Category Archives: Lyme Disease

Natchaug Hospital Stay and Comfort Room

I have been away since December 17th, in the hospital yet again. This time the experience – at Natchaug Hospital in Willimantic — was vastly better than the previous two and not abusive at all. I want to tell you about this, but first let me go back to what happened to get me there.

In the beginning of December I began to have trouble again. The “people” came back with their jeering and mockery and commands. A general confusion assailed me. In my journal I recorded many “cries” of MATOOTAM! : “Kill the Ogre that Ate Manhattan” which many of you know means me. I also began to burn myself under the influence of those command hallucinations. I still believe this was all a Lyme disease relapse, but I had been on antibiotics  previously for 8 years – with positive tests for Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses intermittently during that time — without being cured, so there was and continues to be nothing but symptomatic treatment. This means, as my new psychiatrist, Dr C, argues, at least temporary use of the hated, and loved, atypical antipsychotic, Zyprexa. I already am taking Abilify and Geodon, as well as Lamictal for mood stabilization and possible temporal lobe seizure activity. However, as has happened before, these were not effective enough to carry me through such a crisis, which is why I was encouraged to take Zyprexa, 20 mg to head off anything worse. Despite my resistance – I really hate the immediate increase of appetite and weight that accompanies taking it – I did so, I assure you. But the damage was already done and the crisis took on a life of its own, so to speak. By mid-December, I was  no longer “safe,” the code word my visiting nurse among others uses for my listening to the commands the “people” give me. She didn’t know how true that was, though, until I finally admitted it after four days of what I will only describe as obedience to those same commands.  I saw Dr C that Thursday, and though she was uncertain of my safety, she decided that I would talk with her every evening until I saw her again the following Tuesday.

 

The truth is, I do not really recall most of this, neither intellectually nor emotionally. I have had to be told and to refer to my journal in order to recount all of the preceding. However, I do remember what happened next. In addition to the reappearance of the People, I began to experience what I called “brain blips.” These were very brief episodes in which I felt as if my brain suddenly did a somersault, a little like the feeling when your heart skips a beat, except that it was in my brain and accompanied by a terrible dread and feelings of impending doom. After the fraction of a second in which the blip occurred, I would come back to myself – it felt as if for an instant I lost consciousness, but the blip was so very brief that it didn’t seem possible. These episodes were terribly frightening, even though nothing ever happened during or after them, not at least of the dreadful sort I feared.

 

That Friday evening, my heart racing and my mind itself awry, I was in another world, so confused that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I managed to call Dr C, who prescribed Ativan. It was too late to call the nurse to pick it up for me so I got in the car to drive the mile to CVS but as soon as I pulled out of the parking lot, the other world took over completely. I do not know how I actually got to the drugstore. I recall only that I could barely hear or see for the pandemonium in my mind but that I was aware enough of the danger to drive only 20 mph the entire way. Once there, however, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get home and I forgot about getting the Ativan altogether. Somehow I managed to tell the pharmacist that something was wrong, that I couldn’t drive home, but she thought I meant that the car had broken down, and called a cab for me. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for it, but I was so scared of the shoppers who came and went – the drugstore was open 24 hours a day so anyone in the area who needed something after 10pm came there – that I was unable to take more than a few drags, hiding behind a pillar. I returned to the pharmacist and whispered that there was something terribly wrong, with my brain, that as I felt, bugs had infested it and that I was in another world. Finally she understood and called an ambulance.

 

I won’t go into the drive to the ER except to say that I was so “out of it” that I wasn’t even upset that the EMTs made me get on the stretcher right in the middle of CVS and that everyone saw me being taken out of there. Once in the vehicle, I tried to explain to them that despite the large wound they would discover on my leg, there was something wrong with my brain itself, that this was not a purely psychiatric matter and that I needed medical, neurological care. Indeed, I still feel that way, but much good that did. Once a “mental patient” always a “mental patient” it seems. I admit, though, that having burned my leg did not help much. Still, I tried to explain that I needed an MRI of my brain, that something was wrong, a bleed or parasites or something! You can guess their response: of course, they summarily dismissed all of that and quickly had me packed off to the psych section of the emergency room. Although this is a very comfortable, large and separate unit of the ER, with single cubicles for each patient and a TV but also a video camera in each one, I waited 3 days before a bed was available for me, some 25 miles or more away at Natchaug Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Mansfield Center, in Connecticut.

 

I name the hospital openly – as opposed to the others I have written about — because it was  amazing in so many ways that I want both to sing its praises and to “advertise” it so to speak, to describe what a really good psychiatric hospital ought to be like. It is true that most people were in for a very short time, Connecticut having virtually no long term beds any longer, not even in the state hospital, but whether acute care or for somewhat longer stays, Natchaug was quite simply the best place I have ever been. From the food, to the – well, let me go into more detail rather than a mere summary (though in my opinion, the food was indeed a cut above that in any place I have been in, both in availability, and, with a salad bar at every meal, quality.)

 

Upon admission there was, to my dismay, a requisite “clothing and body search.” This procedure was done in such a way as to preserve as much dignity and privacy of one’s person as possible but I feared at first that it boded ill for the rest of my stay. Also, I discovered that although there were, I think, two private rooms, I had been assigned a double, a semi-private room, with a roommate already installed. This was upsetting to me, as I had almost always had a single, or been moved to one because the unit staff either felt I was too disruptive or unable to tolerate the stress of a roommate. However, when I saw how the semi-private rooms were carefully partitioned with a floor to ceiling wall in between the bed areas, I was much reassured. Although I eventually did for a short time have a private room, or a double that was designated as private – I frankly do not remember why! – I was not bothered by either roommate that I had while there. The one who did try to get me to – Oh, I dunno. I just am no longer one to “socialize” with other patients and I simply did not feel like getting to know her, or to excessively “sympathize” or otherwise expend my limited energy on her problems. I feel a little bad about this, but this one roommate, the second one, at first tried to involve me in her “stuff” and even left a journal or something next to my bed “for you to read to find out more about me.” Well, this was so very intrusive, and nothing I had asked for at all, that I rudely, but decisively said, “Why would I want to do that?”

 

I know that I would have been terribly hurt and humiliated by someone’s saying such a thing to me, but on the other hand, I would never have been so forward with a complete stranger either. In any event, she quickly took the papers back and left the room. However, a day later, she seemed to have no hard feelings, and we got along, if distantly at least as well as I wanted to.

 

Where was I? Well, I will tell you that the worst thing about my stay, and I suppose unavoidable, since I was there over the holidays, was that I had three different doctors for the three weeks I was there. but the best things were two, or more, but two in particular. One was that there was NO seclusion room, that is to say, the seclusion room that they used to have was not only now designated at the Comfort Room, but in fact was comfortable, and open at most times for use by anyone needing comfort. In it, there were thick mats on the floor, a Grandma Moses-like mural painted on all four walls by artist staff members and best of all a “therapy chair.” This is a very large and comfortable rocking recliner that is built in such a way as to elevate your legs, while you recline against the back, and let your feet dangle over the end. This allows the person to position the very lightweight chair near a wall so as to be able to lightly touch the wall with the feet and keep the chair rocking with little effort all the while lying back and relaxing. Their next improvement planned is to get headphones, wireless, or MP3 players with a  selection of music for additional relaxation and comforting.

 

I usually tell staff at hospitals that they “cannot keep me safe” and indeed “prove” it by obeying in some fashion the commands the People give me…This never exactly endears me to anyone, and in fact has more often than not earned me a reputation as very difficult, even as having a “borderline personality” as an Axis 2 diagnosis (not true). Be that as it may, I was in fact kept safe at Natchaug, and when I was not, I was on a very helpful rather than punitive 1:1 or constant observation. At Natucahug, one-to-one staff were supposed to talk to me, rather than kept from doing so as at other hospitals, “so that you won’t come to like the attention too much.” The few times I became very upset, screaming, just screaming, at the top of my lungs, and rather than choosing to go on my own was escorted to the Comfort Room, by “staff assist” people (there is no “Dr Strong” goon squad of uniformed security guards), the door to the room was open and someone talked to me the entire time. Thus, when I left, on my own, when I felt calmer, I also felt that the reasons that I had been so distraught were also alleviated.

 

Also, although Natchaug, like any other hospital, did have a restraints policy, they did not use them a single time the entire three weeks I was there. In fact, though there was a very disruptive, troubling patient there the entire time (for once it was not I) I do not believe they even came close to considering using them. This time I believe it when they said that they almost never have to use them at all.

 

But the very best thing about my stay was something quite serendipitous: it turned out that the Director of Nursing for the whole hospital is Sharon H, the very same APRN who had been head nurse during my many stays at a Hartford hospital, and who had taken upon herself to supervise my care, or at least seemed to have in some sense “taken me under her wing.” Sharon is, and always was, both extremely bright and compassionate beyond words. She is also insightful in a way that I found the first two doctors I had were not, and if the third was, I did not have a chance to find out because I saw her only 4 times. It is true that Sharon had the advantage of having known me well, if 17 years ago, but still, she seems to have this ability to size up a situation, at least with me, and both to calm me if necessary and to suggest a solution that simply fits…I have to say that I felt especially well taken care of. Sharon made sure she saw me every afternoon, though this was above and beyond the call of any duty.

 

This description scarcely does my stay at this hospital justice. Although, like any hospitalization, it was not an easy stay, nonetheless I can only say that I cannot thank Sharon and the Natchaug staff enough for all that she and they did for me.

(PS Forgive any typos I have not yet corrected but it is getting late and I am too tired to go back and check for them at the present time…Lazy me!)

The Mentally Ill in Prison and Out-patient Commitment Laws

Dear Pam,

Thank you for the link to the Dr. Manny Show. There are indeed many faces of mental illness. Some people have mild cases and are able to work and function at the same level as anyone else.

Congress passed mental health legislation in 2008 providing for workers who have psychiatric dysfunctions to be covered under their employers’ health insurance at the same rate as employees with physical illness (certain exclusions apply). That was a positive step. However, acute mental patients do not benefit by that law, because severe mental illness is often too debilitating for victims to work, especially without the psychiatric treatment they need. In fact, people with acute schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other conditions frequently resist treatment even when it is available to them.

Unfortunately, 1.25 million mentally ill Americans are currently imprisoned for offenses ranging from simple vandalism or disturbing the peace to murders. Last January, Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX 30) introduced H.R. 619, a congressional bill to resume Medicaid coverage for inpatient psychiatric care for patients in crisis and for people who require long-term containment in a secure treatment environment (such as patients who have done violence).

H.R. 619 is an important bill that deserves our support. It was largely the removal of Medicaid funding several decades ago that led to criminalizing mental illness. That in turn led to many other problems, such as overcrowded prisons and a burdensome prison budget. Hundreds of thousands of acute patients were “de-institutionalized” in the 60’s and 70’s only to become homeless and/or prisoners. Thousands of acute mental patients continue to be dismissed from mental hospitals and prisons without subsistence assistance and provisions for continuous monitoring and treatment under programs like Kendra’s Law.

Assisted Outpatient Programs like Kendra’s Law have been proved to reduce homelessness, arrests, hospitalizations, and incarcerations by up to 85% (among New York participants, compared to their circumstances three years before becoming program participants). The impressive rate of reduced arrests and incarcerations also indicates that community safety was improved significantly as less crime was done, and it also follows that the prison budget was lessened by helping patients with living arrangements and mandating continuous psychiatric care for ex-offenders and former inpatients who often lack the wherewithal to make wise treatment choices and avoid psychiatric crises.

Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill (AIMI) supports Rep. Johnson’s bill, H.R. 619, as well as NAMI, Treatment Advocacy Center, and many other mental health advocates who believe resuming funding for inpatient treatment is best for patients and for America. In fact, 100% of police officers I polled agree that prison is not the place for severe mental patients, where they comprise 60% of the inmates kept naked in solitary confinement cells.

I solute Congresswoman Johnson, a former psychiatric nurse, for introducing H.R. 619, and I hope everyone who is concerned about human and civil rights will support the bill and end the discriminatory practice of punishing Americans for being sick. I pray for another bill to be introduced to address the second cause of mental illness having been criminalized in America – the lack of continuous care and subsistence assistance for released prisoners and former inpatients. Kendra’s Law should be applied nationwide so that acute mental patients will be treated, not punished, for having a common, treatable health condition that requires monitoring and care just as diabetics and heart patients receive.

Inpatient hospitalization was not included under the national health care plan, so it is very important to pass H.R.619 as a separate bill. Please write an email to your representatives tomorrow and ask them to co-sponsor the resumption of Medicaid for psychiatric hospitalization and to institute Assisted Outpatient Treatment progams, which would not only be more fair and humane to sick people and their families, but would also save taxpayers billions each year as our prison rolls decrease.

Thank you, Pam, for this forum and for the useful information that WagBlog always has. I will share the link to the Dr. Manny Show with many people at my Care2 Sharebook and at FreeSpeakBlog, where we often publish mental health news as well as other matters that have to do with promoting human rights for prisoners.

Mary Neal
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
http://www.Care2.com/c2c/group/AIMI

PS Please VOTE for H.R.619 to replace prisons w/ hospitals for acute mental patients. The link below will take you to OpenCongress.org where you can use your voice to say to our elected officials, “We care about the least of these, His brethren: naked, sick prisoners.” (Matt.25:36) http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h619/show

While many Americans celebrate the health care reform bill’s victory, please agree that millions of citizens should not be left imprisoned or live under the threat of prison because their health care needs were omitted. Put the “NATIONAL” into health care reform by supporting H.R.619: Medicaid funding for psychiatric hospitals instead of prison cells for mentally challenged people – a change that will save money and restore lives!

Thanks in advance for voting. Please invite others!

___________________________________________________

Dear Mary

I think you know that I was quite ill until starting in 1996 when Zyprexa came out, but not truly until 2005,  when a complete transformation occurred. However, when I relapse, I “relapse good” — as my medical record from the October hospitalization attests, with nearly constant locked seclusion or restraints for 6-8 days etc. Nevertheless, I am with you, though reluctantly, as I also know how terrible the side effects are of some of the older medications are as well as the newer ones, and the horrible state of affairs when a harried or burned out psychiatrist simply rams them down your throat without consultation at least after the acute psychosis resolves and you are able to discuss such things.

When I was in Manchester Hospital, I begged to be put back on my anti-convulsants and the Abilify/Geodon combination that had served me well for many months, believing, with reason, that I was suffering from a flare-up of my neurological Lyme disease, an illness that had always and invariably produced severe psychiatric symptoms. I needed, I knew, an increase of those drugs rather than a wholesale change to the “old drug” Trilafon. But did the doctor listen to me? No, he did not, despite my  ability to say as much to him, my psychosis consisting not of incoherence but of paranoia and command hallucinations to  harm myself in order to atone for being the Devil…I could and did argue with him, vehemently, and steadfastly, refusing to take the Trilafon, until he instituted a standing restraints order for every time I was non-compliant.

These are the sorts of things that trouble me about  forced treatment and/or outpatient commitment laws. It is not that I think people suffering from severe psychiatric illness do not need or deserve treatment, only that the treatments available are not always effective or tolerable. And until they are, I am not sure that the only way to go is only to force medication on everyone willy-nilly, not, at least against their protestations of extreme discomfort. At the very least every effort must be made to find a medication or medication combo that keep the psychosis at bay while making the person as comfortable as is humanely possible…which is difficult when a psychiatrist is saddled with a hundred patients to see in a week. It took Dr O and me six years or more to find  the right combination of drugs, and to titrate them precisely enough to treat my symptoms,  reducing them significantly while keeping unpleasant side effects to a minimum.

There is much about the treatment of the mentally ill that is so disgusting I cannot begin to cover them all here, though your comment is very thorough, which is why I have put it up  as a regular post. I appreciate your links to sites that do so as well. You did not mention one horrific situation: where under-utilized supermax prisons now house “uncooperative mentally ill prisoners” whose lack of compliance or cooperation is due solely to their illness. Though it is well-known that such brutal conditions drive “normal” or reasonably sane prisoners to insanity, can you imagine the brutality of forcing a psychotic individual to reside in such isolation? (Note however that in years past, as you know, isolation and seclusion of disruptive patients in hospitals was also the norm, since “overstimulation” from the outside world was considered to cause their agitation…I have been in hospitals where, in bare seclusion rooms, I was not permitted access to letters or phone calls, visitors or even reading material. As for restraints, they too were inhumane as I was shackled SPREAD- EAGLE, to the four corners of the bed and not, as even then was considered proper, with my legs straight and my arms in position by my side. This treatment moreover was considered normative for agitated psychotic patients rather than cruel in the extreme  as recently as the 1980s in some municipal hospitals in Connecticut.

I  recommend the book, THE DAY THE VOICES STOPPED, by the late Ken Steele, who wrote of his experience as a 14 year old with the savage isolation policies in NY hospitals in the 60s and 70s,  treatment that today seems literally incredible.

Well, I thank you for your contribution to my blog, Mary. You are welcome here at any time. I will post as many of your comments as I can.

Sincerely,

Pam W

Hospital, Hypomania and How Hope Eventually Returned…

Pretty tame for a seclusion room, but this one is in a school so it has carpeting not linoleum...The thought that little kids are held captive inside is pretty disgusting through.

I wrote in the post below that for three weeks in October I was in Manchester Memorial hospital (a new unit for me. To explain, the hospital you are sent to in this state these days is a total crapshoot. Sometimes the ER can admit you to theirs, but if it is full, as it so often is, they can send you literally to any hospital in the state that has an empty bed.. With the governor having decided to close one of the few state facilities still open and the municipal hospitals so over-utilized that an average stay was 5-7 days only, you can imagine how inadequate any attempts at treatment are. I do not mean to diss the hospital staff in general. Some do mean well and are appalled at what their jobs have devolved into, others however seem not to care that they are no more than warders in double-locked secure psychiatric units where few are admitted truly voluntarily or at least only on an emergency basis and yet no one can stay until healed. Generally speaking, one stays only until such a time as they are either no longer acutely suicidal or no longer a danger to others… That said, I have to be somewhat circumspect about what I say and the judgments I make as I was and tend to be when in any hospital so paranoid that I simply cannot draw any reasoned or reasonable conclusion about the staff or the treatment there, since it is always more or less (and usually more) through the lens of my sense of  personal attack and persecution. In truth, I scarcely remember any of the details or even the gross facts of this particular hospital stay. In fact, I have had to be told second hand, or even third hand, most of what I did there and/or of what happened.

I can say a few things from memory, though, and the picture I posted above is relevant to that: I remember being hauled off to the seclusion room and more than once. (I do not have even the slightest scrap of memory why…which is unnerving, and yet also a relief, as it protects me, possibly, from memories I might not wish to have…I hasten to add however that my lack of memory is not psychological, but neurological: we were warned by my Lyme neurologist that I should not have ECT while I still had CNS Lyme disease as it was likely to produce untoward CNS effects that could not be controlled or predicted. Since then, my short term memory has been particularly affected, among other things (e.g. olfactory hallucinations).  IN other hospitals, the seclusion room usually had a mattress in it, something upon which you could lie down, and were expected to, in fact, since you were given medication and expected to calm down and sleep in general. At other hospitals, I stayed in the seclusion room for an extended period of time, either because I was extremely disruptive (NOTE: see posts about Natchaug Hospital regarding this) or extremely psychotic. At those times I was usually permitted other items in the room, such as magazines and some small personal things to pass the time with…But during the month that is ending, I was literally manhandled into the room and dumped on the floor — hard linoleum — stripped, forced into a johnnie coat (I had to beg for 2), and summarily left behind, the door locked decisively between me and whoever was posted at the observation window.

I remember screaming, I remember begging for a mattress to sleep on, I remember begging for something to cover myself with for warmth or at a minimum for the heat to be turned up as I was thin and it was notoriously cold on that unit, and there was nothing whatsoever in the seclusion room to buffer the air conditioning. No deal. They just told me to be quiet; actually, I do not believe they even said that, but just, No. I do not remember much more than that. In fact, though I have been told the next, I do not actually remember it: there was of course no bathroom facility, and not even a bedpan in the room. Someone told me later that I defecated into a cup…But I do not see how that is more reasonable than that I did so into a bed pan…Why would I have a cup in there  if I did not have a bedpan…No, I believe that in both instances I have been told about, I peed and defecated directly onto the linoleum. If I did so, I cannot explain it. Perhaps I was simply desperate and they did not provide any other mode of relief. Maybe I was angry at them, and did it to “get back at them”? (This was suggested to me as a motive by the person who told me that I was not the first and would not be the last person to do this in that room…which was both a small source of relief, to not be unique, and yet to have done it as a kind of revenge?!  I did not want to believe that I would or could be so primal in my anger…But then, I have done it before, if you recall…

After that — and my memory wants to “see” this, feels it almost can and almost does, but I cannot be sure that it is memory rather than a mere confabulation  after the fact, having been told the bare bones of it by Carolyn (Lynnie) and others, who themselves only heard about it but did not see it either…after that I believe I crossed the room to , hoping there was no slant in the floor that would make the puddle slide towards me, and lay down in a heap and fell asleep.

Or did I? Did I? Or were there consequences to my act? I know that at some point in my “stay” — seems so mild to call the brutality of my hospitalization merely a “stay,” as if at a spa —  I was put into restraints and kept there a very long time. Was it for a separate incident, or was it connected to…Aahhh, wait a minute, yes, I do know, I do know…I remember now…For some reason, and I do not quite remember why, except possibly I was just so sick of everything that was happening, and so…I remember taking off the hospital pajama pants that were way too big for me anyway, and never stayed up and had no ties to pull around my waist and so were useless. I pulled them off and wound them into a narrow rope, which was easy as they were made of very thin material, then I formed them into a kind of slipknot,  fitted it over my head and around my neck and pulled on the  one end that had to be pulled for the knot to tighten, holding the other  like a kind of ballast (I don’t remember entirely how I did this only that it felt dreamlike, how easy it was to accomplish). I have forgotten what I was thinking, if I thought at all. Probably I did not think, I was that far beyond any rational thinking, even beyond any rational “wanting” in the sense of really wanting to die or not.

In any event, it seemed to take a long while before anyone noticed, and then a whole crowd of people were suddenly upon me, and they didn’t seem to know how to get the noose off  or how to loosen it. I held the end that slipped tightly in my fist, having no desire to relinquish it, though at the same time having I suspect no real desire to die either, that they could not easily free it. I heard someone yell to cut the knot. I remember thinking that was silly, why didn’t they just untie it? But it seemed that that was not possible, or at least that it was taking too long.  Then there was a pair of scissor up at my throat where the knot was — it seemed that  only bandage scissors could be found and those were not easily accessed — and someone was ripping at it, and then it was torn away and my neck was freed.

Stop. I have to stop here. Memory now fails me. I can only speculate what happened after that, because it literally blurs into nothingness. Goes blank. Goes back into the vault wherever all my lost memories go, perhaps never to be retrieved, if never fully or adequately formed. All I can do is try to reconstruct what might have happened next. I am pretty certain that it was after this that I was put in restraints. It would make sense. After all, what else could they do, and what would make sense? If I wasn’t safe in a seclusion room, in a hospital that in fact DID resort  to seclusion and restraints, it seems only likely that restraints would be the next measure taken. So I have to assume that it was for that reason I was put in four point restraints. Also, since the doctor I had been assigned to, thought a sadist by many on the unit, was  also the director of it, it was likely his call that led me to being kept there for more than 12 hours, and maybe as many as 18…I honestly have no idea in the end how long he kept me in such a fashion, only that I was not released even after I had fallen asleep…

That is almost the sum total of what I can, as a kind of “hard copy” memory, remember on my own. As you can see, even with those few memories, I had trouble and some help in recalling them.  I have some vague sense that a great deal went on during those 2 and a half weeks when I was largely insensible to what I did (at least to the extent that I did not recall it from moment to moment). During the last half week when I finally cracked the paranoia that kept me imprisoned, my memory did not improve, only my temper and the distance I kept from and my anger towards those who I had earlier felt were working in cahoots to hurt me. My impression then was only that some people were angry with me, but I did not know why, that some people resented me…But I could not figure out why. The ones who seemed to brighten when I smiled and help nothing against me told me gently a little about what I had done or how angry etc I had been, but only vaguely. They did not seem to understand that I had literally no memory of the previous 2 and a half weeks, or if they did, they did not seem to want to refresh my memories, perhaps feeling that it would be unkind, I dunno.  In any event, I learned a little about the “Pam” that some thought they knew, or that some people thought they had met and known for those 18 days…and that others had believed was in there all along and were now  glad to see emerging…But it was very confusing. And in all that confusion, I also had to deal with the fact that the new doc who had taken over after the sadist doc was removed from my “case” thanks to Lynnie’s intervention,  had decided that his philosophy of short hospitalizations would take precedence over whether or not I was fit for discharge, and so I was to leave on Tuesday…I had no choice, and so as I prepared to leave, I also had to “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” (a quote from “The Love song of J Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot). But I was also growing more and more revved, more and more anxious. and I had no one I trusted enough to talk about it with. I certainly could not tell the day nurse. (I don’t think I did, but I do not actually recall one way or another). I knew she disliked me intensely, for all that she tried to pretend otherwise.

In the end, I did leave that Tuesday, though even as I got into Josephine’s car and she pulled out into traffic, she told me I didn’t seem right to her, that she didn’t think I was well or ready to leave. That fact seemed clear to almost everyone I saw that day. And not long after that I grew so talkative and revved that no one could get a word in edgewise…This was so emphatically not like me that thank heavens everyone put up with me, and no one, NO ONE, rejected me or gave up on me for it. I do not remember anyone being cruel or saying, GO away, you talk too much, or you are being too egocentric etc. I recall in fact only kindness and some humor injected into the situation, but mostly kindness. They all, my friends, as well as Elissa, the RN, seemed concerned as I rocketed higher, and yet seemed to feel uncomfortable and not at all happy with how fast I was speeding. Sure, Dr B diagnosed it a hypomania, but I  had thought hypomania was an enjoyable state, not this unpleasant adrenalinized racy state that felt so terrible to me. I hadn’t taken Ritalin in 3 weeks, but I didn’t even want to now. No, taking stimulants for Narcolepsy was nothing like this. This felt terrible and  neither Ritalin nor even Adderal had ever felt so terrible. There was no pleasure or even alertness that made me want to do things and study and write involved now. I got a little more cleaning done, true, but only because I was trying to exercise off anxiety, not because I had pleasureable energy. In fact, had I been able to slow down, I would have gone to bed to sleep it off!

Eventually, Dr B upped the Topomax and I think we had already increased the Lamictal and eventually over the course of the next week, I came down to my usual state of semi-sleepiness and was able to restart the Ritalin (after some discussion about why I take it…He is still new to the situation and my narcolepsy)

Well, that is about all I can tell you about the hospitalization just passed. But there was more to it, and what I know about it, though the facts are vague, is that there was something massively wrong…It felt like the Y2K meltdown in some ways, esp in my lack of contact with — reality, memory? Is there a difference? I feel that this was very different from my usual post-lyme hospitalizations, that I was in a different state, and so did others. It frightened me more, and it was more violent. Certainly the treatments were more violent, but that also implies that I was too. Lynnie keeps telling me she will talk to me about it. But so far, she has not… Do I really want her to?

Vision Therapy and Schizoaffective Disorder

I combined two subjects in my heading –and they are related — in order to “recapture” as many readers who might come back looking for an entry after three weeks of nothing…

 

I’ve been in the hospital. Yes, a relapse of schizoaffective disorder, due, I think, to stress, poor sleep, worse eating and terrible time management,  in tandem with a flare-up of the underlying infection  of Lyme disease (for which I’d had a positive Western Blot test as late as 2006, five years into treatment).

 

I was in fact overwhelmed, sad, depressed, tired and sick of it all. I wanted to write and do my sculpture and it seemed as if everyone wanted many and more pieces of me and my time. Despite all the successes of the past year, I felt hopeless to change things On Effexor, after a long two and a half weeks, my spirits rose and my hopelessness diminished. I was able to unblinder myself, removing the brimmed hat I wore day and night, and enter the world again (in terms of mood, the affective part of the disorder).

 

In terms of the schizophrenia aspects of the disorder,  this hospitalization was brutal. I heard my name, my full name, being called 100 times an hour, on any given day. When people spoke to one another within my view, I could see (and heard it) that every word  spoken between them was my name, and nothing more. The entire ward had nothing better to do than to persecute me by saying, yelling, whispering my name.

 

Then one day something that really scared me, they whispered, “I’m choking myself. I’m choking myself. Pam, start choking yourself. Start choking yourself.” Always, almost always before this time, when faced with such “command hullucinations” I blindly obeyed the directives of the “dictator-voice,” too afraid to do otherwise. This time, rather than obey and do as he or they insisted, I ran out of my room. I looked up and down the hallway for anyone — anyone! — a mental health worker, a nurse, even the ward secretary would do.  No one .

 

What to do? What to do? I raced back to my room, stood  just inside the doorway. No, I could not stay, not with this voice assaulting my brain. I had to find help. Somehow. Then I heard someone coming down the hall, briefly stopping at every room to check on its occupant: the mental health worker “on the floor” which is the say, the one who was assigned to do fifteen minute checks that evening. Stacy, with the long dreads, was  just the person I needed.

 

 

“Stacy,” I whispered urgently when she came nearer. “Stacy, I need to tell you something.”

 

“What is it, Pam?” she smiled.

 

“They’re telling me to start choking myself.”

 

“Who is?”

 

“They are, the people who talk to me, the voices if you need to call them that.”

 

She frowned. “You aren’t going to act on that, are you. Now, come. Let’s find your nurse and see what he can do for you.” Then she took my hand and led me up the hallway to the medication room where Paul was doling out nighttime pills too early for my taste. “Paul, I think tonight, Pam needs her antipsychotics early. What does she have?”

 

He told her what I was taking, and they murmured together a little. I assumed they were discussing what I’d just told Stacy. After I’d taken the pills, Stacy again took me by the hand and walked me down the hallway to my room.

 

“You gonna be all right now?” she asked.

 

I nodded, dubious that the meds would do the trick, but hopeful in any event. I knew now that I could in fact ask for help and be given it, that I did not have to obey the voices not even when they demanded action.

 

But that was only one of many, many incidents. I won’t bother to recount them all, or even just one other, not right now. All I want to say is that the voices never did let up until the final weekend, due to stress caused by a very disruptive patient. It was only the weekend before the day I was discharged, when she’d been booted out, that the ward was tranquil enough for the voices to diminish, and then by Monday begin to cease. Yet even at the very same time, another problem reared its head…

 

This is chronic neuro-Lyme: plots abounding, exaggerated startle, acute dyslexia, increased paranoia and rampaging ideas of reference…I had them and worse in 2000 during the massive psychotic break at Y2K and I had all or most during this hospitalization in a diminished form, when the antibiotics were changed and failed to protect me from a recrudescing infection.

 

Now, why or how does Vision Therapy tie into this? It is related because while in the hospital, that closed-in space with blinds on the windows so the view is largely obscured, I lost my ability to see 3-D, to perceive depth and space. I even lost my ability to read or untangle letters on the page or properly read the words on a computer screen. I noticed this one day when I looked to see if the pen was clearly above the paper, and found that I could not easily say that it was, that I was deducing it from the overlap and the shadows. Occasionally, depth perception would flicker on then off, and it was delightful, but most often I found it was off, and decided to let it be. I knew how to restore it, that it could be restored, and that Dr D would help me if I needed help. So I figured, the worst would be I’d have to re-train my eyes, but the best part of that would be the thrill of re-entering the beauty of the borderline between 2D and 3D.

 

In the follwoing posts I plan to describe the Vision Therapy sessions that help me regain my depth perception, and also in others discuss aspects of schizoaffective disorder, the schizophrenia aspects as well as what I know about depression.

 

Stay tuned…

Symptoms and Progress

I am working on a longer blog entry but it is taking a while, so in the meantime I will get you up to speed on a few other matters: my symptoms, of Lyme, of schizophrenia have mostly subsided, all except the startling, which continues on a reduced level. I don’t startle at bright lights anymore, nor at people coming at me around corners in Stop and Shop, but I regularly shriek in a startle reflex when I am waiting for someone and they knock on the door. It is predictable that I will do so, because it is so unpredictable when they will knock. And yet the strangest thing about it is, I am anticpating the knocking, and am waiting for it…so you’d think I would be prepared. But that very anticipation only seems to make the startle that much worse, I don’t know why. When I merely hear the knock out of the “corner of my ear” as it were, the startle is much less, and sometimes I do not startle at all.

But I do know that this was never a problem until I developed Lyme and the lesions in my brain that have never gone away, the “tiny strokes” that could have been normal if I had been over 50 when they occured, and if they had not appeared in a cluster in a matter of one MRI to the next. Meaning that I had an MRI during a psychotic episode and the results were clear, but a number of months later, the scar tissue of these tiny stroke like lesions suddenly appeared, suggesting that something had indeed occured during the time I had been ill. And we believe it was Lyme-on-the-brain.

That said, I am feeling a great deal better, though I hear some music from time to time and occasionally people talking to me, plus the little People when I do art work, naturally, though they do not bother me in the slightest. (The little People, for those who do not know, are the voices that are absolutely benign and merely argue amongst themselves about matters having little to do with me, such as about Russia and independence of the various states, or Born-Again Christianity, or teenage chores etc…It can be very entertaining but never or rarely threatening.

I have been slowly working on a child sculpture and a couple of bowls, though not a slimemold bowl like the one that several people have wanted a copy of. I don’t think I could make another one, frankly, I think I would be bored and uninspired to have to do it again. But if I can, I will make something else in those colors…Meanwhile, I hvae made a mushroom bowl in pastels and a basic watermelon bowl, that is just a bowl painted like a big watermelon, which I would paint over except that I polyurethaned it already. If anyone is interested in either bowl, and I will post pictures below or soon, do let me know!

Joe, Joe is doing well, as well as can be expected. I ought to write a whole entry on him, given that this is a new blog and I may have other new readers, so for now, to my old readers, rest assured that nothing very new is afoot. He is comfortable, relatively, and commmunicating well with the EyeGaze Response Integrative Communication Assistive device (or some such) ERICA. We even talk on the phone for hours now, for hours because it takes that long to have a conversation. Why so long? Well, It takes at least a second or two for him to spell one letter, and probably 6-7 seconds per letter in reality. So if he want to say a long sentence, and that is the easiest way for me to understand him, then it could take a long time for me to wait to hear it.

But it is worthwhile and I generally paint with the speaker phone on, so I can do something while I wait.

Well, now to post the pictures of the bowls:dcp_3632dcp_3631dcp_3629dcp_3627

Watermelon Bowl
Watermelon Bowl

Potholes on the Recovery Road

Those of you who used to read WAGblog at schizophrenia.com know it has been a long slog — 70+ hospitalizations over the course of almost 40 years means more than 9 years in the hospital. Sometimes even now the road gets potholes and rocks, becomes almost impassable, though I am much better at simply, well, slogging my way through. Still, the year from October 2007-November 2008 has been one of the best I’ve had both in terms of my illness and of my general happiness and productiveness. With regards to the first, I have stayed on my medications and as a result stayed out of the hospital. Indeed, over the year I was able to cope with vicissitudes that might have undone me without them, including the death of a very dear friend. My artwork – large-scale papier mache sculptures – has become very important to me, even life-saving, with jewelry-making on the side which I hope will become one day a source of income if I am lucky. As I told my father a couple of months ago, spontaneously but with a rush of feeling that surprised even me: I enjoy everything I do. I wake up in morning and I can’t wait to get to work on my sculptures or my writing. This is not to say that I have no problems, have no hard times or things I have difficulty with. It is not to say, even, that I don’t dread certain activities like parties and holidays. I am terrified of simply calling a stranger on the phone! But what it means is, in general nothing bores me, everything I do interests me, which is a gift beyond measure. So what I tell myself, before doing something I believe I will find difficult, is: At least you might get a poem out of it. And that is enough to encourage me onward.

I am having some difficulty right now, true. Hypersensitivity to stimulation, increased paranoia and voices — I believe this is all is due to infectious disease recrudescing in my brain, rather than schizophrenia. Which is to say that I believe my schizophrenia has a known cause: Borrelia burgdorferi, or Lyme disease.

[Excuse the tangent here: Certain schizophrenia researchers believe that an infectious origin for schizophrenia is very likely. Why not Lyme? B. burgdorferi is a spirochete bacterium, carried by deer ticks and causing an illness much more common now, at least in southern New England, due to humans encroaching on deer habitat. With deer, which naturally harbor deer ticks, the vector carrying Lyme disease, having to co-exist so closely with humans, no wonder the incidence of Lyme disease has increased in recent years, at least in southern New England. I believe we would find it had sky-rocketed if there were a decent test for it and we actually did widespread testing. But there isn’t and we don’t.

Nevertheless, according to the tests we do have, I have been positive three separate times for Borrelia DNA, the so called “gold standard.” This despite having been in treatment for months. Still, many, even most physicians will tell you that Lyme disease is not chronic and is easily cured with a few weeks’ worth of the right drugs. The whole Lyme disease issue is controversial and deeply politicized. At this point, I would say it is mostly a political football – between the “Yale” school of “there ain’t no such thing as chronic incurable Lyme infection” orthodoxy and the increasingly vocal growing minority of infectious disease specialists who say that there is, and who risk losing medical licenses for treating patients longterm with antibiotics. What runs the risk of getting lost in the controversy is the fact that because no reliable test exists, let alone fully unanimous best practice treatments, there are patients out there who are not being tested and not being treated. I wonder how many are instead being told their neurological symptoms are schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or some other neurological or psychiatric ailment?]

Now, where was I? Ah, yes, I had started out by saying that I believed my symptoms were Lyme-induced. My psychiatrist, Dr O, who is also a sleep specialist treating my narcolepsy, believes moreover that it is lack of a decent night’s sleep, regularly, that has led to this flare-up. She insists that if I do not get a full 8 hours every night, I start decompensating. Then Lyme flares up and between the two everything starts deteriorating. I don’t know what to think, but I do know that I have been skimping on the nighttime medication, taking perhaps only a half of the liquid, so I will go back to taking the full dose religiously at 11pm and 3am, and going to bed at midnight to try to regularize my schedule better. We’ll see what happens.

But precisely what symptoms trouble me at the moment? Mostly hearing things, paranoia, excessive startling at the slightest provocation. All this is especially true when out in public, say in a store or public building. The following is one example: The other day, my father took me grocery shopping at Stop and Shop. From the first step in the door, I was panicked because of people threatening and staring and wanting me out of there. He said, “if people are staring at you, it is because you look so frightened. ” I could not hear him. I was much too fearful to do anything but deal with the situation as I perceived it: People telling me what to do, where to go, what to buy or not to buy, and in general terrorizing me. Every time someone passed me or even just approached from around a corner, I startled, which only upset me further, setting off the tendency to startle again. The whole trip was one of near agony, relieved only by our leaving as soon as possible and getting in the car. Once there, my heart rate immediately slowed and I began at once to calm down. And by the time a half hour had passed at home in my apartment, I was myself again.

That is the sort of thing I am talking about. I can’t say it only happens when I am influenced by the little spirochete bacterium, since grocery shopping is usually difficult for me. But it is not usually such a truly nightmarish experience as it was that day.

Paranoia of the same sort has occurred before and does so more when I am out in public or in the lobby of my building, where people tend to congregate around the mailboxes and community areas, than in my apartment where I am alone and feel relatively safe. So that wasn’t unfamiliar. On the other hand, the excessive startling – the kind my twin sister, a psychiatrist, says resembles an infantile “moro” reflex – is the one symptom I most associate with Lyme, my particular case of neurological Lyme. It alerted me to the fact that any concomitant increase in psychiatric symptoms was also due to the infectious disease. Making this connection has been tremendously helpful to me; it has put everything into a context I can understand and accept, and offers a concrete and simple-to-comprehend explanation for both my schizophrenia and narcolepsy, since the same symptoms are seen in Lyme. Remember the principle of Occam’s razor, which says that if you have a complex and a simple explanation for a phenomenon, the simple one is usually better? The Lyme explanation – ie that Borrelia burgdorferi caused my schizophrenia and my narcolepsy – really makes more sense than the more dubious proposition that I have two relatively unusual diseases and that neither one has yet been deciphered (both schizophrenia and narcolepsy remain mysterious in terms of cause and cure).
Okay, I admit that no one here agrees with me completely, but I much prefer thinking of them this way.
Renaming something can carry real power. Just so, calling my illnesses Lyme makes me feel less victimized than calling myself schizophrenic, however indistinguishable the symptoms are. I might become increasingly paranoid and begin to hear voices, triggering concern in my caregivers that a psychotic episode brews. But if I realize that I am startling at every little thing, acutely dyslexic and subject to sudden rage, and that this means it is a Lyme flare-up, everything falls into place. I become, maybe not less paranoid, but less likely to cling to the delusions once they are pointed out to me as delusions. In addition I might be more able to see how I am misinterpreting the world, at least when someone gives me an alternate and perhaps more reasonable explanation.

I would like to add a word or two about those in Stop and Shop who were staring at me, as my father suggested they might have been. if true, this was stupid and cruel behavior. I myself would never stare at someone who looked frightened. Instead, I would give them lots of space so they wouldn’t feel crammed in and threatened. Many people don’t understand how they might seem threatening to someone who is paranoid. At best they only know that they mean no harm, want only to help and so they have no awareness of the threat that person may perceive in what they do. At worst, they stare and crowd and to a paranoid person this might seem the most dangerous situation of all – to be trapped and threatened and persecuted, even if it is by “persecutors” who have no intent to harm or even frighten.

It seems to me only logical not to exacerbate a person’s obvious fear by staring and crowding, but perhaps I understand this only because I have “been there”. I just don’t get it why people can’t appreciate the obvious: if you crowd or stare at a person who is frightened of everything around her, even if you don’t understand she is paranoid, you threaten her and increase the likelihood of confrontation. Paranoid people don’t mean to hurt anyone, not in the sense of gratuitous injury, but if they attack, they attack — verbally or physically — to defend themselves from what they are convinced beyond shade or shadow of a doubt are threats to their very lives.

So while I can see my father’s point, now, that my frightened mien “caused” people to take interest in me, and “induced” their staring behavior, I think he and others should also take a lesson from what I write here. It is something a lot of people need to understand, including police officers dealing with mentally ill individuals in crisis. Several people or even just one if he or she happens to be the “wrong one”, bearing down on a paranoid, confused and fearful person may play a role in that person’s persecutory delusions. If in a crisis you want to help that person, the best thing you could do, aside from giving the person space and time to calm down if that is possible, is to remain at a reasonable distance, speak softly but clearly, and indicate that you understand the person is frightened. That is the most important thing of all: let them know you know how scared they are. You are not afraid of them, but you know how fearful they are. Do not provoke a confrontation; just make sure they know that you understand where they are. If you can accomplish that, you will be halfway to helping them and resolving the crisis.

With that, I must say good night, TTFN and leave my mark: BD