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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

What is Medical Abuse?

After her car accident, Gretchen was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. The timing of the accident could not have happened at a worse time. Gretchen was newly divorced and trying to find employment while still suffering from a chronic illness. She poured her whole life into her family and kids, but everything changed. Now, her teenage kids were trying to adjust to living in two houses while still hurt by the painful divorce process that lasted over three years in litigation.

To some degree, her ex and now, by proxy, her kids blamed her chronic illness for the demise of the marriage. Her illness was so painful that she would struggle to get out of bed and to do simple tasks around the house. The wheelchair, however, was making things that much harder. In the beginning, her kids were extremely helpful but as time wore on, they began to resent having to help Gretchen.

Financially, Gretchen was on placed on social security disability and had some alimony/child support. Her limited budget, the growing cost of medication, the worsening of her chronic illness, sporadic caretaking, and significant physical limitations were a depressing combination. In frustration, she turned over her income and the financial responsibilities to her 20-year-old son.

That is when things got worse. Her son was still angry about her mom’s condition and began taking things out on her. He started with verbal and financial abuse but then escalated to medical abuse. He refused to take her to doctor’s appointments, pick up her medication on a timely basis, arrange for a new caretaker after he fired the last one, and kept saying that she was making up illnesses.

There are four populations that are particularly susceptible to medical abuse: children, the elderly, the disabled/handicapped, and chronic illness/pain patients. Medical abuse is often overlooked. For the abused, it is devastating, isolating, frustrating, confusing, and depressing. Being denied the help they need and feeling abandoned by loved ones, many, like Gretchen, become suicidal. Here is a further explanation of medical abuse.

  • Deception about medication. It took a while for Gretchen to realize that her daughter was stealing some of her medication and abusing it. This is why her medication was running out so quickly. The divorce and her mother’s condition left her daughter so distraught that she developed an addiction to the pain pills to elevate her emotional pain. In order to cover-up her usage, her daughter would lie about giving her mom the medication when she had not claiming that her mom was “losing her mind”.  Gretchen’s son, not knowing of the problem, blamed Gretchen and accused her of abusing her own medication.
  • Withholding medical treatment. At first, Gretchen’s son took her to the necessary doctor’s appointments. But when they started to interfere with his life, he stopped. This left Gretchen unable to get her much needed medical care. At one point, Gretchen fell out of bed and badly bruised her back. Her son refused to take her to the ER saying that it wasn’t medically necessary. So, Gretchen tried to grab her phone to call for an ambulance, but her son took the phone away and refused to get her any help.
  • Overmedicating/overtreating. At one point during Gretchen’s care, she was given over 20 pills to take in a day. although she told her doctors about the other medications, no one was aware of how much she was really taking until a social worker discovered the problem. Instead of treating the underlying illness, Gretchen’s doctors prescribed excess medication.
  • Denial or neglect. Fortunately for Gretchen, her fall did not cause additional damage. However, her son saw that as an excuse or rather justification for not helping her with other doctor’s visits. As a result, a cut that happened while cooking became so infected that her whole arm swelled up before he would take her to the doctor. His denial or neglect of her medical needs almost resulted in a deadly staph infection.
  • Maltreatment or abandonment. Gretchen’s kids told her that they were going to their dad’s house for a couple of days. This was a normal part of their routine and usually, a caretaker would be sent to the house to help Gretchen. But the caretaker did not show. When Gretchen called her, she said that her son had said her services were no longer needed. Then Gretchen tried to reach out to her son and daughter only to discover that they took a trip with their dad and would not be home for over a week. Gretchen was left alone, and afraid feeling trapped in her own house.
  • Gaslighting medical information. There were times when Gretchen needed to rely on her son’s memory during her doctor’s appointments. Unfortunately, sometimes he would give her misinformation about what was said and then relay the false information to her daughter and the caretaker. This often left Gretchen without the support and help that she needed.

After the caretaker was let go, she contacted a social worker who came out to help Gretchen. The medical abuse caused Gretchen to worsen and as soon as things stopped, she started to get better. It took several more years before her relationship with her son and daughter were healed.

What is Medical Abuse?

 


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2019). What is Medical Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2019/08/what-is-medical-abuse/