Encountering a Broken Health Care System

“I know that a person can be broken, but the system can be broken, too. I may be seen by others as a broken-down body with a broken-down mind. But I see a broken system in the mental health and medical field, from the front lines.”

by Joanna Freeman Bragen

In the last year and a half, a great deal has happened to me. My friend was almost killed by her ex-husband. My dad died. I attempted to go to a horrible “partial hospital” program, with the man who tried to kill my friend.

I was told to “just ignore him” by my psychiatric NP. As one would imagine, this did not work out well. Especially when he called me the “B” word. Yes, I was angry, of course. I was also experiencing a great deal of grief.

On top of this, I went to the ER and was prescribed the steroid, Prednisone, because I had Influenza B and could barely breathe. Along with my emotional upheaval, this sent me into a manic phase. That was the psychiatric account of my “emotional state.” There is more to this than a psychiatric upheaval.

I am an educated woman. I went to college and majored in Human Development and Social Relations. I have taken continuing education in Child Development, to work with children. I have also taken ROP Health Careers and an Adult Education class in Veterinarian Assistant. I was in the first graduating class of the Office for Consumer Empowerment and Family Education Training. This is for mental health consumers to work in the mental health field. After graduating, I did this work for many years.

In the last year I have had three different family practice doctors, and I am not very impressed. As an intelligent person, I realize that the brain is a part of the human anatomy. The Mental Health Parity Act, as enacted into law, mandates that my insurance must cover my mental health needs, the same as a “physical health problem.”

I know that the HIPAA Privacy Rule regulates the use of protected and private health information, and clearly prohibits discussing my health in the hallway or with other people I may know, without written consent. This sounds like a great idea, but it is not always complied with in reality.

My first doctor worked for the County Hospital. I believed in the County Health System for a long time. It was fine for me to go and sit for hours, waiting to see my doctor. At first, he had a wonderful bedside manner and could take care of all my medical needs. As time went on, we both got older. I started having more serious health needs, that he should have sent me to specialists for. He seemed to be possessive about treating my health.

When I finally went to a Diabetes Specialist, on my own, he took offense. When I had several gastro problems, he performed two separate tests to see if they were caused by my diabetes. They were negative both times. But he remained in denial and kept telling me that my diabetes was the cause. Eventually he developed severe back pain, and began yelling at me. He did not refill my insulin for a month. That was the end, for me.

Doctor number two. She was a disaster just waiting to happen. I just realized it too late. She was a doctor that somehow knew nothing about mental health. I know, like my mother, who is a retired nurse, all doctors must go on a rotation in psychiatry.

This doctor, on the first day, asked me, “Why did they have you on birth control? Did they not want you to get pregnant?” I thought to myself: Who is they? The mental health police? She asked my husband questions about my mental state, and if I was always so “out of it” — as if I was not there. At the time, I was actually fighting a manic state, and hardly sleeping.

I truly don’t know why I went back to her. The end result was that, after doing many stupid, uninformed tests for her, such as a test to see if I was having heart failure, because I was having edema from Depakote, I realized that she was an idiot.

She had no common sense, and did not listen to me. She was an alarmist and a bigot against people with mental illness — an illness that is not a moral shortcoming or a sign of stupidity. I realized all of this too late, though.

I developed sciatica, probably due to not sleeping, being overweight from years of depression and having a state of mind that stressed out my body beyond its capabilities. The doctor told me she would get me a walker and physical therapy. She couldn’t even do this right. I found a place for physical therapy myself and a walker.

At this place, which is wonderful, they had a card for an orthopedic surgeon. His card said, “Specialized, Innovative, Compassionate.” I went to this doctor who was given a list of medications that I take, and he was very nice. The problem was doctor number 2 never had my list of medications right, no matter what I said to her. This ortho doctor either didn’t know that I take anxiety medication or didn’t care. He just gave me a muscle relaxant, another sedating medication and said, “If this doesn’t work, come back.”

The end result was that I went back to doctor number 2 to tell her of the new list of medications. On the little form that I filled out for her, I wrote: “reason for visit, sciatica.” I went in with my walker, to tell her that I saw an ortho doctor and to describe what happened. In retrospect, my lack of sleep, my psychiatric meds, and the new meds made me too tired to drive; I realize that now. But she didn’t give me a chance.

She came in on a tirade: “Why am I so slow? Do I have a car? Have I taken a driver’s test?” I had taken enough abuse, and called her on her mistakes. Why can’t she ever get my medications right?

It was the last straw. I am telling her I have a college degree. She is yelling at me that she called my psychiatric nurse and they both agreed that I should not drive. My head is spinning at this point. I go out to the bathroom, and she is saying, “Well I can’t restrain her,” in the hallway. She then yells at me that I have to get a ride home and that she has to call the police.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder from many things that have happened to me, especially involving the police and psychiatric hospitals. I have been in four-point restraints and left alone in a room all night. I have fought off an attacker. And there is one thing I know at this point. I don’t like or trust police. I respond in a flight reaction. I get out of there as fast as I can before the police come and I am carted away and locked up.

I got in an argument with a doctor and I lost. My license has been suspended. I have had to go to DMV Court and answer degrading questions. I have had to beg for rides, and take Uber. And I thought that living well is the best revenge. I religiously walk my dog, and started meditating and eating healthy. I do my physical therapy exercises and stretching.

I went on a vacation to my mother’s, who nursed me back to health when I had no one. I have lost weight, and I am lowering my insulin. I have essentially quit smoking, and joined a twelve-step group for quitting. I want to point out that the keyword in this is “I.”

So, on to doctor 3. I will see how it goes. So far, she listens. But she expects a lot. She expects me to go to an appointment practically every day of the week. She is about 30, and a little cocky. But I put up with it. I like her. She tells me that “she is so proud of me,” and “I am a tough cookie.”

And so I say to all of you “medical people,” I do not trust you just because you are a doctor. In fact, I distrust you. You must earn my trust. I do not believe you are smarter than me because you made it through medical school. This just means that you have a good memory and you study well. You have gone to school for a very long amount of time. And you were willing to possibly go into debt, in the hope that you would graduate, and earn enough to pay off your debt and then make a lot more money.

You may be an expert in the human body. But I am an expert on the human condition. I am an expert in the idea that life does not always turn out as planned. And people have to make allowances for those twists and turns.

In college, I took a class called “persons and symptoms.” I know that a person can be broken, but the system can be broken, too. I may be seen by others as a broken-down body with a broken-down mind. But I see a broken system in the mental and medical field, from the front lines. The two are meant to be separate, when it is convenient for the doctor. But they are merged when a doctor wants to use them against me.

I do not trust doctors who believe that my brain and body are not whole and functioning together. I do not believe that I am failing in life. I have a higher power, and it is not a doctor with a God Complex. In this race to the finish line and even to good health, I am the turtle, not the hare.

I am a 51-year-old woman with several health problems. I have ongoing pain for the first time in my life. I have diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I know the time is now to work on all these things.

I am also an intelligent bipolar woman. I am an expert at being bipolar at this point. I know that the medications I take all have side effects that are hard on my body. I know that holding onto anger only hurts myself, not anyone else. I cannot go after the doctors for the problems they have caused me. Doctors have a lot of power, the power to 5150 me, to call the police, and more.

So I move on. I do know what my rights are. I know that HIPAA laws have been broken, and so many others. Right now, I am a person who is focused on getting my driver’s license back, keeping healthy food in the house, and taking care of myself. Later, when I have time, I may revisit these wrongdoings.

I don’t know if I even believe in Western medicine at this point. I know that Eastern medicine sounds much more appealing. My doctor number 3 is a doctor of osteopathy. She believes in getting to the root of the problem, and being proactive. She does chiropractic pain management. She perhaps errs on the side of not taking medicine.

At least she is willing to work with me, not against me. I am often an overwhelmed person at this point. I have to work hard at everything. I must deal with physical pain, getting enough sleep, sticking to my program, eating the right amount of food. Not sitting too long, not thinking too much.

I make sure I schedule fun in my life. My life is not the perfect package. But I am stronger every day. My body and mind go through ups and downs, mountains and valleys.

Doctors can either work with me or against me. At this point, I realize I have the tools and serenity to know that I can leave them in their tracks. I will always be the highest qualified expert on myself and my needs.

I may not have a medical degree, but I have many other strengths. I have the power of the pen, and this is my “open letter to medical professionals.” Listen if you want, or go on repeating the same mistakes that end up hurting people instead of helping them.

All doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath at their graduation ceremony, a philosophy of what a doctor is supposed to strive for in caring for patients. I listened to it on a video. My question to you is, are you going to hold up this sacred oath? Or are you satisfied with merely being a hypocrite?

Sadness and broken feelings may occur during life’s major crises. But the failures of a broken medical system make everything worse.



by Joanna Freeman Bragen


Has no beginning

And no end


Lost childhood

Left in the sand


Pulled away from my foundation

I don’t understand


Too far from my Dad

And all my childhood friends


Fending for myself

Has not proven to be easy


Midlife crisis

With no TLC


The OG is gone

The Millennials don’t get me


Psychiatric Survivor

No lightweight title


No kindness of strangers

They are all in denial


Too many people dying

For no good reason


#Mental Health Lives Matter

Seems to be a losing battle


Too many side effects

Ravage my body


My mind becomes weak

My defenses are down


The memories rush in

Too many to handle


When did it start

And when will it end


Too many to name

All tragic and meaningless


Way too much anger

Keeps the sadness at bay


Back here on Earth

You are too far away


Father figure




Mother hens


The worst of all

My Dad



Copy editor



Speech writer

Letter writer

Type setter

Nature admirer





Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I am losing my mind


Imperfect on Earth

Like no other you understood me


First manic episode

Without you as my guide


Cuts to the core

Leaving pieces behind


I need you back

I feel like I’m blind


Almost a year

And no better for it


Full circle

No cure in sight


Please make the pain go away

So I can sleep again at night


Nothing prepared me

For this awful life lesson


I am an orphaned child

So late in life


Kicking and screaming

And no one to blame


Succumbing at last

To feeling the pain


You are never coming back

And I must accept


And go on with my life

Despite this attack


I know I can do it

I am as strong as you made me


But I wish you were here

Because my heart is still bleeding

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