Archive for May, 2014

Schizophrenia should not be a death sentence

May 1, 2014

Even the worst of the cynics
Support the function of clinics
It’s a seasonal flow
They come and they go
The homeless bipolar schizophrenics

Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went for adventures working in out-of-the-way locations. After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took a part-time position with a Community Health Center. I just returned from my second locums trip to Petersburg, Alaska.
The young man I talked to in the clinic recently brought a distressingly familiar story; because so many have similar tales I can talk about the non-unique elements. From out of town, he couldn’t give me a good reason he had landed in Sioux City; he had no work or money and the word “tenuous” described his housing arrangements. As we talked the contradictions in the history started to add up, but I carefully avoided bringing inconsistencies to his attention.
I won’t discuss his “admission ticket,” the physical illness he described came second to his main problem.
A long, involved medical history with improbable descriptions of other health care facilities, led me to conclude that he maintained an uncertain relationship with reality, and, eventually, he mentioned his history of schizophrenia.
My 22 years as a co-owner of an upscale clinic brought me little contact with schizophrenics, but my current position has. Our facility cares for most of the schizophrenics in the city.
I have learned that schizophrenia, bipolar disease, and substance abuse overlap each other with terrible frequency. Most schizophrenics smoke, and trying to get them to stop ranks with trying to stop the tides. The majority of schizophrenics have difficult-to-control diabetes.
We have drugs to treat the bipolar, the diabetes, and the smoking. Yet we lack good, effective treatment for the basic disease process, where a person’s thoughts loses touch with reality.
(One very effective drug, clozaril, shows dramatic improvements not only in symptoms but functionality; the worst side effect, occasional and unpredictable bone marrow shut down, makes it too toxic for all but the most severe cases.)
Our society has failed our mentally ill. A Republican President with bipartisan support closed the mental hospitals and dumped the patients onto the streets. They form a disproportionate percentage of our prison and jail population and a majority of the homeless. Unable to cope with the real world, they can’t hold jobs, manage money or maintain interpersonal relationships.
If someone in our town stumbles out from under a bridge and into a clinic, they stumble into our clinic. They truly can’t afford to pay for their services.
The most conservative, fiscally stingy, small-government supporters I know agree that schizophrenia should not be a death sentence.
Some of my schizophrenics can maintain a semblance of a normal existence with regular medication; a few can manage part-time employment. But many just keep drifting, north in the summer, south in the winter.
I do what I can for them, recognizing the fleeting nature of the relationship.