This Response To My Mental Illness Made Me Want To Never Call 911 Again
I will never call 911 again. Even if it means my life, I will not do it. My experience tonight has reinforced that tenfold.
Alongside my mental health issues — mainly depression, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and anxiety, I have some neurological conditions. I have a history of strokes and seizures, among other things, and I am diabetic. I absolutely hate hospitals and doctors. My entire life, doctors pointed to my weight for everything that went wrong, whether it was a broken bone or my struggle to get my neurological conditions looked into — at least, they did until I was diagnosed with mental health conditions. I believe in being honest with doctors, I try to tell them the whole story so that they can more accurately address issues. As a result, I’ve faced so many issues with medical professionals boiling whatever ails me down to mental health or attention-seeking. It wasn’t until I was an adult in my late 20s that I found a doctor who takes me seriously and cares.
I’ve had a lot of personal stress and pressure on me in the past few months. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) hasn’t helped at all considering that my usual coping mechanisms are getting out of the house and going places, even if just to walk around a shopping center or go to a park. Even if everything wasn’t closed, I would still not go out during the pandemic for anything nonessential. Work, necessary grocery trips — that’s about it. Even my doctor is only doing video appointments right now.
He wasn’t an option tonight anyway. Today was a rough day; I broke down crying and venting to my husband and ended up with a splitting headache. That’s nothing new; I get headaches multiple times a day. Crying ones are particularly annoying so I went to lie down. I thought I’d fallen asleep but apparently I actually passed out. Next thing I remember, my husband was holding my body up and panicking slightly as he told me my nose was bleeding. My pillow was pretty well-soaked with blood. My head was in intense pain, my thoughts were fuzzy and I couldn’t form words. My body didn’t want to react or obey me at all. I could hear my husband but I wasn’t able to respond beyond twitches and grunts. I desperately tried to get him to call 911 but he wasn’t able to tell what I was trying to communicate. I was in and out of consciousness and finally, he called. When the paramedics arrived, he tried to tell them what was going on, he gave them my medications and insurance cards. He tried to give them my glasses and some shoes and clothes since I was in my pajamas. They wouldn’t take that stuff. I was loaded into an ambulance and my husband was told he couldn’t come with due to the coronavirus. That’s understandable — disappointing but understandable.
In the ambulance, there were four people. One was an older gentleman who didn’t talk much and rode up front. One was a middle-aged woman who drove and seemed competent. One was a man about my age who was apparently training the last, a young woman new to the job. He was the one who made this short ride feel like forever in hell.
I wish I could say I was being dramatic there. He certainly thought so, but I’m honest. It was terrible. First, he started out seeming to do the right things, checking my pupils, until he asked the younger woman what my medical history was.
“She’s got a history of neurological issues, she’s a type 2 diabetic, and she’s got some mental health diagnosis listed; depression, anxiety and…”
One word; that’s all it took for me to realize this was gonna be bad. I still couldn’t speak, I could barely move and holding my eyes open was hard, especially with the bright ambulance lights. My head still felt like it was on fire and those just made it worse.
He started flicking my temple. “Hey, hey I need you to talk to me. Open your eyes. Keep them open and talk to me. What’s your name?” Each flick hurt like hell.
The young woman spoke up after a minute. “Her husband said she was unable to communicate.”
“More like unwilling. She’s a depressive.”
A depressive? What the actual heck did he mean by that?
He kept flicking my head. “You need to talk to me. If you don’t talk to me, I’m going to shove this tube up your nose and it will hurt. Look at it. Talk to me or this goes in your nose. Tell me what’s really going on. Did you faint? Did you have a fight with your husband? You need to talk, these tubes hurt.”
I tried. I really did. I wanted desperately to say, “My name is Naomi. No, I didn’t fight with anyone. I can’t keep my eyes open because the lights hurt but I can hear you fine.” All that came out was a series of weird moans and grunts.
“Have it your way,” he said, and intubated me.
It did hurt, as promised, but mostly I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I don’t have great sinuses to begin with and the tube was trying to get through a ton of blood that was still in my nostrils. I had a medical mask on plus a plastic one on top of that because of the coronavirus, and I started feeling lightheaded. I wheezed and he made a huffing sound at the trainee as he explained that she didn’t need to fill out the narrative part of the paperwork because she could just copy and paste from her last one. “It’s only there in case you get dragged into court.” He kept tapping me and ordering me to speak. I was wheezing and he said, “You did this. If you just would have talked to me, we could have handled this better.”
“I think she’s having trouble breathing.”
“Probably not. She’s unwilling to communicate. We’ll get her there and they’ll put her on the third floor.”
The third floor is the psych unit. I used to work there. I could feel his groin against my shoulder and desperately wished I could move enough to give him a little flick in return.
When we finally got there, he patted my shoulder and said, “sorry this didn’t go better,” before matter-of-factly telling the receptionist that I was “uncooperative and refused to tell them what happened.” He then informed her that I had a host of mental health issues and told her to make sure to let the emergency room doctor know that.
I laid there until a nurse wheeled me into a room and they swapped me onto a bed. Once there, they strapped me down because of my “host of mental issues.” Another nurse removed the tube when she saw that I couldn’t breathe and tried to ask me questions. Again, I tried to answer and couldn’t. She waited with me and held my hand until the doctor arrived. She specifically told him, “They said ‘unwilling to communicate’ but I think she’s unable to.”
Eventually, after being untied and having some medication pumped through an IV for a couple of hours, I was able to talk and move a bit. They ordered an MRI and, shockingly, it had been a seizure, not my mental health. They did pinpoint the cause as being one of my previous neurological diagnosis and that I need a change of medication. They told me I needed to stay the night but I asked to go home. I ended up braless, barefoot and with no glasses as I climbed into an Uber with a stranger.
My mental health made me a target of judgment for one medical professional and it had a domino effect on my entire treatment process. It strengthened my hatred of hospitals and my unwillingness to seek medical help when I need it. One man who decided to make assumptions about a patient; who knows how many other patients he’s done that to. Sadly, he’s not a one-in-a-million case. Mental health is so overlooked even by medical professionals that it’s become a stigma. It’s become a reason to assume things without bothering to try. If he’d treated me the way he’d treat any other patient, regardless of whether he believed it was necessary or not, I would have had a completely different experience. Our medical professionals need to be trained this way; they need to have mental health issues destigmatized for them. We need to pull back the curtain and talk about these things because they affect more than just what goes on in our own heads.
I will never call an ambulance again.
Photo by Frankie Cordoba on Unsplash