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J.R. Buchanan

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Me, My Thoughts, and I

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Stigma and strep throat

I'm very open about having a mental illness. Openness about and discussion of mental illness is needed to help people learn that mental illness is just another illness, one that happens to affect the brain. This openness has rarely caused me any trouble, but a few times it has. This is a story about one of those times. This involves one of the local hospitals and a certain member of the staff there, a triage nurse in the emergency room. I won't name the hospital, as I have always been treated well there at other times.

It was several years ago, and I was sick. I felt really awful and when we finally got around to checking my temperature, it was over 103 Fahrenheit. For those used to the metric system, that's about 39.4 Celsius. It's fairly high, and it was the middle of the night, no one open but the emergency room, and we sure didn't feel that waiting was a good idea. So off to the emergency room we went. By the time we got there, it must have been higher, I was a bit unsteady on my feet, and we had to get a wheelchair.

We waited a long time to get in to see the triage nurse, pretty much usual at both of the hospitals in the area. When we went into her office, she was nice, friendly and helpful. My temperature was now over 104 F (40 C). After vitals were taken, she asked me about my meds. I had a list ready and handed it to her. Her whole demeanor changed. She started scowling. She asked why I was taking an anticonvulsant, an antidepressant, and most disturbing to her, an antispychotic. I told her they were for bipolar.

Things didn't go well after that, she was quite cold and said that I didn't meet criteria for the ER, and that I was wasting their time. She told us that I just had a fever, and that all I could do about it was take some acetaminophen and wait for it to go down. I didn't need the ER.

I was getting really out of it by that time, and my wife would not put up with this. She insisted that I be seen. So we got sent out into the lobby to wait to be seen. Three or four hours later we still hadn't been seen. I remember almost nothing of this I was quite delirious by then. My wife started talking to anyone who would listen and insisted that I be seen. After about five hours waiting after triage, they wheeled me back to the "Fast Track" area of the ER where minor problems are looked at. They asked me to get into the bed. I tried to stand and get into bed, and fell on the floor. I remember that, but I don't remember how I eventually wound up in the bed. But I did, because the next thing I remember, after what I understand was another long wait, the nurse practitioner who was going to treat me came in. She had my temperature taken. She tried to talk to me. I don't remember that. But I do remember how utterly pissed off she was when she found out what we'd gone through, and here she found me with a temperature of well over 105 F (40.6 C). It takes about 107 F (41.7 C) to cause brain damage, but it was quite high enough to alarm her.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the regular area of the ER with a cold saline IV to reduce the fever and IV antibiotics. I was there quite a while, well into the next day before we got to go home.

I had a bad case of strep, and I couldn't sleep for about 5 days, which would normally trigger mania for me, but as draggy as I was, I got lucky and it didn't. I can't tell you how boring watching TV all night can be after 5 days when you're too weak to do anything else.

I had a simple illness, and it could have been treated easily, but because of one nurse's reaction when she discovered I had a mental illness, it became much worse. I can only assume that because I had a mental illness that my physical illness was "all in my head". Or maybe she didn't like my kind. Hard to say. The hospital sent a survey to see how my ER experience was, and I let them know in great detail what happened. I checked the box that asked if I wanted to be contacted by a hospital representative. I never was.

Has anyone here faced stigma or discrimination due to their mental illness? Let us all know in the comments!

As usual, I'll post future updates to my Facebook and Twitter pages. Feel free to follow or friend or message me.


mental illness, mental health, stigma, discrimintaion, bipolar

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