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.
Source: Daily Mail
"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.