Doctor O’s Adventures in Wonderland

Opeyemi Parham
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Doctors do not experience extreme states of any kind. Neither do any of the other caregiver professions, from nurses and social workers to policemen and firefighters, right?

WRONG.

Dr. Eva Schernhammer’s 2005 meta-analysis of the existing data showed that women physicians are successfully suiciding at a rate that is 120% higher than age-matched professional peers. When I took that statistic to the head of the Physician’s Health Services (PHS) and asked him what he thought of that number, his reply was frightening:

“I don’t believe it.”

Yes, the head of PHS, “a nonprofit corporation that was founded by the Massachusetts Medical Society to address issues of physician health,” let me know right away that I was about to enter the realms of Alice in Wonderland as I negotiated my own path to recovery. Because I am a female physician who survived my own suicide attempt.

That makes me a rare breed in at least three areas:

#1. Physicians tend to be very good at successfully offing ourselves; yet I failed (thank god!).

#2. I am an African-American woman; my culture – like caregivers – does not yet acknowledge the rates of distress in my community (can we pause to remember Sandra Bland, may she rest in peace).

#3. Rather than return to the career that gifted me with a toxic load of poor self-care behaviors, I left conventional medicine to take a more “feral” approach to the healing arts.

My dark night of the soul occurred over ten years ago. I am just now getting comfortable writing about it for a public audience, although it is the arts (writing, dancing, singing, visual arts) that I credit with giving me a scaffold for recovery.

It certainly was NOT the corporation charged with offering me recovery support.

I was assigned an MD to meet with me in my region of Western Mass. PHS operates out of the Boston area, and everything west of the Boston suburbs is the hinterlands. I asked him about his experience working with MDs who had survived suicide. His response was less frightening than that of the head of the PHS. “Have I ever worked with any MDs who attempted suicide? Hmmmmm… well, I have worked with a few that the Board of Registration in Medicine (Mass BORM) may have driven to suicide…”

Whoa…

Now I had not one, but two examples of strange behaviors within my Good Old Boy medical culture. Opeyemi’s Adventures in Wonderland became The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party when it came to the Mass BORM assessing my post-suicide-attempt competency to return to the practice of medicine. My medical license was suspended during the review process. My assigned lawyer was a very enthusiastic John F. Kennedy-style Irish Catholic. He explained to me what I could expect; that I would need to be assessed by a psychiatrist, and then should be able to resume my medical practice. He said this process usually took about three months.

Sixteen months later, I withdrew my case from the entire process. I was totally disillusioned with my chosen career, my professional peers, and my state medical board. And I imagine that my treatment in the hands of the Mass BORM might just have broken my progressive-minded lawyer’s heart just a little bit.

I had experienced “sanctuary trauma” of the most amazing kind over that ordeal of a year and a half. A psychiatrist dissected me like a frog in a physiology class, heart still beating the entire gruesome time. I eventually had to meet with him three times. Not only had he referred me to a psychologist in the middle of his evaluation (“Hmmmm,” said the psychologist after giving me Rorschach testing, “you see the world like an artist,” and after another test, “You have a way of looking at the world that makes people afraid of you”), he felt compelled to interview five people who knew me, not the usual three. He also suggested that the Board of Registration in Medicine might want to file charges against me.

Which they did. Charges of “undermining the public confidence in the profession of medicine.”

Really?

Do I believe that racism and sexism influenced charges being filed against me? I certainly do. In the 27-page report the psychiatrist finally released, he cited many of my lifestyle issues (I am polyamorous and had lived in community with ten other people in an “intentional family”), and he cited my religious beliefs (non-Christian), while declaring me “competent.” It seemed that he was saying, “Hey guys… I tried and tried, and I cannot declare her incompetent, but look at how weird she is!” My final diagnosis: personality disorder, UNSPECIFIED.

I had managed to fly under the radar as a very progressive family MD for twenty years. And when I stumbled and bled, the sharks were there ready to devour the carcass.

My professional guild attempted to starve me out. My medical knowledge was considered their intellectual property, so I creatively used what was left to me – my body. I cleaned houses, I worked as an art model, I got a job teaching at the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA). Someone from the Mass BORM actually contacted the academic dean at NESA to assure themselves that I wasn’t “practicing medicine” (or maybe simply to get me fired, which didn’t happen). The dean was shocked to have a BORM representative call her sniffing around for evidence to use against me in a complaint.

I was the first doctor in my family; I imagine that my family remain ashamed of my failure, even today over ten years later. That is not based on speculation, but on painful examples. When my 88-year-old aunt traveled east from Los Angeles for a family reunion last year, I realized that her lifelong friend/travel companion had no idea of the circumstances of my leaving the medical profession.

Things we don’t talk about.

PHS opened my eyes to a racket I was not aware existed. At their open to the public conference, “Caretaking the Caregivers,” I realized that there is big money in private loony bins and drug rehab institutions specifically for doctors. Salespeople waited at their eye-catching booths at the break in the conference, just like Big Pharma does. That is why you don’t SEE the doctors and the nurses who are having the meltdowns; we are rehabilitated “elsewhere.”

I sought recovery support at a PHS-sponsored behavioral medicine group that met in Boston (sorry, no resources to offer one closer to my home, 86 miles away in the hinterlands), but only went twice. Witnessing the behaviors of my fellow MDs at that group was simply too painful to continue. You see, about 75% of MD problem issues stem from alcohol and drug abuse; only 25% are categorized as behavioral. The most common behavioral issue was not med students non-compliant with psychiatric meds, or doctors with psychiatric labels. It was The Disruptive Physician. That is a code phrase for arrogant white men (and unfortunately a few women) who came through medicine at a time when issues we now consider wrong were tolerated. Everything from that neurosurgeon who throws instruments across the room in a fit of pique during an operation, to the doctor who insists that grabbing the ass of the nurse in front of him is “just clean fun.” Managed care woke up to doctors with abhorrent behaviors only when it began to affect The Bottom Line.

As part of my punishment, I had to complete a remedial course in ethics. In a class of thirteen, there was one other woman, and ten men of color (I counted the one Jewish man in the program as “newly white”). One white man, out of thirteen people being “disciplined and needing remedial ethics.”

Yes, that was another thing that made me go “hmmmmmm.”

I took that three-day Rutgers University remedial course while teaching ethics at the New England School of Acupuncture. I took that course while sleeping each night in my car because I couldn’t afford a hotel. My “final” in that course, demonstrating my understanding of medical ethics, was accepted. I wrote that perhaps my REAL ethical issue was that I dared to be human, to have my own emotional breakdown, and to attempt to take my own life; that was my “failure to uphold the public confidence in the practice of medicine.”

I await a day when the caregivers actually have opportunities for healthy lives as we care-take others. In the meantime, I do not miss the doctor lifestyle that I left.

And I wonder, who is REALLY Mad, in America?

* * * * *

References:

Schernhammer, Eva. Taking their own lives — the high rate of physician suicide. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jun 16;352(24):2473-6.

Batchelor, Suzanne. Female Physicians Face Higher Suicide Risk. January 31, 2005.

Merry N. Miller, MD, K. Ramsey Mcgowen, PhD. The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible. South Med J. 2000;93(10).

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Opeyemi Parham
Opeyemi Parham practiced family medicine for just over twenty years as Dr. Camilla Parham. Eleven years "post-doctoring," she believes that those initials behind her name signify "Feral Physician (once domesticated, but returned to the WILD) and Mistress of Death (having learned mightily from her own Near Death Experience). As a writer she has an essay in "Hope Beneath Our Feet" and a chapter in "Dancing on the Earth: Women's Stories of Healing, Through Dance." She can be found on Facebook at "The Temple of The Healthy Spirit," or at her website, www.ceremonyheals.com.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Charges of “undermining the public confidence in the profession of medicine.”

    Did I miss the part about what this was based on? This is the sort of charge that when used in other countries, e.g. for “slandering” a government or state religion, is smugly pointed to by politicians and others here as an example of how backwards and uncivilized they supposedly are. But again, what is psychiatry but a secular religion? (One of the reasons for the psychiatry/scientology dispute.)

    Thanks for writing.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience and the route you have taken to rebuilding a life….and the obstacles that have been placed in your way.

    I discovered that failing at suicide leads to a different kind of “death” – the death of your rights and humanity in the eyes of the medical “profession”. The very people who are charged with helping you understand and reclaim your position and life and resume being a productive member of society, do indeed attack viciously with their drugs, diagnoses, insults and questioning of competence in EVERY area of your life.

    They’ll take your livelihood, and break your family relationships and charge you massive fees for doing this.

    AND they adopt the stance that the situation is permanent and irreversible, an attitude mitigates massively against moving onto a new phase of life or reclaiming the old one if that is what you wish. And if you speak out, they’ll label you dangerous.

    Your defiance of this process and ability to transform your life and move into a new career are testimony to your resilience and to your fundamental strength and health as an individual.
    Your diagnosis – Personality disorder, UNSPECIFIED – is clearly just another way of them saying, “we haven’t been able to break this woman and we resent and fear her because of it”.

    Psychiatry is indeed and Alice in Wonderland world…with some Orwell and Kafka thrown in for good measure. Truly crazy.

    Well done on your escape from it.

  3. The manipulation and deceit that this Ms. Parham’s bosses and colleagues put her through went far beyond just “railroading” her out of her career. Those people shit on their Hippocratic Oaths by dragging Ms. Parham through a 12-month-plus Kafka-esque re-licensing process that was intended ONLY to exhaust her resources for fighting her dismissal from her job, shame her for being Mad, and stop her from attorney from arguing that she’d not received due process before getting dismissed. That ordeal would make ANYBODY ill. Ms. Parham’s right to keep her job and her right to be cared fo as well as she’d been caring for others were both trampled by clinicians who misjudge Madness and Mad people as threats because they’re not willing to reject and fear the bigotry, among other things, that help to create it. Ms. Parham, as both a clinician and a Mad person, probably knows how much she’s missed by her patients. I, for one, am deeply saddened and angered that one of the few clinicians I’d feel safe with is no longer practicing medicine, and that the “clinicians” who’ve ousted her are still getting highly paid and respected for destroying Mad people’s health and livelihoods.

  4. So disturbing to read this. Seems that disillusionment with all that we have trusted, and into which we have invested in heart and soul is the order of the day. I’ve no doubt there is more to come, we really are such a sick society, it’s so disheartening to know the truth, but necessarily to see it in order for healing and change to occur. Time to take off the blinders.

    This article is such a brilliant example of how far from the path and nature of humanity we have strayed as a collective. Great courage you have for speaking out about it. You are saving lives by doing so.

  5. The mere fact the medical profession is collectively proclaiming the validity of a faction within, that makes up “mental illnesses,” then defames, poisons, tortures, and kills millions of innocent people, just like the Nazi psychiatrists did. I believe, is evidence that the medical community collectively, did not learn such behavior was morally repugnant after WWII, like most of society learned. I do, however, understand the reason the medical community, collectively, espouses belief in the scientifically “lacking in validity” and unreliable DSM “mental illnesses” is because the psychiatrists cover up malpractice for the mainstream medical community. And the mainstream religions espouse belief in today’s “mental illnesses,” because the psychiatrists cover up child abuse for the pastors / priests / rabbis, and their wealthy parishioners. And psychiatrists / psychologists profiteering off of covering up child abuse / ACEs, by way of claiming such symptoms or concerns, is “schizophrenia” or “psychosis,” does appear to be the primary etiology of “schizophrenia” today.

    http://psychcentral.com/news/2006/06/13/child-abuse-can-cause-schizophrenia/18.html

    An ethical pastor confessed to me that this was “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” One does lose a lot of respect for the medical and religious professions, however, once one learns about their historic “dirty little secret.” And only appallingly paternalistic and unethical “professions” would employ Nazi tactics, to cover up their sins and mistakes.

    I’m so sorry they put you through the ringer, Opeyemi. I have no doubt either, that racism and sexism played a role, given my understanding of the medical and religious industries’ historic and paternalistic “dirty little secret.”

    My daughter has wanted to be a pediatrician since she was quite young, she’s recently decided it’d be wiser for her to go into dentistry, rather than medicine. I’m glad. Because it took an oral surgeon to save me from today’s “mental health” industry, since no mainstream doctor would confess to the reality that today’s “mental health” industry is noting more than an iatrogenic illness creation system.

    It’s a shame today’s mainstream medical industry has gone so far astray from what is morally acceptable human behavior. But “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” You’ve exited a corrupt industry, and I hope doing so allows you to find true happiness in the future. My best to you.

    • Hi Someone else,
      I like your stories, and now I have something to say.

      ‘Nazi tactics’
      I would like to clarify what I believe are ‘Nazi tactics’. I believe true evil resides in
      committing atrocities and then washing your hands of it, believing that you did nothing wrong, or that the atrocity that you committed was actually virtuous. Simply hiding your crimes is the behavior of most common criminals. Common criminals know what they do is wrong and most of them are ashamed of their crimes. Nazism is one level higher. This is what a lot of psychiatry is. Countless victims suffer and die and they wash their hands, saying “My hands did not shed this blood.” They actually believe their own fraud.
      Nazis believed it was okay to kill the disabled and Jews because they believed that certain groups were not real people. Only the Aryan race was truly human. Psychiatry turns a blind eye to their own atrocities and believe that something else damaged or killed their victims.
      Hurting people is wrong. Hurting people and convincing yourself that you helped them? I don’t know what you call that. Nazism? Maybe.
      However, I believe I’m not here to judge anyone. I won’t try to pretend to walk in anyone’s shoes. I will not call a psychiatrist a Nazi (or anyone for that matter), but I agree with you that they use Nazi tactics, even if I won’t call them Nazis or Nazi-like.

      Best Regards,
      Even.

      • Hi Even,

        I watched ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ last night. It did point out the appalling reality that the Nazi propaganda brainwashed people to the extent they believed the Jews were not human. It staggers my mind people could be brainwashed to such an degree, but after reading my medical records, I know that was exactly the same kind of appalling ignorance and ungodly disrespectful attitude my psychiatrist had when treating me, and likely, all his patients.

        And it truly is shameful when people, posing as medical doctors, harm and “torture” others, because they are not intelligent enough to even listen to what the patient says. And, once confronted with the medical proof of their misdiagnoses, and the medical proof they poisoned an innocent person, for unethical and greed inspired reasons, they pretend it’s acceptable behavior.

        “My hands did not shed this blood,” is what today’s psychiatrists believe. Because their industry has dictated “bipolar” treatment guidelines, which call for psychiatrists to create “psychosis,” and literally make patients “mad as a hatter” via anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning. And their industry claims the neuroleptic drugs are “wonder drugs,” rather than confessing they are a drug class medically known to create both the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome, and the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via anticholinergic toxidrome.

        But all people should be held accountable for their crimes against others, and not just dismiss them, merely because the psycho / pharmacutical leaders set up a very profitable, and misleading, iatrogenic illness creation system. And I do so hope and believe justice will occur in the end, although how low will humanity sink, prior to that time? Today’s psychiatric “wonder drugs” have already killed more in the past several decades, than Jews died in WWII.

        http://www.naturalnews.com/049860_psych_drugs_medical_holocaust_Big_Pharma.html

        So personally, I hope today’s psychiatric defamation, torture, and murder of millions with their “wonder drugs” ends very soon.

      • I have to comment, because I have studied a LOT of WW2 history. I am NOT going to defend “Nazis”, or even “nazis” First, “Nazi” is a short form, an abbreviation, almost as corruption. The correct acronym is “NSDAP”, in German. That means “National Socialist German(Deutsche)Abteilung(Workers)Party” In English, we might call it “NSGWP”, instead of “NSDAP”. See how that works? Anyway, the “Nazis'” were a political party, just like “Democrats”, or “Republicans”. Saying “Nazi” – capital “N” – refers to the actual, formal Nazi party, or Nazis, (or neo-Nazis), in general. So, no, there really wasn’t any such thing as the “Nazi Army”, or the “Nazi Air Force”, for example. I think “nazi” gets used too often, and incorrectly. “Fascist”, or fascist, is a good, more general substitute. It’s true that biopsychiatry is fascist, but it isn’t true that it’s “Nazi”…. You could, however, say that biopsychiatry is nazi-like. That’s certainly true. I’m coming from an academic perspective. Otherwise, your comment is SPOT ON! Thanks!….

  6. I’m writing from SW New Hampshire, which is closer to where you story occurred, in Western Mass.
    I’ve met many doctors in this area, and yes, that sounds like what I’ve seen around here too.
    It’s interesting how many of the other people in this narrative are NOT practicing doctors or nurses.
    That’s a whole ‘nother angle of the over-diagnosing and over-prescribing rampant in America. We’ve got more and more people earning a paycheck by doing non-medical medical care, like billing, “outreach”, “patient education”, etc., The so-called “heroin / opiate epidemic” raging across Northeast America is commonly cited to have been caused by “physicians’ over-prescribing”. More drugs, more sickness, more money, more billing, more employment, leads to more drugs, more sickness, more money, more billing, more employment, leads to more drugs, more sickness, more money, more billing, more employment, leads to more drugs, more sickness, more money, more billing, more employment, leads to more drugs, more sickness, more money, more billing, more employment, etc.
    As a member of the PUBLIC, I have NO confidence in the “practice” of medicine. But I DO have some confidence in Opeyemi Parham.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story of how you were able to rebirth yourself despite what the medical community tried to do to you.

    I trained as a chaplain in both medical and psychiatric institutions. Then I worked as a chaplain in a large and prominent hospital in the city where I live. One of the things that I noticed about doctors is that they never make mistakes. No matter what happens, the doctor did not make any mistakes. What I know for a fact is that doctors do make mistakes, whopping big mistakes because those mistakes cost people their lives or make them debilitated for the rest of their born days. But these mistakes never get out to the public because the rest of the staff protect the doctors. They will whisper about the mistake among themselves but they never let it get out to the public. And then you have the “brotherhood” where one doctor will not reveal how another doctor is not up to par. They protect each other.

    I had to deal with a case, as a chaplain, where this was the case. A young man had brain surgery for a benign tumor. But he died because the neurosurgeon placed a shunt wrongly so that the fluid drained back into his brain instead of out of it. This was a fairly simple surgery as far as brain surgery goes (although I don’t think there is any surgery that is simple). The surgeon was a very prominent neurosurgeon in the city. But the truth was withheld from his family and the staff kept their mouths shut and the hospital acted as if nothing was wrong.

    Although many doctors act like they’re god they are not and we need to educate them to this fact. I for one am sick of arrogant and uppity doctors of all medical specialties, not just psychiatry. Physician heal thyself.

  8. Dear Dr. Parham,

    I am glad you have written about this. I have been a follower of the blog “disrupted physician” for a while. I assume you know this blog well. I also follow Pamela Wible’s blog. I, too, am from Massachusetts, grew up there and was a Red Sox fan.

    When I was young, my family and I often drove by McLean, the Met, and Fernald, on our way to Waverley Square. Upon seeing three hospitals, I nagged my Mom to have another baby, but not another boy, but a sister, just for me. After all, there was not one, but three convenient locations to choose from where she could have the baby born. Why not, Mom? I remember tapping my mom’s belly and wondering when that crying sister was going to show up who would be so loud, her soprano would drown out my brothers’ incessant cries for “More more more….” but Mom said those hospitals were not that type and couldn’t answer further.

    I also lived in Western MA, as a student at UMass/Amherst. Years later I was a “guest” at Gould Farm following a suicide attempt. That was 1984. Yes, there sure are such “rehab” places tucked away in Western MA that the public doesn’t know about. Such tranquil, idyllic settings intended to heal our troubled souls….for a price no one knows about…..

    And yes, much scandal. Riches and gold in such places. How odd it is that they are often built on hills just like McLean. Damsels can be trapped for years or decades. Counting the secrets buried there, we find thousands, and skeletons left for us to now discover.