Editor’s note: The author has written several pieces for Healthy Debate. We have agreed not to publish the name over concerns the diagnosis of bipolar disorder will affect future academic endeavours.
As someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19, I am familiar with the ins-and-outs of our health-care system. I have lived on several hospital wards, for several months, with a variety of other patients and staff.
As a society, we often look at what needs to be improved, which is necessary, but we need to make space for what is good. If there would be no good, I would not be alive today.
I have seen the bad. I was sent home from the emergency department (ED) during my first night in psychosis. I waited eight hours to see a physician in the ED while in an acute psychiatric crisis. I have also waited days to receive a hospital bed. I have felt afraid for my safety – I have had a large man enter my room uninvited; I have had a violent roommate.
But I have seen the good in our health-care system – its people.
Hospital wards are not glamorous places. I have lived isolated from friends and family (COVID-19 precautions made this even more acute). Time and time again, when I didn’t respond to treatment or developed dangerous side effects, staff were the ones who lifted me up.
The good isn’t one person or one conversation or one act of kindness, but rather a combination.
It was a nurse who thanked me for my questions because they said that my questions make them smarter.
It was the staff knowing my meal preferences and rearranging my food tray before dropping it off.
It was the time I was on a 10-day isolation because I was exposed to COVID-19; the staff suited up in personal protective equipment just to have conversations with me.
It was the staff telling me before leaving, “We hope to never see you again, but if you are readmitted, we are here to help.” And they did – they welcomed me with open arms for subsequent admissions.
It was the grand round of applause from patients and staff alike as I left the hospital ward for the final time.
It is my physician, who speaks to me in metaphors instead of number scales. The world can be grey, less grey or with a hint of blue sky.
The good is continuity of care; I’ve been seen by this physician since my early adolescence who has insisted I attend appointments even when I didn’t want to partake in treatment anymore.
I acknowledge my privilege navigating the health-care system. I wouldn’t have seen the good if I didn’t have the support of family and friends to make it through the bad. I have stable housing, a basic human necessity required to foster illness recovery. I had the privilege of making it off pediatric waitlists to acquire a physician. I also had the privilege of receiving care in a single-room setting at one hospital, which was a more dignified experience. I was able to receive a portion of my care in a ward that specializes in young people, even beyond the age of 18.
There is immense work to be done in our fragile health-care system. But we have excellent, bright, determined workers. Years of cycling through mania, depression and psychosis isn’t easy, but with the goodness of health-care workers’ hearts, I’m making it through.