ERs don't treat mental patients fairly
Monday, May 24, 2004
Vonne Worth, Guest Columnist
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 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 cooperative."

 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 "novel."

 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 conditions.