20 Things I’m Grateful For

It’s been an interesting week this past week. All sorts of emotions have been going through my mind. Since we got the key to our new home, I’ve been happy. I also have been experiencing intense sadness, anger and anxiety because of some unclarity as to how I’m going to prepare for living with my husband in our new home.

It was also of course Thanksgiving in the United States last Thursday. In the Netherlands, Psychologie Magazine declared the day “gratitude day”. Of course, we will never emulate the U.S. tradition, but the attitude of gratitude is great. For this reason, I am going to make a general gratitude list. Not one specific to this week, but I’m aiming for 20 things I’m grateful for in life in general.

  1. My marriage.

  2. My family. My parents are still in good health and my favorite grandma is still alive.

  3. My online friends. I don’t have any real-life friends, though I get to meet my online friends in real life on occasion.

  4. Adaptive technology.

  5. The Internet.

  6. The Dutch health care system. It’s a bit broken but not as broken as other countries’ health care systems.

  7. My relatively good physical health. I do have some chronic ailments but they are rather mild and don’t impair my daily life as much.

  8. My relative mental wellness. It’s worse than my physical wellness but it’s still okay.

  9. Psychiatric medication.

  10. Day activities.

  11. Social security.

  12. My financial situation.

  13. My education, though it was hard.

  14. My husband’s and my new home.

  15. My staff.

  16. More than enough food.

  17. Sleep.

  18. Soothing scents and sounds.

  19. The weather, which is relatively mild most of the time here.

  20. The fact that I’alive.

I could probaby think of some more, but I’m too lazy to challenge myself. Which of these things are you most grateful for? Or do you have any others?


Seven Things

Last week, one of Friday Reflections’ prompts was to list seven things about yourself. I was at my parents’ for the week-end, where the desk I had my computer on was uncomfortably high. I also I had a hard time concentrating with my parents, husband, sister and her boyfriend in the room. For this reason, I didn’t write a post this week-end. (On Friday, I attended a concert so didn’t have the time to blog at all.) I’m still not very inspired today, so I just choose to use last Friday’s prompt. Here are seven keywords that describe me.

1. Preemie. Last week was World Prematurity Day, so I just got to choose “preemie” as my first descriptive word. I was born a little over three months premature in 1986. I was very lucky to have been born in the city of what I believe is the oldest children’s hospital of the Netherlands and even luckier that the Netherlands is a developed country with good health care. Read this article on Preemie Babies 101 to find out more about preemie care in developing countries. This made me realize how fortunate I am.

2. Intelligent. This is the first thing my parents would say if they had to describe me, or at least it was when I grew up. When I was twelve, my verbal IQ was measured at 154 (my performance IQ cannot be measured because I’m blind). This means I may be intellectually gifted. At least, Mensa considers a verbal IQ of over 130 to suffice for membership if you’re blind. Yes, I did at one point consider joining Mensa.

3. Blind. Okay, let’s start the collection of disability labels here. I am blind. I have always been legally blind and have been practically totally blind since age eighteen, although I still keep noticing that my vision can get better or worse. I notice even tiny changes that are not measureable by ophthalmologists. I am clasified as having light perception only and have been classfied as such ever since 2004, but I still use the tiny bit of vision I have for orientation sometimes. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I can’t shut it off.

4. Autistic. And possibly otherwise neurodiverse. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism till age twenty but suspected it from age twelve on. My parents didn’t want to hear of it, so after they voiced thir strong disapproval of my “hypochondriasis”, I pretended I was completely neurotypical. I failed, of course. Even though my autism diagnosis has been questioned a few times, most professionals are sure that I’m not neurotypical.

5. Mentally ill. After all, I have a mental health diagnosis. I am not one of those neurodiversity activists who believe that a psychiatric disorder is completely separate from a neurodevelopmental disorder. That distinction is, in my opinion, entirely political. I however do sometimes wish I didn’t have the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, but that’s because BPD is one of the more stigmatized mental health diagnoses.

6. Blogger. I have been a blogger since 2007 (or 2002, if you count my online diaries that have been republished on my old blog). I don’t like to be associated with my old blogs though. I have this idea in my mind that I need to blog regularly or i need to start over and not associate with my old blog at all. It’s really surprising that this blog has been active for over two years, because I’ve started and restarted my Dutch blogs half a dozen times in the last year.

7. Wife. I don’t like this word, although I do like to refer to my husband as such. It’s probably because, in Dutch, the word “wijf”, which sounds like “wife”, is an insult for a woman. I always feel that the word “wife” sounds slightly submissive. However, I like being my husband’s wife.

Six Discoveries Made on a Psychiatric Unit

On The Mighty today, there’s an interesting article on little discoveries made at a psych ward. I seriously thought I had invented playing card games as a life saver, but apparently I haven’t. Having spent eight years on one psychiatric unit or another, I can add a few more discoveries to this list.

1. The smoking area is the coziest spot on the ward. I don’t sit in the smoking area nowadays anymore, because I don’t want to associate with my fellow patients that much. On the acute unit though, I spent hours in there as a non-smoker just because it was the best place to have good conversation with patients.

2. Not just picky eaters like me despise the food. We had relatively good food when I was first admitted in 2007, but as budget cuts took over, the quality of the food declined sharply. Now we’re lucky if we have noodles, because they are pretty much the only food that isn’t too bland to be real. If someone with a specil diet or who is a vegetarian is admitted to our unit in the middle of the week, too bad. Food is delivered in bulk quantities, so no-one gets to choose what they want to eat anymore. If you’re a vegetarian or have a special diet, you can only hope that the staff will remember to order your food specifically. By the way, the vegetarian food is the worst of all kinds.

3. “Therapy” means you’re stuck with an adult coloring book. “Work” means going to the industrial arts department. I still don’t understand how people can call day activities their “job”.

4. On most wards, you can’t access the kitchen cupboards with food in them or even get a drink outside of meal times. I am fortunate to always have spent time on wards where you could get food or drink freely, except for coffee, but an increasing number of units are locking patients out of the kitchen or its cupboards. The reason is patients often make a mess. I remember a long time ago this locking of kitchen cupboards being discussed at the intensive care acute unit (not a unit I ever resided at). One nurse rightfully said that the patients on this unit have hardly anything they can control, so why should the times they eat be controlled too? Unfortunately, he didn’t get his way and the cupboards were locked.

5. People manage to argue over the remote even though everyone has a TV in their room and there are three TVs in the day rooms. Seriously, a fund founded by one patient’s parents provides TVs for everyone in their rooms, and still oftentimes the same soap opera is on on each of the three shared TVs.

6. Every doctor has their favorite prescription medication. I am still surprised the psychiatrist at the resocialization unit didn’t prescribe Ritalin to me, because he prescribed it to practically everyone. Benzodiazepines, of course, ar handed out like candy, except to me, because I told the psychiatrist I have a family history of benzodiazepine addiction and personal experience of its withdrawal. I am 100% confident that most of the other patients on benzos are effectively addicted, but apparently they’re too unwell to ever get off their pills anyway. Did you know that “severe psychiatric illness which requires high doses of benzodiazepines” (ie. chemical restraint) is one of only a few grounds to get the drugs covered by insurance. The other three are epilepsy, anxiety disorders when a person has tried at least two antidepressants unsuccessfully, and last but not least, palliative sedation in end-of-life care.

Then and Now: A Timeline of My Mental Health

It is often hard to see how far we’ve come on our journeys in life until we look back at where we came from. I am no exception to this. I tend to feel that I’m not improving in my coping with my mental health issues. There’s still this hurricane in my mind, after all. It is also hard because, whenever I seem to improve in my behavior, people’s expectations rise even higher. To shed light on the positive changes I’ve made on my journey through life with mental illness, today I will write a timeline of events related to my mental health.

2007: I was hospitalized on the acute ward on November 3 of this year. I was not allowed to leave the ward without someone accompanying me. For the first few days, I even had to have a nurse accompany me. After those first few days, any adult could accompany me, but they had to sometimes assure the nurses I was safe with them.

2008: I started out the year with a setback: I was given a seclusion plan, which meant I could be secluded if I was a burden to other patients or staff. By early February, however, my privileges were finally extended so that I could go off the ward unaccompanied for fifteen minutes. By early March, my privileges were quite suddenly extended to four hours of unaccompanied time off the ward, which is the maximum you could get at that unit. If you had this privilege, you could ask for extended leave if you had a reason for it. My seclusion plan was also lifted, only to be reintroduced again by June. Fortunately, I never had to actually be secluded, but the nurses frequently used it as a threat. The plan was lifted again in September, but only so that I could be moved to the resocialization unit.

2009: I transferred to the resocialization unit in March of 2009. I did mostly okay until September, when I had a major meltdown which elicited another patient’s aggression. The possibility of moving me to the locked ward for a few hours if I acted out was introduced into my treatment plan.

2010: I was sent to the locked unit for the first time. This did lead the staff to consider medication, and I agreed. I started on a low dose of Abilify, an antipsychotic, in late February. It had to be increased to a moderate dose by the summer and by September, Celexa, an antidepressant, was added. Both helped calm my anxiety and irritability. In November of this year, I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and PTSD.

2011: I was on the waiting list for an autism-specialized group home and went there to stay over for a week-end in October of 2011. Unfortunately, the group home had changed its target population and there was too little support by the time I stayed over there. I didn’t end up going.

2012: I started planning to live with my husband by this time, originally pretty much solely because I didn’t have any suitable alterantive. I don’t mean this to insult my husband, but I didn’t feel I should be burdening him with care duties if at all possible. We moved into our aparetmetn by December. Meanwhile, I was trying to get treatment for my DID/PTSD.

2013: I had an intake interview with a psychiatrist who thought she could treat my DID/PTSD. She ultimately ended up turning me down. It had nothing to do with me, but she was too busy with her physician duties. I moved to my current institution, where i was soon diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I started schema-focused therapy, but this had little effect. My Abilify also got increased some more.

2014: I continued to struggle, but for the most part was quite stable. My Abilify had to be increased one last time in late 2014 (I am now at the highest dose). I did improve in my behavior and got a more cooperative relationship with my staff. I spent a few times in seclusion, but always voluntarily.

2015: I decided I wanted to live with my husband for real this time. We have been making arrangements, though it’s been slow-going. We will be moving to the tiny village sometime in December, so concrete arrangements cannot be made till then. I have been trying to get a med review for a few months now. Though my mind is still very unquiet, particulalry as my discharge out of the institution draws closer, I don’t tend to act out as much as I used to. I was in seclusion for a while last Monday, but before then it’d been over six months.

As I look back, I see that sometimes I take steps back and sometimes I take leaps forward, but in general, I’m moving up. I’ve never had to be moved back to a more restrictive unit, though I’ve sometimes wanted it. My medication did have to be increased a lot, but I don’t see that as entirely negative.

I am linking up with the 1-word blog challenge hosted by Lisa and Janine. The word choices for today are THEN and BREAK.

Changing Myself

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

This past week, the above quote was the prompt phrase for Tuesday at Ten. I am very late to join in, but I find the prompt particularly interesting. It signifies how we cannot have control over every situation in our lives, but we can have control over how we handle said situation.

I am just a tiny bit hypocritical (oh well, not a tiny bit) writing about changing one’s thoughts and actions around an uncontrolable situation today, because I just spent hours on or over the edge of crisis. There wasn’t really a situation I needed to change that led to it, other than my unquiet mind itself. So for today, I am going to write about changing that aspect of myself.

I remember in 2007, when I had only been on the acute psychiatric unit for a few weeks, moaning to my fellow patients that I’d gone to all sorts of rehabilitation and training places and still hadn’t learned how to handle my unquiet mind. Now I can add to these places three different psychiatric units. The thing is, however, wherever I go, I take me with me.

It is terrilby hard being me. However, I can change. I change all the time. Whether I grow is up to me. That is a terribly ironic phrase to write down for a pessimist with a terribly external locus of c ontrol. I’m not even sure I believe it myself. Maybe that is where I need to start: believing that I can’t change all situations of my life, but I can change myself.

I can change the way I think or act. I have come a long way already, because I have far fewer meltdowns than I had in 2007. I usually think my medication deserves the credit, but it isn’t like anyone forces these pills down my throat.

Also, while medications can alter your brain chemistry, so can thought processes. It is a myth that therapy works on the mind only, as if the mind is somehow separate from the body. The mind and body mutually influence each other.

I have never been all that great a psychotherapy client. As I said, I have yet to fully believe that I can change my brain chemistry by changing my thoughts. However, I practise this changing my thoughts sometimes already, like when I try to reassure myself. Now I just need to practise on.

Career Aspirations

I have been feeling rather uninspired in the blogging department lately. It couldb e the lingerng effects of #Write31Days, the fact that my mind is too unquiet to write, or both. It could be something else entirely. I started to write a post earlier this evening, but deleted it after I went off on a tangent. The post was on my parents’ jobs and aspirations and how my aspirations growing up were different.

My mother worked in administration at a major science institute for 35 years. She started as a data entry assistant or something in 1977 and worked herself up to project management by the time she quit her job in 2011. When she started working for this institute, she had just earned a low-level high school diploma through adult education at the age of 22. She has regretted her entire life that she never got any more education. In spite of this, she worked herself up to a well-paying position where all of her colleagues had college degrees.

My father dropped out of college sometime in the 1970s. He was a physics major for years, but never got beyond the foundation (first-year) certificate, although he did work as a student assistant for a while. After leaving the university, my father worked various jobs and then was a homemaker for years, doing all sorts of community service while caring for my sister and me. It was through a volunteer job at my high school that he found employment in 2000: he was doing computer maintenance on a voluntary basis and got more and more tasks, until he eventually said he was willing to continue his job provided he got paid. He worked as a system administrator for ten years until he too quit his job.

My parents had gone on a very different path through education and employment. My mother was hard-working, always looking to make up for her lack of formal education. My father was more laid-back. Nonetheless, when I spoke to my parents about my own education and my parents’ decisions regarding it, they assured me they had always been on the same page, expecting me to reach my full academic potential.

I never had a good understanding of my mother’s job. In 2006, when I was myself in college, we had to interview someone about their job for communication skills. I assume I did a lousy job at the interview, because I still hardly have a clue what my mother’s project management duties entailed. With regard to my father’s job, I had a greater understanding, but still I find it hard to explain what he did except for fixing my computer when it was broken.

Consequently, I never aspired to become like my parents in terms of employment. I never understood why someone wanted to work in administration and, by the time my father got his job, I had already figured out I didn’t want to work in computers either. The reason I probably never aspired to get one of my parents’ jobs, however, is probably that neither did they. I don’t think that, growing up, my mother wanted to work in administration and computers didn’t exist when my father grew up. My parents are a great example of what my high school student counselor once said: hardly anyone ultimately gets the job they envisioned for themselves at the end of high school. A possible exception are those growing up among generations and generations of doctors or lawyers, and these are not a small group among the students of my high-level high school. However, in today’s era of flexibility in employment, very few people get to become exactly what they aspired to be thirty years on.

I probably already blogged about my childhood aspirations. Like many girls, I gravitated more towards working with people than objects. This turns out to be a common distinction between girls and boys on the autism spectrum, too. While autistic girls, being autistic, do not have good people skills, they do generally have more people-focused (special) interests than do boys.

I suppressed my interest in people-focused jobs for years. This had to do with my being aware of my lack of social skills, but also with the fact that both of my parents gravitate more towards objects than people. Both have a strong dislike for people in the “helping professions”. This could’ve been parlty learned, because the “helping professionas” weren’t all that helpful when I was growing up. However, I learned in school that children develop a preference for people vs. objects early on and this is a strong determiner of later career choices. Like I said, a common misconception about autism is that autistics naturally gravitate more towards objects than people. This is not necessarily true, particularly in autistic girls. Although my parents, both with some autistic traits, fit the stereotype, I do not.

Hurricane #WotW

Yesterday, I bought the book Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sarah Hendrickx. I have been on the verge of crying as I read it. Hendrickx starts the book by recounting her meeting with her son’s autism diagnostician, whom she tells that she herself has autism too. The doctor doesn’t believe her, because she can hold down a two-way conversation. Wham! I heard that exact same stereotype countless times before. Hendrickx replied that maybe it’s because she’s an adult and a woman.

Last Wednesday, I was trying to communicate the mind-blowing chaos of thoughts and emotions and sensations in my head that is casuing me to have great difficulty functioning. I’ve tried to communicate this ever since I entered the mental health system in 2007, but it doesn’t seem like this is of any importance to my staff or treatment team. My psychologist put it down as rumination in an E-mail to the psychiatrist, because I asked for a med review. The “hurricane in my mind” led to a crisis yesterday. For whatever reason, a psychologist – one I hadn’t met before – was sent to talk to me today. Usually this means I’m in big trouble, but he didn’t threaten any consequences.

I’m not sure whether an unquiet mind is common with autism or whether it’s purely a borderline thing. I sense that it’s more to do with my autism, because it is not the content of my thoughts that is distressing, but the chaos the thoughts, emotions and sensations create. As such, it is particularly hard to communicate.

Unfortunately, my unit is not equipped to deal with autism and I appear to function too well to be getting autism-specialized support. The autism center’s entire recommendation was thrown into the bin by my psychologist and now I’m stuck being sent to a treatment team for personalty disorders. I won’t say I don’t have BPD too, but I also have autism and need support for this. Unfortunately, because I can hold down a two-way conversation, the team thinks I’m not all that autistic at all. Maybe that’s because I’m an adult and a woman.

After all, I was utterly incapable of holding down a two-way conversation even when in high school. As I’ve shared before, I am perhaps the opposite of the old DSM-IV autism criterion which says that autistics do not spontaneously share their feelings or interests. Hendrickx does point out that autistic girls may superficially appear quite sociable, but show self-centeredness on a deeper level. That’s exactly me.

But I don’t care about behavior, at least not anymore. Medication has sedated me enough that I don’t exhibit many troublesome behaviors anymore. Perhaps this means I can now come across relatively normal, but I don’t feel normal at all.

Another thing that’s annoying about this is people constantly attributing thought processes to me that aren’t there. For example, when I reacted with irritability at a psychotic man on my unit who constantly talks to his voices, I was told that I should try to imagine what it’d be like to hear voices all the time. I can’t imagine what that’s like, though I do understand it must be very distressing, but my irritability was not out of anger with this guy. It was just that I was utterly overwhelmed. And just so you know: thinking that the hurricane in my mind is just a breeze, doesn’t make it disappear.

Due to the stress of making arrangements for moving to the tiny village, the hurricane, the chaos in my mind, has been particularly strong this week. Therefore, I choose “hurricane” as my word of the week.

The Reading Residence

Tips for Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

Screw you, #BEDN. I screwed up the day after I planned to continue writing everyday this month. Yesterday was a bit stressful. I baked an apple pie to remember the eighth anniversary of my psychiatric institutionalization, but I also felt overwhelemd with memories from the day of my crisis. In addition, yesterday was designed to be plan your epitaph day by the inventors of weird holidays. I only found out through this week’s #TuesdayTen. I was originally planning on writing a post on tips for coping with suicidal thoughts for #TuesdayTen, but the pressure of having to think up ten coping strategies and the doubts as to whether it’d fit in, made me skip the occasion. The idea stuck around though, so I’m going to write down some coping tips today.

The first important key is realizing when depression or despair sets in before you reach rock bottom. When you are acutely suicidal, most of the tips I’ll mention below will sound completely useless. However, if you’ve realized you are depressed or otherwise severely distressed, you may be able to enlist the help of others in staying safe. Here are some tips that can help you through some suicidal ideation. When you are actively planning suicide, these tips may no longer work and you’ll need to go to the emergency room or psychiatric crisis service.

1. Enlist the support of family or friends. Like I already said, supporters, such as family may be able to help you remember why you want to live. If not, they may be able to intervene to keep you safe whilst getting a mental health professional involved. When I was in my crisis in 2007, I had no support in the city I was in at the time. That is, I had my parents, but they weren’t particularly helpful (and I honestly can’t fully blame them) at the time.

2. If you don’t have family or friends to support you, there are support sites and telephone hotlines for people in crisis around the world. While again, if you are in acute danger, you need to go to the emergency department or psychiatric crisis service, when you are still able to talk it through, do so.

3. Think of what your goals are, what you want to get or avoid with suicide. Obviously, religious beliefs about an afterlife aside, you won’t gain anything from suicide. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t seem like it. Some people believe: “At least I’ll be able to rest then.” In this sense, what you want to avoid through suicide is important too. Discuss with your family or a mental health professional how you can reach this goal while remaining alive. For example, I knew as I was talking to the crisis service psychiatrist in 2007 that I didn’t really want to die – I mean, who wants to? -, but that I couldn’t cope with my life as it was anymore.

4. Think of the people you’ll leave behind. No, I don’t mean thinking of them having to make funeral arrangements and how selfish you are for leaving your family with the financial burden. That is not going to be helpful. Just for your information, as a family member, don’t ever burden a suicidal relative with this kind of crap, no matter how confident you are that they are “just doing it for attention”. However, if you do have people you still care about when you’re in despair, thinking about them can help lift your mood. Despair is an incredibly lonely feeling, but there are people who care about you.

5. Be careful about chanigng medications or other treatments for depression while you are actively suicidal. Though electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is relatively safe for severely depressed people, antidepressants carry the risk of increasing suicidality. Always be sure to discuss suicidal ideation with your mental health professional and don’t change your medication regimen without close supervision, preferably from a psychiatrist.

Mondays #BEDN

Phew, it’s November. Did I just say that? Wow! I normally hate november, but today I am just so glad that the #Write31Days challenge is over. The challenge of having to write on one topic for an entire month is huge. That being said, I loved the commitment of writing everyday. Just today, a day late, I discovered Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN). Like Blog Every Day in May (#BEDIM), this is a prompt-based challenge, but you can write on a different topic too. Today’s topic is “love Mondays”. I was unable to read the full prompt because somehow Google calendar wouldn’t let me, so I am just going to write what comes to mind.

Most people love the week-end and feel a little down on Monday, especially Monday morning. Indeed, I sometimes have a hard time transitioning from a Sunday lie-in to a Monday, at which I need to get up at whooping 8:30 AM. I know, my husband might need to get up at 5:00 AM and many more working people get up at seven, but well, for me 8:30 is early. Today, I lay in bed till I truly had to get up at 9:30 because I literally had to start physical therapy that minute. Physical therapy fr me means exercise, because my goal for it is to get into a better physical condition. Consequently, today I was up and lifting weights literally minutes after I’d been lying in bed. This is supposed to exemplify my laziness, not my stamina, FYI.

In general though, I’m not one of those people who looks forward to the week-end. Not having a day job means I don’t need to unwind from a 40-or-so-hour work week over the week-end. I find that, during the week, at least there’s some reason to get out of bed, such as day activities. In this sense, I actually like starting my week with some exercise.

Monday also means the ward is normally-staffed again, so I can usually go for walks in the afternoon. On week-ends, if I’m lucky, I can squeeze in a walk right before handover. Now yesterday and on Saturday I was able to get some nice walks with the staff, but that is very unusual.

Mondays also mean a fresh start to a new week. Of course you can make a fresh start at any moment, but a Monday (like the beginning of the month or year) feels particularly good for it. It is a good time to set weekly goals. Therefore, to finish off this post, I am going to share some goals for this week.

  • Go to the gym tomorrow. Exercise on the elliptical trainer or stationary bike at least two more times this week.

  • Write down my concerns re moving to the tiny village and discharge from the institution for my psychologist. Be well-prepared for my appointment on Wednesday.

  • Finish off my polymer clay necklace at art therapy on Thursday.

  • Decide for myself whether I want to continue my Open University course.

  • Continue to write a blog post each day.

I will also be baking apple pie tomorrow at day activities to “celebrate” the eight-year anniversary of my institutionalization. Maybe I’ll share about that tomorrow.

Blog Every Day in November badge 

Book Review: Cook County ICU by Cory Franklin

I am a big lover of medical memoirs and stories from doctors and other health care workers. A few weeks ago, I was browsing an eBook store I don’t normally go to, because Kobo has become harder to search and browse. I discovered Cook County ICU by Cory Franklin in the medical biographies and memoirs section. Because that eBook store doesn’t accept PayPal, I bought the book at Kobo anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be able to review it till today, because of the #Write31Days series, and I really had to keep myself from speeding through it. Of course, if I’d finished the book earlier, I could’ve scheduled my review, but in a way I was trying to keep myself from finishing the book too soon and getting bored afterwards. I just finished the book tonight.


An inside look at one of the nation’s most famous public hospitals, Cook County, as seen through the eyes of its longtime Director of Intensive Care, Dr. Cory Franklin.


Filled with stories of strange medical cases and unforgettable patients culled from a thirty-year career in medicine, Cook County ICU offers readers a peek into the inner workings of a hospital. Author Dr. Cory Franklin, who headed the hospital’s intensive care unit from the 1970s through the 1990s, shares his most unique and bizarre experiences, including the deadly Chicago heat wave of 1995, treating some of the first AIDS patients in the country before
the disease was diagnosed, the nurse with rare Munchausen syndrome, the first surviving ricin victim, and the famous professor whose Parkinson’s disease hid the effects of the wrong medication. Surprising, darkly humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes tragic, these stories provide a big-picture look at how the practice of medicine has changed over the years, making it an enjoyable read for patients, doctors, and anyone with an interest in medicine.


Like the synopsis says, the stories in the book are mostly fascinating. I loved learning about the first surviving ricin poisoning victim and the suicidal biochemist. These obviously have got to be the first stories I mention, because I’m fascinated with (and deathly afraid of) poison. I grinned at the duke of Spain being mistaken for an alcoholic and the resident calling for a stat (as soon as possible) dermatology consult because “the rash might be gone tomorrow”. I almost cried with pity for the medical student asking a “stupid” question in a conference with some of the area’s top doctors (which turned out to be a really smart question later on). Most times, I felt eager to find out how each story unfolded. Even if the title explained some things already, as in the chapter on the disease that turned out to be AIDS, I found there were fascinating turns in the stories.

Dr. Franklin seems to intend his book to be a testament to the old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship. He ends the book by recounting some recent changes in the practice of medicine, like the change from covenant to contract in the doctor-patient relatiosnhip and the increased part money plays. He sounds a bit bitter at this point, because he considers the changes mostly negative but says we cannot go back. I have to mostly agree with him here, even though I am mostly a 21st-century patient so don’t know the era in which Dr. Franklin practised. Some things have improved. Like, when AIDS wasn’t known yet, doctors and nurses didn’t wear gloves when drawing blood, and Dr. Franklin is terribly lucky that none of his team treating the early patients were infected. In this sense, protocols help. That being said, things can go too far, and they probably have.

Despite HIPAA and similar laws, I know even today there are practitioners of “romantic medicine”, as 20th-century neurologist A.R. Lurija originally called it and as continued in the English language by Oliver Sacks. What I mean is, there are still doctors who will listen to their patients’ stories rather than just their immediate health concerns. That doesn’t mean all will publish books on their patients, but I’m sure some will. In this sense, medicine as a human-centered profession is not doomed. Cook County ICU is a great example of a fascinating book of interesting medical cases brought to life.

Book Details

Title: Cook County ICU: 30 Years of Unforgettable Patients and Odd Cases
Author: Cory Franklin
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Publication Date: September 2015

Mami 2 Five