As part of its “medical mysteries” series, the Today Show on Friday aired a segment about Susannah Cahalan, a young New York woman who woke up one day with her left side feeling numb. By nightfall, she had become — as her father, Thomas, later put it — “totally psychotic.”
Susannah would begin “crying hysterically” and then “become giddy.” She was taken to the NYU medical center but doctors there didn’t have a clue why she was acting so oddly. Several times, Susannah tried to escape, and her father said she was “hallucinating.”
Susannah stayed in the hospital a month and a specialist finally diagnosed her as suffering from a rare auto-immune problem called ANTI-NMDAR Encephalitis. Here’s a link to the story
Today Host Meredith Vieira wondered how many people, who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, might actually have ANTI-NMDAR.
I am happy doctors were able to solve Susannah’s problem, but the real MYSTERY here is how did her loved ones get her the help that she clearly needed!
Based on Susannah’s symptoms – laughing one minute, crying the next, totally manic — it would be fair to assume that most emergency room physicians would have thought she had bipolar disorder. At that point Susannah would have been shown the exit unless she was posing an immediate danger either to herself or others.
That’s the law and that’s what happened to my son, Mike.
The only way her family could have kept Susannah in the hospital against her will — remember she tried to flee several times — would have been to have her involuntarily committed. And if her loved ones would have tried that, Susannah would have had an attorney appointed to protect her right to be “crazy.”
That’s the law.
That attorney would have fought to get her out of the hospital.
That’s the attorney’s job.
In fact, the more I think about Susannah’s case, the more alarmed I am. Someone should notify the New York office of protection and advocacy and demand an investigation. Susannah’s constitutional right to be crazy was clearly violated. Quick, call the Bazelon Center for Mental Law and file a lawsuit against her parents for holding her against her will in a hospital. Punish them for trying to help her from her psychosis.
Obviously, I am being facetious to make a point.
Susannah got help despite our mental health system, not because of it.
Somehow her loved ones managed to get her admitted into a hospital even though she wasn’t dangerous. Somehow they were able to get her insurance company to pay for her to stay there (when was the last time you heard of someone with a mental illness getting to stay in a hospital for a month?)
Somehow her loved ones were able to get a doctor to spend enough time examining her to discover what was happening inside her brain.
I wonder if her parents realize how fortunate they are that Susannah is not delusional, homeless, and wandering the streets right now — with her civil rights fully protected.
(If you found this of interest, share it with a friend. It’s time we found a way to safeguard a person’s rights, but still get them help when they are sick.)