When Doctors Do Harm

I have worked in the medical field for a decade now and in that time I have met some very good doctors. Doctors who are honest, caring and compassionate and who genuinely want to help their patients.

That said, the following two doctors permanently tainted my view of doctors – especially in the mental health field – indefinitely.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood. After a rough, dysfunctional upbringing left me in a bad place both mentally and physically, I was Baker Acted for the first time at around the age of 14. I had spent the last six months planning out my death, but after my mandatory three day stint I thought for sure that I was cured for good. I had seen some really awful things in that facility that really put my life into perspective for me, and I was cured, for a while.

Unfortunately, depression isn’t something that just goes away. It can – and often does – come back with a vengeance.

How It Began

Fast forward about a decade and I have found myself on the brink, yet again. Depression is at my doorstep and it’s brought a friend with it: Self-medication.

In March of 2010 I lost a very close friend to a drunk driving accident. In just a few days my world had crashed around me. After he passed, I had no idea how to cope and it threw me into such a spiral for the next year and a half that you could argue I was a completely different person.

I didn’t eat. I lost so much weight. I never slept, because every time I closed my eyes I saw horrible, horrible images. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD due to the fact that I would have flashes of morbid images day and night. I self-medicated because I didn’t have the means to see a professional or to get the care I desperately needed.

So, for a couple of years I dealt with it all myself. And by dealt with it I mean I took whatever substance I could to escape my own brain. Marijuana, alcohol, pills – it didn’t matter – if it took me to another place or allowed me to sleep, I took it. This, of course, just added an entirely new layer of misery onto my already pretty miserable existence.

Finally, in November of 2011 I had reached my breaking point. I found myself sitting in the shower with a blade against my wrist. I was done; I couldn’t take it anymore. Not only had I been dealing with depression, PTSD, substance abuse and insomnia, but I was also broke, stressed, overwhelmed and just generally surrounded by darkness no matter where I looked.

The First Doctor

I was Baker Acted the second time at the age of 22. It was a Monday and Thanksgiving was that Thursday. By Wednesday I was feeling much better. I was on a medication regimen that was helping immensely and the talk and group therapy I was attending was going well. Just like before, I saw that there were other people who had it so much worse than me and it gave me hope. I was learning how to cope with my grief and how to face it head on. Not only that, but things were happening at home that were going to make my home life better and more stable. Well, at least I thought so at the time.

The doctor who admitted me had told me that I would be going home before Thanksgiving Day and I was so happy! We had family in town and I told everyone and we started to make plans. That was until the doctor left for his holiday weekend and his replacement showed up.

When the time came for my daily check-up, this doctor immediately made me uneasy. His bedside manner was awful and he never looked me in the eye when he spoke. Still, I kept the thought of leaving firmly in my mind. Then he snatched that thought away with a simple sentence:

“Oh,” he said, as nonchalantly as if he was telling me the sky was blue, “you’re not leaving until Monday when the other doctor gets back.”

Of course, I become upset. I have already made plans to leave and see my family and celebrate my recovery. And because my body is a traitor, when I get upset I automatically begin to cry. They are tears of sadness and shock and anger. The other doctor had just told me I would be out! How could he do this? Then it got worse.

He looked at me for the first time and scoffed with a slight smile.

“You see?” he said, motioning toward me but talking to the other employee in the room. “That’s the problem with suicidal people. They just start crying when they don’t get their way.”

I sat in shock, tears silently streaming down my face, as he walked out of the room with a smug look on his face.

Finally, the nurse came in and asked me what was wrong. When I told her what had happened I noticed her tense up. She then told me not to worry about it and that she would work it out. I could tell that she, too, was angry and that she didn’t care for that doctor anyway.

A grueling hour later, she told me the news; she had convinced him to let me leave. I hugged her and thanked her a thousand times. After leaving, I sent a complaint to the hospital which was never followed up on. I saw him in the news receiving accolades just a few months ago.

He wasn’t the end, though. I still had another one to deal with.

The Second Doctor

During my outpatient treatment I went to see another specialist. My first appointment with him went really well and I was very excited to continue on the road to recovery with him.

I should have listened when an acquaintance told me, “He’s alright, but don’t make any mistakes or upset him. He’s got a really bad temper…” I just thought that the guy was a bad patient and had a bad experience. The doctor I met that first day couldn’t possibly have a bad temper! Oh, how wrong I was.

Everything was fine until his staff made a mistake in the schedule and it looked like I had missed an appointment when I hadn’t. When I came in for the appointment that I had made, he barged into the room, leaving the door wide open (a HIPAA violation) and began yelling and accusing me (just rude and bad bedside/human manner).

When I spoke up to defend myself, he responded with, “Stop! I’ll send you to inpatient right now if I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.”

Anger flashed through me and I bit back, “Then do it!”

He calmed down a little at that point. I then continued to explain what had actually happened when he cut me off again.

“I already talked to my receptionist,” he said, puffing his chest out, “and she said that’s not what happened. Are you calling her a liar? Come say it to her face!”

He then lead me out into the reception area. He got in her face and asked her about it. She sheepishly admitted that I was right and she had made a mistake. In one millisecond, his entire demeanor changed toward me.

“Okay,” he said, suddenly calm and collected – as if his blow up had never happened, “well why don’t you go ahead and make a follow up and I’ll see you in a month.” He said with a smile.

I was enraged, and honestly still am a bit.

Final Thoughts

I left that day without making a follow up and with hatred in my heart. Here I was, trying my hardest to get better and the people tasked with helping me were adamant on making it worse. I’ve never gone to another mental health professional and I honestly probably never will.

Luckily, I was able to learn to cope with my depression and then many of the underlying circumstances changed, allowing me to live in peace and happiness. Today I am better, but I still struggle occasionally.

Even though that was years ago, I still think about it to this day and become angry. I wonder how many other patients those two doctors hurt. How many patients have decided, like I did, never to seek help again because of their interactions with them? What if those people couldn’t recover like I did? What will happen/has happened to them?

The fact that I reported the first one and nothing was done and now he’s highly esteemed makes me hate the industry I work in. But the only silver lining is that it has made me a better medical professional. I will never allow any patient under my care be treated that way – no matter the circumstances or threat to my livelihood.

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8 thoughts on “When Doctors Do Harm

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. While the specifics of our story are very different, my mental health and addictions left me in the care of many who ran the gamut from saint-like to “this must just be an actor doing research for a role since they’re so bad at this.”
    When I was in my second rehab, I was part of a small group that was just the patients who “held public trust” for instance lawyers, doctors, teachers. I was there because I was an elected official. One of the things I learned there is that those who were caregivers — the doctors, nurses, therapists, etc. — said they felt less pity toward people who had the same kind of things they dealt with. They also said that doctors who didn’t have issues, but had to deal with them in their spouses or children often acted the same way. It’s ironic, because you think you’d have more empathy for someone in your spot, but they said they had less. Not sure if this was the case with any of your caregivers, and you’ll probably never know, but it was an angle I’d never thought about.

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, Joshua!

      I am sorry you had to go through all of that, but I know what you mean. Having been on both sides of the hospital bed, I have found that a lot of medical professionals get burnt out and bitter, especially in the mental health field. If they suffer from something they tend to either think that because they can get through it anyone can, or because they HAVE to get through it, everyone should. These people should take time off and recoup but they often don’t or can’t and that negatively affects patients like you and I.

      I am glad that both of us are able to use our experiences to help others. Thanks again for reading!

  2. Thank you Hillary for sharing you awful experience. It really does amaze me how some doctors will act! I am really sorry you had to go through that because no one, especially you deserves to be treated in such a poor way! He should be reported to the board of medicine. It sounds like he might need some anger management classes. I know when I made a comment about Trump to my pain doctor, things went a little crazy and the next appointment that was with the NP, I was told I was being taken off the pain medicine because I broke a rule, which I did not. All I had said was “This new rule must be the makings of the president.” I did not even say what I was really thinking and feeling. It was crazy, but now everything is fine with my medications and the doctor. I just know to never make a smart mouth comment again!

    • Thank you, Alyssa!

      Yes, it still makes my blood boil; especially when I think of people who might be in worse shape who will be harmed by doctors like them. I was fortunate to have a strong support system and I wasn’t so far gone I couldn’t recover, but not everyone is as lucky. I shudder to think of all of the patients who have walked away from those doctors and others like them and hit rock bottom because they no longer felt they could trust my field.

      I am so angry that happened to you!! Your political beliefs should never have any bearing on the care you receive! And in my opinion you were totally right. The current administration is cracking down on pain patients (who aren’t the problem) because it’s easier than cracking down on illegal drugs (the actual problem). You pointing that out shouldn’t have affected your care in any way. That doctor is something else and shouldn’t be practicing if they can’t treat based on need! I’m glad to hear it has been sorted, though. You don’t deserve that!

      • Thank you! I should have known he was a Trump supporter, but I promise I did say anything directly against him. I just simply said something like, “Oh that is just our government making crazy laws.”
        Yes, they do think it is easier to crack down on people in need rather than the real problem. I was so shocked by his behavior. If I remember right he said he thought Trump would go down in history as the best president we ever had and I said “You are joking right?” He definitely should not have allowed for his beliefs to effect my care!!!

      • Unfortunately in a lot of cases you don’t have to say anything against them, they take offense to everything. I honestly think that in a lot of cases they are embarrassed for voting for and supporting him but their pride won’t allow them to admit it. That’s why they’re so on edge and easily offended by everything because they feel like they have to prove they were right even though they know they were wrong. It’s so sad and unbelievably frustrating! Ha, the best president?? Not a chance!! I’m glad you responded the way you did but I’m upset that it affected how he treated you!

      • I do agree that most allow pride to get in their way of admitting they voted for the wrong president, but sadly I think some are completely fooled by him. My own mother is fooled by this terrible man. Her and I get into arguments about it, but try to not speak about politics considering we are on opposite sides. As for my doctor, I do believe he has a good heart but terrible with judgments. He is a man with money, so I guess it is obvious who he would support.

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