The Wrongs Of Psychiatric Care – Part 2 of 2
A Blind Date With My Husband
By – Sheri de Grom
Cont. from http://wp.me/p22zGl-zs
The medical flight team was angry with the hospital and their unreasonable stance. They’d submitted a standard request for hospital transfer.
The paramedic, flight engineer and I assessed our best possible outcome and agreed I’d have to drive Tom to Little Rock. I buckled him in, secured and reclined his seat, and engaged the child locks. I couldn’t be sure that he’d stay in the car, even when it was in motion. The hospital had over-medicated him, again. He wasn’t aware of his surroundings.
The pilot agreed he would fly in position to light the highway to Little Rock while I drove Tom. It was the middle of the night and I’d be driving through the Ozark Mountains on a black, two-lane road known as the pigtail. The twists and turns through the mountains were perilous, one hairpin turn after another followed by double switchbacks and no white line at the edge of the road to tell me where the highway ended. Sheer cliffs dropped into blackness for thousands of feet ensuring certain death.
My only thought that awful night in 2005 was getting Tom competent help as soon as possible.
I’d driven the pigtail route to Little Rock before but always in daylight and never with such urgency. It’s a road ideal for meandering tourists wanting to snap picturesque photos. Nothing was further from my mind that night. I drove fast and prayed God’s will be done.
Three and one-half hours later we arrived at the VA Hospital in Little Rock. The best time I’d made on the pigtail before was five hours and forty-five minutes.
I’d always said I’d never use the VA Health Care System for Tom. He was eligible—but the same as with Tricare—we’d never been able to count on standardized care. The wait time to see a physician was unbelievably long, and you rarely saw the same doctor twice.
That night in 2005 was an exception. I’d run out of options. I had no other place to take Tom. His admitting diagnoses on that awful night were Parkinson’s disease, possible bleeding at the cortex of the brain, Type II Diabetes, Taradive Dyskinesia and of course, bipolar disorder.
The following morning I met with the lead physician and learned Tom’s initial assessment pointed to the large amounts of psychiatric medications he’d been prescribed. They had more than likely caused all of his conditions with the exception of the bipolar disorder. Tom’s bipolar disorder had more than likely been exacerbated by his medications.
Over the next three months, I stayed in Little Rock and visited Tom each day at the hospital. Staying away from our home at a hotel and paying for meals out equaled paying a second mortgage plus some. I felt I couldn’t take a chance on leaving Tom without an advocate and I wasn’t going to abandon him. I saw him daily at the hospital and slowly, oh so slowly, I saw change.
Results of numerous medical tests were analyzed. As suspected, all of Tom’s admitting diagnoses were directly related to the medication regime his previous psychiatrist had prescribed.
In addition to Tom’s admitting diagnoses, we also learned one-third of his liver had been destroyed by another medication, lithium. His former psychiatrist had not followed the professional standard of ordering monthly lithium blood levels. Lithium has been the gold standard for the treatment of bipolar disorder for decades, but Tom is one of those rare individuals whose body can’t process it and the toxic levels would have eventually killed him.
We’d learned several years earlier that Tom had also developed Type II Diabetes. We asked each other how this could be. He had no family history of diabetes, his diet and exercise were on track, and nothing made sense. Two years after he was diagnosed with diabetes, a black box warning was added to one of his regular medications stating that it could cause Type II Diabetes.
At the end of four months, all of Tom’s medications were out of his system and it was time for his new medical team to discover which medications would work for him with the least amount of damage to his body.
Nearing the end of a mental health stay as long as Tom’s, it’s customary for the patient to receive a pass to leave the behavioral health care unit. This allows the patient and a family member to ‘try out the real world.’ This reentry into the patient’s environment is carefully planned by both the family member accompanying the patient and a member of the treatment team. Often, several visits into the patient’s environment are required before the patient is ready for final discharge. This allows the patient a chance to process the time he spent away from the hospital and the family member to assess the appropriate accommodations within the family.
As always, I’d visited Tom every day of his hospitalization but I knew there was no guarantee of how he’d feel from one day to the next. An entire season had come and gone since he’d entered the hospital four months previously.
The day of Tom’s pass arrived. I was as nervous as if I was meeting him for the first time. What if suddenly he didn’t want to be with me? What if he thought he should drive? What if he couldn’t bear to leave the protective confines of the hospital What if . . . ?
I’d planned a quiet dinner at a small café featuring local artists. Their menu was simple but sophisticated.
Dinner went well and I asked Tom if he felt up to a movie before returning to the hospital and he agreed that it sounded like a good idea.
That special night in 2005 was my first introduction to the work of Claire Cook. We saw the movie ‘Must Love Dogs’ and it was the perfect film for the time and space Tom and I were in. I’ve been a fan of Claire Cook’s ever since.
I was thrilled when Tom laughed and his body relaxed as we watched the movie. Later as we were leaving the theater a spotlight was set up at the exit and an entertainment company was conducting interviews. I planned to side-step the interviewers but Tom looped his arm through mine and headed directly for the bright lights.
The interviewer asked, “What movie did you see?”
Tom replied, “Must Love Dogs.”
“What did you think? Would you recommend it as a good date night movie?”
Tom’s reply caught me by surprise. “Yes. Definitely. We’re on a blind date and I hope we’ll have more.” He slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me in close.
The interviewer—being ever so kind and with the camera still rolling–said, “You two belong together. Are you sure this is a blind date?”
Tom gave him one of his easy smiles, the kind that reached all the way to his eyes. I was joyous. I hadn’t seen that smile in over a year. Suddenly, it was okay with me that I was on a blind date with my husband of nineteen years.
The night of our blind date, I returned Tom to the hospital and checked him into the mental health unit. I knew the days ahead would be a mystery. But I also knew we both loved dogs and everything was going to be okay once again.
It was another six weeks before Tom was released to home and we had six more dates. We were getting to know each other again. I try not to say, “Remember when . . . ” but, it’s hard. Tom doesn’t remember when and he never will. A doctor took his memory away from the two of us, his daughters and everyone that ever knew him – all in the name of modern medicine. We look at photos together and I’m forever amazed that we love the same songs and declare them ours again.
Tom and I meet and fall in love over and over and each time the love is unconditional. From time to time his bipolar disorder disease takes him far away from both of us but of one thing I’m sure, Scooter and I will be at his side forever and a day.