I’m Not an Asshole. I have an illness: Part 3

Euthymia is the psychological term for a normal, moderately positive mood. It is what most people experience day-to-day. It is what I would give my eye teeth and first born to experience more often. I estimate that I experience it only about 20% of the time.

Back in 2001, I received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for the first time. It is commonly known as electroshock therapy. At that time, I only needed two treatments. Afterward, both a friend and my sister said I was happier than they have ever seen me. I was euthymic close to 100% of the time. This lasted for a few years. No one told me that I needed to go back for maintenance treatments. Over the next few years, I slowly went into a decline. So in 2016, when going over my exhaustive list of everything I have tried, I decided to try ECT again.

ECT is available on an outpatient basis from many hospitals. Because of the anesthesia, I would need a ride. Also because of the anesthesia, I am not allowed to take a cab. I don’t know what they think would happen, but the hospitals are inflexible on this point.

The only people I know who were home during the day and had cars and therefore could take me, lived 30 miles or more away. The number of ECT treatments required varies, but can be as high as 20. I certainly didn’t want to ask a friend to drive 60 miles round trip and take a few hours out of their day for as many as 20 days, especially since I couldn’t afford to reimburse them for mileage (my bipolar prevents me from working). I decided to go into the hospital and receive inpatient treatments.

This was much harder than it sounds. When you are being evaluated for admission to the hospital and you aren’t suicidal, they turn you away. The third time I tried to get admitted, I managed to get them to call my psychiatrist, the ECT doc and my insurance company. It was then I was finally admitted.

This admission was rife with difficulties, but I will save those for a different installment of this series of blog posts. I want to focus on how the symptoms of my disease affected the quality of care I received from the ECT team.

It was when I was being prepped for my third ECT treatment that things went awry. I asked the ECT nurse not to place the PICC line in the back of my hand because it hurt too much. I asked her to use the basilic vein which is located in the elbow “pit” instead.

She put it in the back of my hand anyway and walked off to work on the next patient. The pain and feeling of betrayal caused me to rage about her. She came back to argue with me. None of the other staff backed me up even though they heard my request. Instead the nurse assigned to me keep whispering, “Calm down, Steve.” I just looked at her like, why have you let her get away with this.

I have to say that I don’t know what normal hospital policies are, but if a patient asks you to treat their body in a certain way and you aren’t able to comply, a short explanation and apology could go a long way to helping the patient feel respected. To violate the patient’s wishes with no explanation is abuse as far as I am concerned and I am surprised it is tolerated in this day and age.

After that ECT treatment, I was approached by staff. They said they thought ECT was aggravating me and wanted to know if I wanted to discontinue treatment. Feeling let down by the system, I agreed to quit.

The truth is a treatment which may have been beneficial was being discontinued because I screamed at a nurse. This is not just my opinion, but the opinion of someone else in the field who had spoken to the staff involved.

A potentially beneficial treatment was ended, because I was sick and had symptoms of being sick. Politics won out over the best interest of the patient.

Why is it so hard for staff to empathize with the bipolar? Don’t they have any training of how to deal with bipolar rage?

This wasn’t an isolated incident. So why should I trust a mental hospital or staff again? I am afraid that my bad experiences at hospitals will prevent me from going the next time I need to be hospitalized.

©2017 Stephen L. Martin

Painting: Edvard Munch– The Sun  Munch suffered from a number of mental illnesses including depression and agoraphobia

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