Archive for the ‘Finding a Psychiatrist: The Bipolar Toll Booth’ Category

Finding a Psychiatrist: The Bipolar Toll Booth   1 comment

“She can only see me once a month between European vacations.”  “It doesn’t seem like he’s listening to me.” ” He text messages during our sessions.”  “She never calls me back when I’m in crisis. Then when I end up in the emergency room she only calls the attending physician to make sure everyone knows it’s not her fault.” “I swear he ignores the pharmacy’s request for my refills on purpose.”  “He just gives me the same medications and dosages, even when I tell him they aren’t working.”

These are what I’ve heard fellow bipolar sufferers say about their psychiatrists.  If you read my book Buzzkill, you also learn of my experience with a doctor who could not stand the smell of cologne and the fluid used to dry clean suits.  The first half of each session was always spent sniffing me out to make sure I was oder free.  Irregardless of the fact that after the first session I purposely wore a “dirty suit,” she’d start accusing me of wearing a clean one, run around the office opening all the windows and blowing a fan directly in my face.  Then she’d start “honking” like Felix Unger, the compulsively clean and hyper-allergenic character on the 1970’s comedy The Odd Couple.  I felt like I should have been the doctor and she the patient.

I also wrote about the mood disorder specialist who pumped me up on a cocktail of drugs in our consultation, then didn’t find a need to see me again.  Wouldn’t answer the phone or my emails.  So while probably stuffing his face with Peking Duck in Lobster Sauce on a Saturday night with his doctor friends in Chinatown, I’m at home all loopy and depressed from the mixture of antidepressants and mood stabilizers he cowboyed into me.

It’s not only hard to find a psychiatrist,  but it’s hard to find one that will see you.  And when you’re suicidal, depressed, manic and have been awake for days,  it’s even a more of a daunting task.  “No, I’m not taking on any new patients.  But good luck finding a doctor before you clock out.”  “Well, I don’t work with bipolar patients.  I just like whiney housewives.”  “I’m planning a trip around the world.  But I can give you a couple of names I just pulled out of my ass.”  “Oh, you sound at your wits end.  I’m so sorry. But I won’t have an opening for six months. Can you hang on until then?”  Thank you doctor.

At this point when you do find a doctor you are selecting them out of desperation rather than reputation.  As long as they have a first year medical student’s knowledge of bipolar illness, you’ll go see them.  I’ve been so desperate before I would have gone to a pediatrist if I thought he could help.  Beggars can’t be chosers.

This is why I recommend, even if you are doing well at the moment, make sure you have a doctor you are comfortable with now.  That way if you ever end up in a crisis situation, you won’t be stuck looking for a psychiatrist with the phone in one hand and a bottle of pills in the other.

If you are on public assistance, your choices are a bit more limited.  However you do not always have to take what you get.  For instance, I know in San Francisco there are several centers for people without financial means to go for psychiatric help.  And I’ve been told some are better than others.  I’d investigate which is the best clinic for an emergency and establish a relationship with a doctor there beforehand.

But if you have the means to see a private psychiatrist, get ready for a shock.  And it’s not part of therapy.  Not only are you charged egregiously for the visit, but you have to pay each time you have a phone conversation by the minute and for each prescription they refill.  Plus you have to submit your own insurance paperwork.  It kind of makes you angry like when charged fifteen dollars to check a bag at the airport.  You know you’re being milked, but you can’t drive yourself to Hawaii.  Nor can you write your own prescriptions.

Luckily, I was fortunate to find a great doctor who was on the phone with me three times a day for almost a week trying to stabilize me even before he could see me for our first session.  And he turned out to be as caring and competent in person as he was on the phone.  I feel extremely fortunate to have found him.  But yes, like all good professionals, he comes at a price.

But I prefer to look at psychiatrist fees  like driving through a bipolar toll booth.  You have to pay if you want to get where you want to go.