ERs don't treat mental patients
Monday, May 24, 2004
Vonne Worth, Guest Columnist
Hospital emergency rooms routinely refuse treatment for
medical conditions of people regarded as "mentally ill."
Attorney Susan Stephan, author of the recent book,
"Unequal Rights: Discrimination Against People with Mental Disabilities
and the Americans with Disabilities Act," surveyed people with
"mental illness" who went to ERs for medical conditions.
Stephan's survey concluded ERs trivialize our medical
conditions, or refuse to treat our medical conditions until after a psychiatric
exam, or involuntarily commit us to the psychiatric ward when we need treatment
for a non-psychiatric medical condition.
In December 2001, I dialed 911 to get help for a medical
condition: epileptic seizures first diagnosed in 1963. Harborview
Medical Center ER records show my seizures involve days of confusion,
disorientation, amnesia and sometimes convulsions as a secondary symptom. In
the 21 years the Harborview ER has treated my
seizures, they've given me extra anti-convulsants and
hospitalized me overnight, costing taxpayers $2,000.
In 2001, Harborview denied me
medical treatment because I have a history of psychiatric treatment, including
four psychiatric hospitalizations for treatment of epileptic seizures over the
past 27 years. This cost taxpayers $10,000. Harborview
denied me two diagnostic tests for my epilepsy. There is no medical or physical
diagnostic test for mental illness.
During 20 hours of seizures, Harborview
denied me anti-convulsants, sleep, sufficient food
(one sandwich and one glass of milk), sufficient liquids and all restroom
privileges. After about 11 hours of this, records show I became
"agitated" (whatever that means), so they put me in four-point
leather behavioral restraints (both legs and both arms), which could have
killed an epileptic but instead permanently injured my shoulder and a tooth.
Later, records show, I was put in five-point restraints
(both legs, both arms and my head) because I was "calm and
This treatment prolonged seizures, my condition worsened and
I was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward "to protect me from
harm" and "keep me safe." Apparently, harming me instead of
treating me for epilepsy is legal because they did so in good faith. They did
not kill me, which might be gross negligence, and, as psychiatrist Peter Breggin wrote in his 1994 book, "Toxic
Psychiatry," "[w]e tend to hold the health and well-being of
psychiatric patients in low regard."
When I regained consciousness and told Harborview
psychiatrists it was epilepsy, they noted: "She blames her behavior on her
seizures." They had not formally consulted my Harborview
neurologist, heeded my medical records, given me my usual anti-convulsants or read my Advance Directive (AD), which
informed them of the seizures. They later dismissed my AD as a
Treatment could have been worse. In the late '70s, at Kansas
City's Western Missouri Mental Health Center, I awoke and was told to defecate
on the floor and use my feces to write my name. They then forced seizure-causing
medication on me. For three years, these medications caused two-day epileptic
seizures every eight to 10 days.
Both then and now, I've been too poor to sue.
Since 1936, studies have shown 50 percent to 97 percent of
"organic mental disorder" diagnoses are symptoms of undiagnosed,
untreated medical conditions.
This past August, David Oaks, director of MindFreedom, a
psychiatric survivors group, challenged the American Psychiatric Association
(APA) to: cite one study proving mental illness is a medical disease and cite
one medical, physical diagnostic tool to diagnose mental illness. The APA could
do neither because neither the study nor the diagnostic tool exists. APA's press release said much money was spent on research
to find the cause of mental illness. On whom is this research done? Me and
others with no rights.
The state must provide equal medical care to everybody,
including those with behavioral symptoms. Until it does, mental wards will
continue to be prisons that punish people for poverty and undiagnosed medical