Medical Malfeasance Accepted as the Standard of Care in Psychiatry
You call yourselves doctors. You once took an oath to do no harm.
There were no pharmaceuticals in our house, not even an aspirin, but I became a drug addict when I was prescribed a benzodiazepine for insomnia. My insomnia started after I received a cluster of immunizations which I didn’t want but took, because a doctor told me it would be irresponsible of me not to.
In the mid-1980s, I was 40 years old, recently married, and had a dozen young godchildren. One of the shots was rubella, and the other two were combination immunizations. They were all given at one time. Almost instantaneously I became crippled with profound muscle weakness and severe “atypical inflammatory arthritis.” I couldn’t hold my arms over my head long enough to wash my hair in the shower and I couldn’t lift my head out of the basin at the hairdresser’s. I didn’t have enough strength to hold a friend’s newborn son. Some of my fingers became gnarled, my knees wouldn’t bend, and I was in a wheelchair for a while.
Doctors diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You insisted it was all psychosomatic and refused to consider that your cluster of vaccines had damaged my immune system. You started destructing my ego, my childhood, my youth, and my marriage.
With time, I was able to reverse most of the physical damage, but the insomnia persisted. Needless to say, we did not have children, and henceforth in medical reporting I was referred to as “middle aged, short-haired, bespectacled, casually dressed, and childless.”
Even though I had to change careers, I remained fully engaged in life, busier than most. In the late 1990s I started taking very small amounts of a benzodiazepine intermittently and only for sleep. It seemed to help a little, but I was also becoming “anxious.” Everybody put it down to stress. At that time I did not know that anxiety was a possible adverse effect/reaction to the benzodiazepine, nor did I know about interdose interval withdrawal—many benzodiazepines are so short-acting that they cause withdrawal between doses. I had become addicted, and I had no idea.
When my elderly mother died on Christmas Eve 2002, my sleep problems worsened. I took a higher dose of the benzodiazepine, I took it regularly, and my sleep problems became even worse. I became jittery, and I tried to withdraw from the benzodiazepine. I was in trouble. I started drinking alcohol in an attempt to calm myself. I did not drink for a long, but it was long enough for you to call me an “alcoholic.” You insisted I was “depressed” and you told me it was because I’d had a poor relationship with my mother. And I believed you. To this day I look back with regret and shame at the things I then said and wrote about my mother. She did not deserve it.
Doctors, I’ve come to know your terminology. In 2009 I acquired my medical records to which, up until then, I had not been privy. With horror I read what you wrote about me and I saw the labels you had given me.
In June 2003 one of you doctors, a psychiatrist, wrote: “She presents as somewhat desperate to settle her nerves and nervous system down. Her mood is not overtly depressed. There is no evidence of thought disorder, and she is not acutely suicidal.” You also wrote: “She discovered that the Lorazepam (Ativan) likely exacerbated depressive symptomatology.”
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize that not only had I been having adverse reactions to the benzodiazepine, but now I also had benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. You diagnosed me with Anxiety Disorder (July 2003) and Major Depression (July 2003), and you gave me an antidepressant. When I became agitated and developed a tremor as a drug effect, you said I had Major Depression with agitation.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize that I was having an adverse reaction to antidepressants. You gave me more antidepressants. When the agitation became so severe that I lost my sleep entirely, you said I had Major Depressive Disorder and gave me even more antidepressants. You also gave me sleeping pills.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize the adverse effects of benzodiazepines, plus antidepressants, plus sleeping pills. You said I had an Adjustment Disorder—but the only things I wasn’t adjusting to were your drugs.
I frequently collapsed, sometimes on the street, and was twice taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where I was not treated with dignity. You did not recognize that one of the prescribed drugs was causing my blood pressure to drop precipitously.
Other of your drugs made my heart race and my blood pressure shoot up dangerously..
When I started twitching and shaking uncontrollably, you gave me more sleeping pills—to be taken three times a day. When I fell asleep during an appointment, you said I was “vegetatively depressed” (August 2003). When I was in constant motion, you said I had Bipolar Disorder. You then settled on Psychotic.
You gave me antipsychotic drugs. I started howling like a dog. I marched in place. My body movements became chaotic. My face twitched, and my tongue darted in and out of my mouth.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize the adverse effects of benzodiazepines, plus antidepressants, plus sleeping pills, plus antipsychotics. You attributed what were actually the adverse effects of the psychiatric drugs to my alleged mental disorders.
You call yourselves doctors, and you gave me 35 different psychiatric drugs before you were able to drive me insane. You didn’t know what you were doing. You were treating the adverse effects of pharmacy and polypharmacy with more polypharmacy.
When people ask me why I accepted/took all those drugs, I can answer only that I would have done anything, agreed to anything, ingested anything to stop the horrendous agitation—there are no words to describe the horror of that agitation. I did everything I could to stay alive. At some point, my brain became such a toxic mess that I was no longer capable of reason.
You who call yourselves doctors wrote that I had “dementia.” I was afraid I would kill myself, and I was afraid I wouldn’t kill myself. You quoted me in your notes: “I don’t want to commit suicide; but I want to be dead.” I wrote a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate directive. I gave away my belongings—especially those which I cherished most. I wrote farewell letters. I detailed how my ashes were to be disposed. I wrote to my husband to shave my face when I was no longer able to—one of your drugs caused grouth of facial hair.
When I went to a psychiatric facility for help, you kept me there forcibly. You said the benzodiazepines, antidepressants, sleeping pills, and antipsychotics which you had prescribed weren’t working. You said I had a Dissociative Identity Disorder. You cold-turkeyed me off many of the drugs and you ordered electroshock (Nov. 2003). You wrote that I was an “excellent candidate for ECT.” I refused treatment, but you coerced my husband into signing by telling him electroshock was the last and only option.
You held me for 10 weeks and treated me to 25 general anesthetics and 25 bilateral, grand mal seizures. I don’t remember much except the assembly line of gurneys on shock days. I shook from terror as I looked up at your cold, matter-of-fact faces. I wondered if there would be anything left of my brain when you were finished with me. I thought I was going to die. I remember the stench of the rubber mask over my face, the IV going in and then, as the anesthetic hit, the plunge into merciful oblivion. And later, the blood in my mouth and the violent headaches. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know why I was there. I asked these questions of my husband after each electroshock treatment. My husband came to see me every day for two and a half months and brought me a home-cooked meal each time. He came twice on electroshock days.
I did stop howling, and my legs were no longer marching. I was now merely babbling, and I was shuffling my feet non-stop. My face quivered. You said I had benefited from ECT.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t consider that I might have stopped howling and marching, and was now merely babbling, and shuffling my feet because you had withdrawn many of the benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics you had prescribed. You kept me on sleeping pills—three times a day, once at night. And you added new drugs.
You said I would require weekly maintenance electroshock for the rest of my life. You said I would require medication for the rest of my life. You told my husband I would not be coming home when you were finished with me. You told my husband to look for a long-term care facility for me. Curiously, though, you also said you had made me “well” and you closed my file.
Before my file was closed in March 2004 one of you wrote: “She has had one psychiatric hospitalization of two and a half months duration because of non-response to pharmacotherapy. When she is at her worst, she experiences marked agitation characterized by rocking, foot tapping, and moaning. These symptoms can reach the point where she is difficult to be with and other people are somewhat avoidant of her.”
You also wrote that although my illness had been described as one of “psychotic depression,” you “had difficulty eliciting any psychotic symptoms.”
You sent me to a support group for people recently discharged from your institution. We former inmates all had different diagnoses, but we all had something in common: our legs were constantly moving. You, my doctors, told me my legs were moving because I had agitated depression. A pharmacist, the chief pharmacist of your institution, came to speak to the group and said it was akathisia—a common adverse effect of medications.
You, my doctors, were puzzled by my uncontrollable body movements. You used the best of modern medicine. You sent me for a sleep study, an EEG, a CT scan, and an MRI. The cause of the agitation, however, was sitting right there in your own office, on your desk—your prescription pad—the worst of modern medicine. For this, you doctors who took an oath to do no harm, medicated me to insanity, and tortured me with ECT.
I didn’t return for maintenance electroshock, either, even though you said that I would relapse into whatever the combination of all those diagnoses meant. You commented on my lack of intelligence. It’s all in my medical records. I tapered myself off drugs without your approval and without your help. It was hell, absolute hell. And I lived with the fear that you would have me committed and returned to your institution for more electroshock. I no longer felt like a human being.
You systematically destroyed my brain and nervous system with electroshock. I have amnesia. More than 20 years of my life are missing. Most of the memory of my life with my husband is gone. I also have anterograde amnesia, loss of the ability to create new memories.
Eight years post-electroshock, I live with headaches, seizures, nightmares, an irregular heart rate, vitreous detachments, cognitive impairment, Parkinsonian-like tremors, Tourette’s-like symptoms when stressed, a paralyzed diaphragm that makes breathing difficult, severe hypoglycemia, a 60-pound weight gain, and a painful cyst behind one knee from my attempts to control leg tremors by locking my knees.
I can’t remember things. At home I have covered one wall with corkboard so I can pin up the notes that remind me of what I am supposed to be doing and when. I used to have a fine mind, a photographic memory, and I multitasked with ease.
You, who call yourself doctors, also destroyed my husband’s life. When you discharged me from your institution, my husband collapsed from stress, grief, and guilt. He became despondent. He was emotionally spent. And then his heart failed. This was the husband who, in close to 60 years, had never missed a day of school or a day of work because of illness. He has now been hospitalized five times, three of those times in the resuscitation room.
When I wanted to talk to someone about the trauma I endured at your hands, the trauma my husband had helplessly watched, seven doctors refused to see me. You admitted no guilt. You took no responsibility. One of you who did see me told me what I was saying was libelous. Another one wrote that I had a “paranoid disorder” and that “it would bedifficult to medicate” me. It’s all in my medical records.
Most of my friends are gone. I was too much for them, and they weren’t enough for me. Mental illness has a stigma. Psychiatric labels stick.
I take no drugs. I live in terror of those who forgot they once took an oath to do no harm. However, if I met any one of you, my doctors, on the street, I would not recognize you. You stole my memory.
To this day, my husband of 30 years says I was not depressed, but that I just couldn’t sleep. To this day, my closest friend of more than 60 years says I was not depressed. To this day, my colleagues of more than 30 years say I was not depressed.
I can present you, my doctors, with all the evidence in the world; but you are so entrenched in your beliefs, it will do no good. You did not need to find a needle in the haystack. There was an elephant in the haystack, and you failed to see it. To this day, you deny its existence.
I presented you monographs about the 35 drugs I was given—most with similar adverse effects of agitation, insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts, adverse effects of which you were obviously ignorant. You arrogantly dismissed my efforts to inform you. Many of these drugs now have black box warnings. In fact, with each new drug you prescribed and with seeming triumph, you took credit for having “unmasked”: anxiety, depression, agitated depression, adjustment disorder, major depression, vegetative depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, dissociative disorder, and dementia. Finally, when I had tapered myself off drugs and was trying to get help for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, you pronounced me “paranoid.”
You call yourselves doctors. You created an iatrogenic disease. You sought out and focused on as much negative about me as you possibly could. Not one of you ever had a good word to say. You made me believe that I was somehow inferior. Not one of you apologized. The only oath you ever took was to “admit no harm.” You also took another oath, the “oath of silence.”
From my medical records of late summer 2003, I see that I had requested second and third opinions. Some of your comments are of interest: “The current symptoms began sometime in July within several weeks of stopping the Ativan.” “The history is very compatible with akathisia. I am not aware that this can be caused by benzodiazepine or by benzodiazepine withdrawal. I doubt that the patient does suffer an agitated depression.” “There is a sense that the benzodiazepines were contributing to instability through withdrawal/rebound effects.” “Medications for the most part have been ineffective or have caused side-effects.” “I support the current therapeutic recommendations involving minimal use of medication.” “Nervous system hyperarousal (from pharmaceuticals) ... trauma… not depression”
Apparently a trial of discontinuing medication had been instituted, but the prescribing psychiatrist wrote it “had been unsuccessful as it resulted in her symptoms worsening” This psychiatrist was obviously ignorant of drug withdrawal effects. Apparently no one seemed to care enough to follow up and the drugging continued until I was considered demented and “an excellent candidate for ECT.”
I have been referred to as a “survivor.” No one should have to survive going to a doctor!
Here are my drugs as recorded in my medical and pharmacy records. Most were prescribed by one psychiatrist. Several were flipped back and forth. Some I might have missed. Some others (not listed) were given as “samples” provided by pharmaceutical sales reps. A psychiatrist who was shown this list by a friend of mine asked, “Is she still alive?” I wanted to get into his practice, but the wait time was very long.
Ativan (Lorazepam), Rivotril (Clonazepam), Xanax (Alprazolam), Clonazepam (Rivotril), Valium (Diazepam), Celexa (Citalopram), Novo Pranolol (Propranolol), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Propranolol, Imovane (Zopiclone), Effexor (Venlafaxine), Lithium Carbonate (Lithium) , Moclobemide (Manerix), Imovane (Zopiclone) , Seroquel (Quetiapine), Wellbutrin (Bupropion), Imovane (Zopiclone) , Nortriptyline (Aventyl), Nortriptyline (different strength), Perphenazine (Amitriptyline), Gabapentin (Neurontin), Ativan-sublingual (Lorazepam), Ritalin (Methylphenidate), Fluvoxamine (Luvox) , Oxycontin (Oxycodone), Methotrimeprazine (Nozinan), Paxil (Paroxetine), Remeron (Mirtazapine), Zyprexa (Olanzapine), Risperdal (Risperidone), Parnate (Tranylcypromine), Haldol (Haldoperidol), Aventyl (Nortriptyline), Cogentin (Benztropine), Loxapine, Chlorpromazine (Largactil).
All of the above were prescribed in less than eight months, most within three months, and most in rapid succession.
One of you wrote: “The list of previous psychotropic trials is impressive in its breadth.”
When you promise to do no harm, you should acknowledge when it happens, and share so that it does not happen again. You doctors will never admit that you did harm and no one will ever learn from your mistakes.
In 1880 students at Balloil College, Oxford, wrote about Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balloil:
“First come I. My name is J-W-TT
There is no knowledge, but I know it.
I am the Master of this College.
What I don’t know, isn’t knowledge”
Doctors, please do not persist in writing: “The patient has a history of Major Depression.” Do write: The patient has a history of Major Medical Malfeasance.
The only appropriate ‘label’ for me is: Anti-psychiatry Activist
I will continue to tell my story so others may learn.