To the Doctor I Told About My Mental Illness While He Was Treating My Foot
It was a simple break, he said.
It would heal fast and well, he said.
Unbeknownst to him, my break was a physical manifestation of a greater issue: my wrestle with bipolar disorder. I went through a period of mania 10 months ago, exercised excessively and consequently broke my foot as a result.
I never told this to the doctor. So, 10 months after the incident, I found myself sitting in his office, in tears because of the searing pain that refused to relent.
“Lola, I’m perplexed. You shouldn’t still be having pain; you’ve been seeing a physiotherapist and the break wasn’t too severe. Yet, I see from this MRI that fluid is filling into your bones, a sign that your foot is trying to heal but it can’t. I guess I’ll fit you in a walking boot for six weeks and hope for the best.”
I need to tell him.
Like a dam breaking, I finally released the truth to him. I explained that I have bipolar disorder, and I frequently go through phases of extreme agitation or hypomania.
“The walking boots, slab casts and plaster casts fitted for me in the past haven’t stayed on for longer than 24 hours, I’m sorry doctor, please don’t be mad.”
He laughed. “No wonder it hasn’t healed!” Then he got serious. “Lola this is important. I can help you now that I understand. We will fit you with a hard cast that will be impossible for you to take off.”
The myriad of doctors before him had a different approach — they knew I’d take the cast off so they didn’t put much effort or resources into making it secure, thus making it even easier for me to take it off in a moment of agitation. I even had one doctor who refused to cast it. Here I had a doctor going through lengthy measures to ensure my recovery. He tracked down the very last of the fiberglass casting the hospital had, for me. He made it thick and secure. He coached me through how to deal with the agitation that would likely come. He said to call if I had any problems.
When I asked why he was working so hard on my cast, he said, “I want to give you the best possible shot at recovery.”
So to the doctor who cared about my mental health as much as my broken limb, thank you.
Thank you for creating a safe space where I felt comfortable (and not ridiculed) for being honest. Thank you for not blaming me for what happens in my brain.
I respect you and your work a lot. I will try my absolute hardest to work with you because you were willing to work with me and my special circumstances.
As far as I’m concerned, you’ll go down in my books as one heck of a physician.
In that half hour of conversation, I learned something. The more we fully disclose the root cause behind our actions, the more doctors are able to treat us in our entirety. They can only work with what they are told. And mental health is nothing to be ashamed of talking about. I encourage you to be real with the professionals in your life because they entered the profession to help.
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