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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Doctor, Doctor... I'm not a junkie!

Further to my previous post about my experiences with my family doctor, when I was about sixteen, I went to the local surgery with my mum to see whichever doctor was available. It wasn't my usual GP, but my migraines were getting severe enough that I wasn't about to be picky; I was also suffering hypnagogic hallucinations and was having difficulty sleeping.

I had seen this doctor before (we'll call him 'Doctor J'), and after initially seeming surprised at my appearance he had actually taken it in his stride and had a good laugh with me - we talked about Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus, and he made a joke of weighing me with and without my favourite New Rocks (the difference was 4 kilos, which explains my Serena-Williams-esque leg muscles).

This time things were different. He barely listened to my description of what was wrong with me, as soon as the word 'hallucinations' had left my lips he rolled his eyes and said, "So what drugs are you taking?"

At first I thought he was joking or I hadn't heard him right. After we sat a moment in stunned silence, he repeated himself, and I spluttered, "None!" which was one hundred per cent true, I am extremely anti-drugs. In my personal opinion, even so-called 'soft' drugs like cannabis can really change a person - drugs are admittedly rife in my area, so I have seen several friends' personalities degrade under the influence of 'just' weed. A relative of mine also once dated a heroin addict and I would spend time at their house on weekends; I have seen both ends of the spectrum and how it can destroy a person. That's not something I would do to myself, thanks.

The embarrassment was double, as there was also a student doctor in the room. My mum immediately leapt to my defense, explaining that I would never do drugs, that I wasn't into that sort of stuff, but Doctor J dismissed her with a remark along the lines of, "The parent is always the last to know."

Mum then asked if the hallucinations or migraines could be a result of the temporary blindness I suffered in my earlier teens (burned retinas; note to kids, the sun is bad). Without looking at my medical records, the doc looked me up and down and said, "Temporary blindness is usually caused by hysteria." Hysteria?! Dude. My eyes. Were burned.

The doc asked if I would feel more comfortable talking to him if my mum waited outside. I said yes, because I was by this point squirming with embarrassment. As soon as the door closed behind her, Doctor J leaned forward and asked me again what drugs I was taking. I couldn't believe we were still on this subject and gave him the same response, "I'm not taking any drugs!"

He glared at me, and with his face about a foot away from mine, shouted, "FOR GOD'S SAKE AMY, I CAN'T HELP YOU IF YOU DON'T TELL ME WHAT DRUGS YOU'RE TAKING!"

I shouted back, "For the last time, I'm not taking any drugs!"

Finally he gave up, and as I left, I snapped, "By the way, Doctor, I'm not an idiot and I'm not fond of wasting people's time. If I was doing drugs and started having hallucinations, it would probably have occured to me that the hallucinations were the product of all the weed I was smoking." Or words to that effect. The student doctor looked somewhat amused.

The upshot of this trip to the doctors was that I ended up being referred to - get this - the mental health department. I did go back a couple of weeks later to see my usual GP, who listened calmly to my symptoms and gave me a prescription to help me sleep, which got rid of the hallucinations and did wonders for my migraines, without once mentioning drugs or making abstract guesses about the state of my mental health.

At the time I was horrified that a doctor could behave in such a ridiculous manner, but now I look back and laugh. However last night I stopped finding it funny abruptly when I came across an article in the Daily Mail that read: "A musician with a punk haircut died from swine flu after medics assumed he was a drug addict and ignored his pleas for help, his distraught mother claims. Peter Williamson, who sported a mohican and facial piercings, was turned away from a hospital and health centre, as well as by an ambulance crew.

"One nurse sent him home saying, 'Do you realise we have sick people in this hospital?'"

Peter, a musician and band promoter, became progressively weaker, to the point that he had to use a mobility scooter to go shopping with his mother. He was found dead at his home a week after first seeking help. The family's lawyers are intending to sue health bosses for negiligence.

Peter Williamson
Source: Daily Mail
Peter's mother told the Daily Mail, "We did everything possible to get Peter help, but we think because of the way he looked they just wouldn't listen to us. Presumably because he had a punk hairstyle and facial piercings they dismissed him as a junkie. But nothing could be further from the truth. My Peter never touched drugs and lived a healthy lifestyle.

"He loved punk music, it was his life but having a spikey haircut doesn't make you a drug abuser. I will always hold the doctors and nurses responsible for Peter's death.

"It's just the disgusting way they treated my son. I think the attitude of the hospital staff is appalling, they just looked at Peter and just judged him for the way he looked."

These assumptions and judgements based on someone's appearance are not only ignorant and offensive - they can kill.

10 comments:

Lucy Diamond said...

Wow, that's horrifying and ridiculous.

Julietslace said...

Please consider making a complain about that Doctor, what if someone else goes in there and they don't stand up for themselves? Disgusting. PS, good luck with your hallucinations I used to have them a lot when I was younger. Let me know how you get on :)

Laurel said...

This doesn't ad to my life-long distrust of people in white lab coats. I'm sorry, but isn't the first thing in the Hippocratic oath (sorry if my spelling sucks) that you should help the patient without judgement? Or something to that effect? I don't have migraines, but I've been known to have some scary hallucinations--and I'm certainly not on drugs (my parents would kill me if I ever was; I've had various relatives mess themselves up pretty badly with drugs). I have never been asked such questions by a doctor, but then, I avoid going to them like the plague--and now I probably will even more. Ot
s sp fristrating when the medical community continuelly writes you off; this happened to my mother for about ten years while I was growing up. When will doctors learn to take their oath eriously and without prejudice? It makes me very sad to learn how common it is for people to be turned away because no one is willing to just listen to them. So much or our idealized views of the medical community.

Rora Monroe said...

I've had weird comments from doctors that have to do with my apperaence. I have a habbit of wearing really short skirts whenever I have an appointment (easier when the morons tell me to get naked for physicals) and they all asume I am a whore and am at the doctors to get a STD or prego test (I am not a whore in fact I have a strong phodia of any sexual contact). I rub it off all the time but when they started assuming I was a suicidal druggie because wore a "gothic" dress I was offended. I suppose we will get that all the time for our lifestyle but I do wish that sometimes other people would understand that most of us are happy drug free people

Laurence 'The Beard' Williams said...

Discrimination much?

Its because of patronising, close-minded idiots like the doctor that subcultures such as goths and punks exist. Seriously, NHS people, stop with the stereotypes!

Unlacing the Victorians said...

I bet this happens every single day all over the world, which is absolutely terrifying. YOU MUST REPORT THIS GUY.

I know that dress can affect how people interact with each other in the workplace and in public places. While everyone should be accepted for who they are and what they dress like, one would think that a doctor's office or a hospital would be a safe haven for everyone. Apparently not.

"Hysteria?" Is this guy stuck in the 19th century? I don't even think that term has been used in a clinical sense for 25 years.

I have a great urge now to kick these doctors where it hurts.

Angel of Darkness said...

What. is. Horrible! But sadly, i can sooo believe it, thanks goodness I have never had that happen to me.

that doctor you saw definitely should be reported, that is just pure wrong! A doctor shouldn't judge people by their clothes and hair, their a doctor. But doctors are really stuck up a lot of the time, thinking their better than everyone else, that has happened way to much to me and others I know.

KatSlaughter said...

The only word I can use to describe that attitude is 'archaic.'

Maeam said...

...That's...more than horrible. Disgusting, almost. Idiotic. I always saw being a doctor as unbiased: you help those who ask for/need it. It's like being a cook: you cook for those who are hungry.

'Nough said.

Anonymous said...

Hey Amy, next time someone accuses you of doing drugs (especially a doctor) tell them to drug test you. It will prove that you're right and they're wrong, even if they don't do it, because if you had something to hide, you wouldn't offer.

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