Monday, February 06, 2006

Dorothy Hamill and Andy Gibb = One Theraputic Relationship

Looks pretty reasonable to me.

Sit on your butt. Read a book with Lassie at your side, your feet on an ottoman and your wife cooking a big juicy porterhouse steak for dinner (hey, this was from the '50s, okay)

The text of this ad says that "physical activity is generally curtailed and overwork is avoided".

For some reason that is not the advice my doctor gave me for hypertension.

"....and the use of stimulants is restricted."

Okay, that makes sense...

Except that when I exhausted every means of research (my famous "I feel lucky" Google click), this medication is a vasodilator and a myocardial stimulant that lasts longer than caffeine.


Oh, silly also has phenobarbitol in it! I guess back then you could sedate your way to normotension.

I saw my doctor and all I got was a stupid diuretic and the advice to move more. And it works!

Without sedation.



In my search for nursing/medical ephemera for the blog, I'm usually laughing my head off and mentally writing the story to go with it.

This one did not make me laugh.

I don't find much to laugh about where mental illness is concerned.

This medication is supposed to take someone on the edge of what I assume to be (schizophrenic?) psychosis and turn them into an attractive college co-ed.

Click on the image and try to read the print, it's small but you can make it out.

I worked for 2.5 years in a psychiatric unit and never saw anything like this ad portrays.

But it did bring back the memory of my psychiatric rotation in nursing school.

And a patient I will never forget.


We were both eighteen.

I was a first-year nursing student on my first day of psychiatric clinical. Melissa sat rocking in the corner in a chair in a psychiatric facility. I was supposed to pick a patient to be my "case" during the rotation.

"Why are you rocking?" I innocently inquired. Queen of theraputic interaction, that was me.

"It makes me feel better. You look like Dorothy Hamill."

In case you are wondering, I had been told that before. She was not hallucinating.

"Gee, thanks!" I replied.


"Do you like music?" I asked. I had no clue what I was doing. We were the same age and I was so into music that my second choice for an occupation could easily have been "rock groupie".

"Yeah. I like Andy Gibb." sealed the deal. This was my patient.

I was in love with Andy Gibb. So let's put it all together: same age, she thinks I look like someone I'd been trying to look like for a year, and she had the same taste in music.

I knew I would be comfortable with her as my patient. In retrospect, whose needs were being met here?

I asked her if she would allow me to be her "nurse" for the next six weeks and she agreed.

During that time we walked and talked. We worked on hairstyles and personal grooming. As we sat on the grass outside, she told me about her family and voices that came from nowhere. No, they never told her to hurt herself. They just told her that she wasn't very good. Or pretty. Just worthless.

"Why," I wondered aloud, "don't voices ever tell people that they are beautiful, smarter than the whole world and have the greatest hair on earth?"

We nearly split a gut laughing at that. I'm sure it wasn't the "theraputic" way of dealing with auditory hallucinations, but it really was funny. At the time.

She was very sick. Her diagnosis was "acute schizophrenia". I thought that because it was "acute" that it was curable. I had so much to learn.

The plan was for Melissa to go to a half-way house and she was going to be able to tour a few so we began making a list of what she would like in her new "home", what she would be looking for as she toured the various facilities.

The end of my six-week rotation was nearing and I had to prepare Melissa and myself for the fact that our relationship would be ending. I'm not sure who it was harder for, Melissa or me.

She cried. I managed to keep a professional facade and explain that while I was also unhappy, it was how things needed to be.

Melissa spent one more of our "rotations" at the psych facility, during which another student in my class took her case. Melissa asked about me every clinical day, but it was not appropriate for me to send any messages or to interfere with my student colleague's relationship with her client.

On the last day of our clinical, Melissa handed me a piece of paper. I was just walking out the door and I told her I would read it when I got home. She seemed happy with that and I left the facility for the last time.

It was a note thanking me for being her "nurse" and a request that I always remember her.

That's when I cried.

I have thought about Melissa often over the years. Where she is. How she is doing. Was she sad when Andy Gibb died? It is because of Melissa that I have always viewed psych patients as people who have a diagnosis, but are not a diagnosis. It is because of Melissa that I had over two wonderful years working with psych patients. It is because of Melissa that I realized psych nursing is the one place where just being yourself can be theraputic.

Melissa, wherever you are, I have always and will always remember you.

Addendum: For those of you who are watching "Skating With the Stars" and see Dorothy Hamill every week, let me assure you that I am now the equivalent of 3 or 4 Dorothys and about the only thing we have in common is that she skated in the Olympics and I watched the Olympics....but I am dying to get that new haircut she has!


At 2/06/2006 05:13:00 AM, Blogger mary said...

You know what's instructive? Reading your old ads for drugs (which are fascinating, keep them coming!) and then looking up said drugs. Here's "pacatal" mentioned in the Federal Register as a banned drug:

Mepazine: All drug products containing mepazine hydrochloride or mepazine acetate. Mepazine hydrochloride, formerly marketed as Pacatal tablets, and mepazine acetate, formerly marketed as Pacatal for injection, were associated with granulocytopenia, granulocytosis, paralytic ileus, urinary retention, seizures, hypotension, and jaundice. Approval of the NDA for Pacatal tablets and Pacatal for injection was withdrawn on May 28, 1970 (see the Federal Register of May 28, 1970 (35 FR 8405)).

Makes one wonder about today's "wonder drugs", doesn't it?

At 2/06/2006 05:40:00 AM, Anonymous moof said...

Kim ... that really nice. Thanks for sharing it. I'm sure that Melissa hasn't forgotten you, either.

At 2/06/2006 06:52:00 AM, Blogger John Cowart said...

Thanks for your care of "Melissa". She could have been the girlfriend of a long ago friend of mine. Even if it was not the same person, thanks anyhow. You made life easier for someone.

At 2/06/2006 07:33:00 AM, Anonymous Difficult Patient said...

Kim, You have such a great way of illustrating how patients are more than just "the problem of the day"--they are people, regardless of their diagnosis. Thank you ;o). DP

At 2/06/2006 10:50:00 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

Even if you hadn't mentioned your love for Andy Gibb (which I SO share), I would have loved this post. You could be my psych nurse anytime.

At 2/06/2006 06:01:00 PM, Blogger Flea said...


I just wanna be your everything.

[kidding, I'm happily married. I just wanted to impress you with a shared cultural reference]



At 2/06/2006 09:06:00 PM, Blogger Kim said...


Too damn funny!

Kim : D

At 2/06/2006 09:06:00 PM, Blogger Kim said...


Too damn funny!

Kim : D

At 2/07/2006 01:51:00 PM, Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Too much good, pithy stuff to comment in this, and I'm I will just say that I had THE Dorothy Hamill haircut in the day...and have photographic proof. (I remember being very empowered when my way-to-young-and-he-was-just-a-boyfriend complained that my hair was too short. I told him to take a hike.)


P.S. Isn't funny how people watch "Skating/Dancing with the Stars" and "Biggest Loser" on the couch with chips and dip?!

At 2/07/2006 02:11:00 PM, Blogger Freckles said...

I love Andy Gibb. I cried when he died.

I listen to his music every day at work.

At 2/08/2006 08:50:00 AM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

every clinician should share your view of patients with a mental illness - we've found biological causes just as in hypertension and diabetes, but there is still such stigma among patients, families, and, yes, even among health care professionals.

your story is so touching - i hope you share with as many of your colleagues and students as possible.

At 2/08/2006 04:46:00 PM, Blogger unsinkablemb said...

I loved your story... It reminded me of my psych rotation and how much I enjoyed the time with my patients. Thanks!

At 2/13/2006 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Wanna hear something funny? I was doing a search for pictures of Dorothy Hamill's new hair (and old hair) for my blog and I ended up here!

And what a great post. Love how you used humour with Melissa. You sound just great!

And I TOTALLY love DH's new hair!


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