When the ER Staff Treated My Chronic Illness, But Ignored My Suicidal Thoughts


As with any chronic or mental illness, you may find yourself in the dreaded emergency room more times than you may like.

Recently this has been more than enough for me. On several occasions it was for my chronic illness. I had a setback and had to discontinue a medication that had been keeping my idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) at bay and my life somewhat “normal.” Most of these visits were your regular blood work, looks OK, keep doing this, discharge, follow-up-type deals.

But on my last visit something interesting happened.

Along with my two chronic illnesses (IIH and superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome), I also suffer from bipolar disorder. I also happen to have some major depression and issues surrounding the fact that my IIH has caused me round-the-clock searing, burning pain behind my ears for three years straight with almost no relief.

So this past week, I said to my husband, after speaking with my therapist on several occasions, that I had been having thoughts of death and I may need some extra help. I had no suicide plan, I had no notes, I had said no goodbyes. But with this thought of “the only way out of this never-ending pain is death,” it was finally starting to sound like a good idea.

I decided it was time to go back to the ER. I was having intense pain in my head, visual symptoms and increasing thoughts of suicide. Once at triage I told the triage nurse about my diagnosis of IIH. I told him my neurologist’s strict orders that if I was having any visual issues that I was to come to the ER and he was to be called (my neurologist happens to be contracted with this hospital). I also then proceeded to tell him that I was having suicidal thoughts. He then asked if I had a plan, I told him no.  He asked if I would like some help with that…

To which I replied, most certainly… as if it were a question.

I was then sent back to the waiting room.

Thirty minutes later I was called to a smaller room where I waited 20 minutes to see a doctor. I proceeded to tell the doctor the same information I told triage. I then told her I was having suicidal thoughts and would like some help for that as well. She seemed to acknowledge what I was saying, and said the nurse would be with me shortly to start some medications.

I then saw a nurse to start an IV and some medications. I then told the nurse about my suicidal thoughts, and that I needed to speak with someone. I seemed to come across a blank stare.

Before I knew it was I being discharged — no call to my neurologist, no call to a mental health worker, no call to the local mental health facility that contracts with all of the local hospitals in my city. Our hospitals keep mental health workers on staff and they need to be called in.

I was able to call the hospital and file a complaint. They assured me that this was not protocol, and that it would be handled. I am not sure that this is the end of my complaint, and I am not sure that I won’t take my complaint further.

What I do know is that I kept in contact with my therapist the entire time via text and my husband was with me the entire time. I was not left alone, I was able to stay safe, I was able to come home, remain safe and follow up with my therapist and start a treatment plan. I was able to come out of this knowing that this was not my fault.

I am a sad, though — sad for myself, sad for others who reach out for help and are met with blank stares, or the eyes of those who think, This woman looks “sane,” or She surely can’t be suicidal, or She isn’t running naked down the halls, so she clearly is not a threat to herself or those around her, just by looking at what I am wearing, or that I have makeup on, or my hair has been washed.

I asked three times for mental health help, and three times I was denied basic care.

Something has to be done to fix this system when a simple emergency room cannot handle one of the largest emergencies happening in our country today.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo by Thinkstock Images


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