I had a little, um, incident this week. Actually, the incident took place about a month ago, when I was caught outside in a rainstorm. I know, it’s been proven that running through the rain doesn’t get you any less wet than walking, but reflexes took over and I took off. About 20 paces in, I heard a ‘pop’, and something in my knee gave way. Ouch.
But I don’t have health insurance. I knew there was something wrong, but since I am paying for healthcare out of pocket I decided I just needed to suck it up and wait for whatever it was to heal on its own.
That worked fine… for about three days.
I was sore, but not too terribly so: until I twisted just right getting my lunch out of the microwave at work. The knee went ‘pop’ again, and down I went. A coworker helped me back to my desk, and I hobbled out to the car later that day and went to an after-hours clinic. A torn meniscus, they said. They put an elastic sleeve on my leg, and told me to stay off it for a few days. Well, crutches are a pain in the ass, and I only used them for a day or so before giving up on them. I did manage to keep my knee elevated and iced, but the swelling just wouldn’t go down.
After three weeks of this, with no diminishing of pain or swelling I gave in and went to see an Orthopedic Doctor. He did X-Rays and a thorough examination and confirmed that it was indeed a torn meniscus. And it was torn bad enough that it wasn’t going to heal on its own, and that I needed surgery to get it fixed.
Great. That’s $10,000 I don’t have.
In the meantime, he suggested a steroid shot in the joint might help the swelling and inflammation so that it wouldn’t be quite so painful. At this point I was ready for any relief and told him to go ahead.
That was a big mistake…
I got the shot (Which hurt like you wouldn’t believe) and went back to work. After about an hour it REALLY Started to hurt. And Hurt. And HURT! My knee had swelled to the size of a cantaloupe and felt like I had a dozen knives stuck in to the hilt. I decided it was time to go home; I needed to lie down. So I shut down my computer, put away my paperwork and got up to walk to the elevator.
I never made it.
I took about two steps, and hit the floor out cold. When I came too, a coworker had managed to get me into a chair, and had me laying back as far as I could. I was bathed in a cold sweat. I was nauseated. My entire body was shivering uncontrollably from the pain in my leg. I kept fading in and out of consciousness, but I knew there was a crowd of people standing around asking themselves what they should do.
The next thing I knew, the paramedics were there. They took vital signs, and my blood pressure had dropped almost 50 points from that morning when I had been in the Doctor’s office. My pulse was off the charts. My body temperature was way below normal. And just touching my leg brought out screams I didn’t even know I was capable of.
Surprising no one, they decided I needed to take a trip to the local Hospital Emergency Room.
As the paramedics were getting everything together, one of them asked me about what medications I was taking. Hmmmmm… I wasn’t completely with it, but I knew I didn’t want to get into the psychiatric medications I’m on. Not with my boss and coworkers around. So I told them I was on blood pressure medications. Period.
I don’t remember a lot about the ride in the ambulance, other than every bump and turn made me scream in agony. You just cannot imagine how badly it hurt!
But we made it, and they got me settled into a bed in the ER. The paramedics had given me something for pain, and laying still on a stable bed it was tolerable. I was still sweating, and I could feel my heart racing, but at least I wasn’t wracked with pain. I could hear the ER Doctor talking just outside my curtain, and he was ordering an MRI so they could really check out what was going on. He came in to talk to me, and reviewed all the information I had given the paramedics. Now was the time to come clean, and I told him about the Wellbutrin and Lamictal.
Wow. Did things change. Fast.
All of a sudden, the treatment plan changed. He cancelled the MRI and just told the nurses to push some IV fluids and pain meds. I lay there for about 4 hours, more or less totally ignored except for the nurses who came in periodically to make sure I was still breathing. But even their attitude changed from concern to sympathy and tolerance.
I was just another mental case.
But the pain meds did help, and later that evening I was released to go home. They immobilized my leg in a brace, put me back on crutches, and told me that if it wasn’t better in a day or two to go back to the Orthopedic Doctor for a follow up.
And out the door I went. I didn’t even get a wheelchair ride to the door; just crutch your happy ass out of here. Seriously.
Oh, I know that I was embarrassed to admit I was on psychiatric medications, and that I tend to be a bit sensitive about how it’s perceived. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Doctors and Nurses immediately discounted my pain and decided I was having a mental episode. No question whatsoever.
Now, as far as what really happened? The paramedic conjectured that when the Dr. gave me the steroid shot he managed to hit a nerve, and inject the steroids directly into the nervous system. (He also said that the way Doctors looked out for each other, that they would never say that). The Doctor originally thought that either I had a reaction to the numbing agent that was used prior to the shot, or that I just reacted badly to the steroid itself. My own opinion is that I have had a lot of steroids lately dealing with the rash I had (https://bipolarblogging.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/a-story-for-another-day/), and I think that this last shot was just one too many. Of course, the nerve thing has some merit as well. Whatever the cause, two days later as I’m writing this my knee is still twice the normal size and any movement or pressure on the knee is excruciating. That can’t be mental, can it?
There is definitely a stigma that goes along with mental illness. Even Doctors are susceptible to that kind of thinking unless specifically educated in that specialty. And I’m sure that nurses (and Doctors) see their fair share of real mental crisis and can easily make the leap from a real medical emergency to ‘just another mental case’. Lamictal has basically two uses; anti-epileptic and mood stabilizer. I had no history of seizures, wasn’t on any other anti-epileptic medication, and I was taking an antidepressant. It didn’t take a genius to figure out I was bipolar. And bipolar people can’t be trusted; they’re just crazy.
There have been incredible strides in understanding and treating mental illness in the last 20 years. Maybe in the 1940’s there really wasn’t enough information to separate physical from mental conditions, but this is 2014! You’d think that especially doctors would have more understanding.
But they don’t.
The misconceptions and perceptions of people with mental illness really haven’t improved much at all. We are ones to be feared. Everything that happens can be explained by our perceived strangeness. In fact, any strange behavior is immediately attributed to bipolar illness. The strange guy at work? He’s just being bipolar. And It’s no wonder that her husband got caught cheating on her. The way he’s always acted made me think he was crazy. Bipolar even.
The media contributes a great deal to this too. Just let some deranged lunatic start shooting people in a shopping mall, and the news immediately reports that the poor soul is bipolar. I’ve seen this happen even before they have identified the shooter! It’s nice that total strangers who haven’t a clue can make that kind of diagnoses…wish they had been around years ago to help with my diagnoses. (I’m not defending or minimizing anyone who does such acts. I’m just making the point that kind of horrendous behavior does NOT make one bipolar.)
There’s even a new TV Drama about it; “Black Box”. Supposedly it’s about as Genius Neurologist who is bipolar. Each week she has some kind of ‘manic’ episode and does some really outrageous things. But there are never any real consequences, and nobody even seems to notice. And it never seems to get in the way of her brilliant neurology. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t bipolar people who are managing their jobs and keeping the illness secret. Lord knows, I’m one of those. But her manic episodes are so cliché, and she rarely displays any depression. How exciting could a show be about depression? But the sad part of that is, this kind of information is what the general public believes about mental illness. Someone finds out I’m taking meds for bipolar disorder, and they expect me to start hearing voices and running around chasing non-existent butterflies.
There’s no shame in being bipolar, or having any mental illness. The way so many people react to us, even the way Doctors treat us once they find out?
That’s the shame. That’s a real shame.