Having written about some of my experience in the mental health industry, treated by diverse so-called professionals, I’ve been horrified, aghast and disturbed by the lack of insight, interest and investigation into my mental problems. The treatments have been misguided and mistaken because of misunderstanding; not just what the problems were but more significantly, why they arose and what caused them. The professionals didn’t even listen to me, ask questions or evince any interest whatsoever. Attitudes towards me were based on assumptions without any effort to ascertain the whys and how of what I experienced; not just in St Vincent’s over five years ago now, but in the early 80s too.
To refresh your memory you might want to re-read WHOSE MENTAL MADNESS – I’ve written a few under this heading- suffice to say I’m thrilled to be my own best friend in that perspective. I could have died from all the drugs I’ve been prescribed as huge doses made me a zombie as well as severely depressed with suicidal thoughts. I am so glad for my own sanity, lucky to have known myself and still do as for nearly six months I’ve only been taking 1.5mg of Haloperidol instead of Stelazine because the latter is no longer manufactured. The drugs I was given to replace the Stelazine all poisoned me, I was nauseous, depressed and spent some days crying on these drugs. No one was ever remotely interested in what my problem was. I’m indeed fortunate to now need such a low dose, much less than the 5mg of Stelazine I was taking for decades. I’m not going to go into what the issue is but I’m a very lucky woman.
By contrast I’ve had a physical health issue over the past four months; an ulcer under my tongue that’s small, irritating rather than painful, but will not go away. The massive difference in my treatment in both the private and public system, and at St Vincent’s, is ginormous. Firstly, my private dentist who is expensive picked up the ulcer during a regular check-up. Asking me how long I’d had it, I told him for about a month to which he replied I need to see someone about it. As a smoker, albeit one that’s more than halved my smoking over the past 18 months, the ulcer could be cancerous. Telling my sister she said I needed a biopsy and to be referred to St Vincent’s or Peter McCallum and to see an ENT specialist. Consulting a new GP, he didn’t know whether St Vs had doctors for that. I suggested seeing a private ENT specialist Mr Richard Kennedy, who I had consulted many years before when I lost my voice screaming loudly at the football. At that time I was unemployed and on the dole and Kennedy only charged me modestly after I told him, giving me a thorough examination. I did not have throat cancer and it went away without any drugs at all. I also thought that he might bulk-bill me now as I’m a pensioner and so I obtained a referral from my GP.
Seeing him and telling him I couldn’t pay anything, he kindly bulk-billed me, once again thoroughly examining my ulcer to then be told I should have a biopsy as I’m s smoker and I needed to be sure. He doesn’t think it is cancer but an irritation and swelling caused by pointy teeth pressing continuously underneath my tongue. He also clearly explained with drawing a diagram on a piece of paper that I should have it all cut out as if they only take one small selection, that might be clear but the rest of the ulcer could still be cancerous. As the consultation was coming to an end he exited the room telling me he was going to make a phone call. Ten minutes later he returned to tell me he had arranged for the biopsy at St Vs on 3rd January, just two weeks later. He also imparted that I would need to see a doctor before the biopsy op to discuss the anaesthesia.
A couple of days later I received a phone call from a nurse at St Vs who asked me heaps of questions about my past medical history and current health and told me she would get my medical records from my GPs. She did say Kennedy was instructing I needed to see a doctor even though she said I seemed in good health for the op. She would get back to me after Christmas. She duly rang again to say that because of the New Year holidays too, I had an appointment with a doctor at St Vs on the 10th January and the op for 3rd January was cancelled. She did say that I should have the op shortly after seeing the doctor at St Vs.
Seeing the doctor was also a refreshingly kind experience; she didn’t come down on me at all for smoking but was very understanding and appreciative when I told her I’d cut down a lot. Looking at it too, she didn’t think it was cancer but said we have to be sure. She also listened to my chest and took the fact I’m a chronic asthmatic with mild emphysema seriously telling me my chest was pretty OK. I then had to see a nurse who would take my blood pressure, some blood and do an ECG.
The nurse was really nice too; my blood pressure was up but she said it wasn’t surprising because of the anxiety I undoubtedly felt about the situation then took some blood, the ECG was good as was my oxygen and heart rate. She gave me a form for the op – the 17th January.
So – today is the 14th January and St Vs will now ring me on the 16th to tell me what time the op is and when I need to arrive at the hospital.
The differences in attitudes and treatment between the experiences of physical and mental health are massive; for the former, I was asked heaps of questions, listened to, and thoroughly tested to ensure I was in good enough health to have the op. For my mental health, I was asked nothing, never listened to, let alone believed. It is tragic for all people with mental health issues as I know I’m not the only one who was so “treated” though “mistreated” is the more apposite word. I await the outcome of my biopsy but at least I know my health is OK to have the op.
Now writing on the 25th January, the biopsy showed NO cancer and the doctor telling me said I needed to see a dentist to fix my teeth as the biopsy revealed some cells “disturbed” by rubbing against them. I burst into tears at the relief, and the op went smoothly too with everyone on the day concerned and familiar with my medical history. Although I suggested a general anaesthetic to the anaesthetist he said he didn’t think I needed one and moreover, there was a risk as I was asthmatic and had some emphysema and also smoked marijuana ( He really had read what I told the nurse as she asked me directly about illicit drugs). Of course, I was never asked that in mental health. He said he would just sedate me and the surgeon would administer a local in my tongue to which the surgeon smilingly suggested “would just be like smoking marijuana.” I did not feel anything during the short op- about 20 minutes – and came to in recovery within a few minutes whereby the nurses made a coffee and brought a sandwich as I had not eaten since 7am that morning. It was then 2.45pm. The nurse also took my blood pressure a couple of times and measured by oxygen. Both were really healthy outcomes. They also rang a friend who I’d arranged to pick me up. The pain was reasonable and I departed the hospital, being told I would have an appointment the following week for the biopsy results. They would contact me about the time of the appointment by phone or letter. The following day at 9.45am I duly received a phone call to inform me of the time of my follow-up appointment. It was yesterday and the doctor I saw gave me the good news and said the wound was healing well and it would take another 2-3 weeks to settle more painlessly. I told him I’d been in severe pain, possibly because my teeth were then rubbing on the wound, and he gave me a script for some strong pain killers and told me to see a dentist.
After the consultation, I went to see my dentist to be given an appointment today, a few hours ago. My dentist said he was surprised as he couldn’t see any obvious problem with my teeth, but agreed to file them and we’d have to wait and see if things improved. It’s only been 4 hours since the filing but the pain seems less acute and I haven’t had any pain killers since 9.30am this morning.
All in all I am very lucky indeed it isn’t cancer but the care I received physically compared to mentally is staggering and puts the mental health industry professionals I’ve seen over decades in shame from my perspective. Given my experience, it is no surprise people in the community stigmatise anyone with a mental health issue and don’t care about them as neither do the doctors charged with their care. It is the horrifying reality and tragically for many people, it’s ongoing. I’m just lucky I found the right tablet, am my own best friend and have a man friend to support me in my life now. I also have a couple of other good friends who happily, still want to know me.
I can only hope mental health one day becomes like physical health with doctors and other professionals in the industry actually taking the Hippocratic oath seriously. Suffice to say I asked my sister what it was a couple of years ago and she said she couldn’t remember. I rest my case! I now hope my teeth are OK and recovery proceeds well. I do not need to take any pain killers this afternoon yet.