She had mental health issues and her family felt angry with her. It didn’t help that those she sought help from treated her in a similar fashion, they felt she was a hypochondriac. Over time many people treated her like a nuisance, not a human being with serious needs.
When I worked in Health Care Susan was a frequent patient, always very quiet and seemed naively kind.
Susan suffered from Major Depression and also had health issues, when I met Susan I was a Nurse’s Aide. Susan would end up on the floor I was a regular on almost monthly. I had no idea she suffered from Major Depression because Nurse’s Aides didn’t attend Nursing Report. Each shift the nurses would meet for approximately 15–30 minutes and get a report on each of their patients. The report consisted of the patient’s diagnosis, the medications they were being given, treatment plans and more. A Nurse’s Aide would get a patient list and we had a schedule of our own to follow with each patient during our shift. You got to know a bit or more about your patients through the patient themselves or the Nurse you were working under would share bits and pieces. We were aware of vital information, for instance, if a patient had surgery, diabetes, respiratory problems… we were told what to watch for.
Every time Susan was admitted she had a new diagnosis and her diagnoses were mainly “pain in left lower quadrant,” “uncontrollable migraine,” or “vomiting with stomach pain,” as just a few examples.
Every time I would go into Susan’s room she would rarely look up. I was pretty out-going and always felt bad for her because she didn’t just look ill, she looked so sad. Because I was out-going, a “chatty Annie,” I would strike up a conversation with Susan if I had some extra time. I remember asking her if she was married, she was. I would ask her what she liked to watch on TV and try to find shows for her that might entertain her a bit, since it’s not just lonely but scary to be in the hospital. Susan was 26 when I first met her as a patient.
By the time Susan was 28 years old, she had been in and out of the hospital numerous times in the 2 years I had known her. I had transferred to Respiratory Therapy just before I turned 20 years old, and Susan became my patient in a different manner. Susan started coming in with severe bronchitis and pneumonia so she required breathing treatments. Again, if I wasn’t busy, I would sit next to Susan as she inhaled her medication and we would chat for a few minutes after she was done.
Never once was I told she suffered from Major Depression, honestly, I don’t think I had much knowledge about Major Depression at that time in my life anyhow. I was only 20 years old. Susan ended up on a Medical floor each time she was admitted because her physical symptoms were always her primary diagnosis, her mental health status was secondary. One day while sitting with Susan she told me that people treat her like she’s a nut because they know she has depression. Susan went on to tell me that her family doesn’t even come see her anymore because they think she’s a hypochondriac. I don’t recall what I said to her but I do remember feeling extremely sad for Susan.
About 6 months went by and I remember thinking, “Wow, I haven’t seen Susan in a while, I hope she’s better now.” I swear it was just a day or so later Susan ended back up in the hospital. This time Susan looked very ill. Susan had been slightly plump and I noticed she looked quite thin when I saw her. She was sleeping when I went into her room and I had to wake her so she could take her breathing treatment. Once Susan was awake, she seemed to want to talk, just sitting up and getting her treatment gave her a bit of color back.
Once again, I stayed in her room while she took her treatment. When she was done, I asked Susan how she’d been since she hadn’t been in the hospital for some time? With a tone of enthusiasm in Susan’s voice she said, “They found out I have cancer.” I tried to keep my professionalism with me and asked her where they found the cancer? Susan told me, “I have breast cancer and you know what, it’s the first time in a few years that I finally feel relieved.” My mind was thinking, holy crap, how can you feel relieved about this diagnosis but my brain didn’t go there with her. I can recall asking, “so what is it about your diagnosis that makes you feel relieved?” Susan went on to say, “I always knew something was wrong but no-one believed me.” “My family didn’t believe me and even some of the nurses and Doctors thought I was was just faking it to get attention.” Susan told me her family was mean to her but, “now that they know what’s wrong with me, they are treating me with a lot of love.”
About 6 months later, Susan died from her breast cancer, it was metastatic. Susan was only 28 years old, leaving behind 2 children and her husband.
She was the first patient I felt devastated over. I felt her life had been so unfair to her and it wasn’t common back then to hear of a person Susan’s age dying from cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I cared about all my patients but I got to know Susan on a different level. Her death was an awakening for a 20 year old. My heart broke thinking about all the times she’d been in and out of the hospital lying there alone without visitors. I’m glad people were there for Susan at the end of her life.
Because Susan suffered from a Mental Health Disorder, depression, her family and the system had stigmatized her. Quite frankly, the system had failed her, they failed her family as well.
“I wish people could understand that the brain is the most important organ of our body. Just because you can’t see mental illness like you could see a broken bone, doesn’t mean it’s not as detrimental or devastating to a family or an individual.”- Demi Lovato
As I grew older and became more informed about Mental Illness, the stress it places on the physical body and yes, the stigmas that are attached, I would think of Susan and wonder if the Doctors over looked something vital with Susan because they were too focused on the idea that she was a hypochondriac?
As I grew older I wondered just how alone Susan felt until the end of her life neared.