wearing sandals, blue jeans and a striped top.  There are good and specific reasons why most places of business have dress codes.  Among other things, studies show that when people wear more formal attire to work than they do to the beach, they perform better on the job.  It is of no matter to the Embed.  She is in a system in which there is no direct supervisory connection between a doctor and her secretary.  In fact, the secretary’s supervisor is nowhere in sight.

            I have just been diagnosed with narcissism because I did not submit to an arrogant young secretary who lacked empathy for a woman in a wheelchair, and believed she was entitled to order me around.  (To be continued)

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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