The Cortez Family
Paula has just been involuntarily hospitalized and placed on the psychiatric unit, for a minimum of 72 hours, for observation. Paula was deemed a suicidal risk after an assessment was completed by the social worker. The social worker observed that Paula appeared to be rapidly decompensating, potentially placing herself and her pregnancy at risk.
Paula just recently announced to the social worker that she is pregnant. She has been unsure whether she wanted to continue the pregnancy or terminate. Paula also told the social worker she is fearful of the father of the baby, and she is convinced he will try to hurt her. He has started to harass, stalk, and threaten her at all hours of the day. Paula began to exhibit increased paranoia and reported she started smoking again to calm her nerves. She also stated she stopped taking her psychiatric medications and has been skipping some of her HIV medications.
The following is an interdisciplinary team meeting being held in a conference room at the hospital. Several members of Paula’s team (HIV doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, and OB nurse) have gathered to discuss the precipitating factors to this hospitalization. The intent is to craft a plan of action to address Paula’s noncompliance with her medications, increased paranoia, and the pregnancy.
Paula is a complicated patient, and she presents with a complicated situation. She is HIV positive, has Hepatitis C, and multiple foot ulcers that can be debilitating at times. Paula has always been inconsistent with her HIV meds—no matter how often I explain the need for consistent compliance in order to maintain her health. Paula has exhibited a lack of insight into her medical conditions and the need to follow instructions. Frankly, I was astonished and frustrated when she stopped her wound care treatments and started to use chamomile tea on her foot ulcers. Even though we have educated her to the negative consequences of stopping her meds, and trying alternative medications instead, she continues to do so.
As Paula’s psychiatrist for close to 10 years, I have followed her progress in and out of the hospital for quite a while—and I know her very well. She is often non-compliant with her medications, randomly stopping them after she reports she doesn’t like the way they make her feel. She has been hospitalized to stabilize her medications several times over the last 10 years, although she has managed to stay out of the psychiatric unit for the last three. Recently, she had seemed to appreciate the benefits of taking her medications and her compliance has much improved. She had been seeing her social worker regularly, and her overall mental health and physical health were improving. This has changed recently, after several stressful life events. We learned that Paula was pregnant by a man she met briefly at a local flower shop. She also reports he has been harassing her with threatening phone calls and unwarranted visits to her home. Paula disclosed to the social worker that she was neither eating nor taking her medication—and she had not gotten out of bed for days. Her decompensation was rapid and extremely worrisome and, therefore, called for a 72-hour hold.
I have not known the patient long, but it does appear that she is trying her best to deal with a very difficult situation. Pregnancies are stressful times for even the healthiest of women. For Paula to learn she is pregnant at 43—in addition to her HIV and Hepatitis status and her bipolar diagnosis—must be so overwhelming. Adding to this, she has come to her two appointments alone and stated she has no one to bring along with her. When I inquired about the father of the child, she said he’s a bad man and he won’t leave her alone. She seemed truly frightened of him and appears convinced he will hurt her.
When Paula came to me and told me she was pregnant, I was indeed shocked by this announcement. She had never mentioned dating anyone, and with her multiple medical and psychiatric issues, I never thought this would be an issue we would address. Paula and I have developed a strong working relationship over the last two years, and she has shared many private emotions and thoughts. This relationship has been tested, though, since I suggested she be admitted to the hospital. Paula was furious with me, accusing me of locking her up and not helping her. It will take time to repair our working relationship. Once I rebuild that rapport, we will need to work together to find a way to address all of her concerns. We will need a plan that will address her medical needs, her psychiatric needs, and the needs of her unborn child.