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Neurology and Akathisia: A Review of a Physician

Photo Courtesy of J.A. Carter-Winward

When your loved one, family member, or friend is in medical crisis, our default setting is to turn to medical professionals. In the time of a pandemic, this default setting is even more apparent, but a pandemic also shows us the limitations of medical science.

Perhaps because it is one of the most mysterious and least understood parts of the human body, the medical specialists on the brain, neurologists, are given almost divine, oracular treatment by society, but like a priest in the church they ask us to live by faith and trust them, even when they know they don't really know the answer.

The wise and seasoned cleric knows how to comfort the sick and afflicted in the congregation. A true cleric does not pounce on those in need and accuse them of sinning and turn them away. Too much of our medicine is still faith based, rather than science based, but when we are dealing with human emotions and feelings, then our professionals need to shift to a more humanitarian bed side manner.

I give those first three paragraphs as an introduction to an on-line review (that I couldn't post because it was too long and they wouldn't provide a link), so I'm putting it up on various places for others and hopefully, the physician to read.

Review of Dr. Katherine Widnell

We saw Dr. Widnell for a neurological exam because my wife was having neurological events, including uncontrollable movements. She then posted a 5-star review because Dr. Widnell had conducted the most thorough exam, one which far-surpassed the poor treatment we’d received in the ER.

In hindsight, the contrast made our appointment with Dr. Widnell seem like a 5-star experience, but after a third appointment with yet another neurologist, I want my review to reflect a more accurate picture of our appointment with Dr. Widnell, because sometimes clarity comes only with time and experience. The online review site restricted my length, so I posted the entire review here.

As someone who also works in the professional community to help people in need, I meet with clients on a regular basis — specifically about their legal and financial problems. I truly believe in the importance of professionals — individuals who go into high-demand careers with the accompanying high-demand education — because our job is to help people navigate the complex medical or, in my case, legal worlds. I appreciate professional behavior.

Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that too many professionals believe being cold and callous is “professional” and my wife and I have encountered this more often than not in recent years since she became ill.

The science is solid behind studies showing that the best “medicine” a doctor dispenses is quite possibly genuine care and listening to their patients and in that regard, Dr. Widnell failed.

Looking back, Dr. Widnell’s assessment of my wife’s situation was callous and cold and to me, that is the antithesis of professionalism.

Dr. Widnell conducted the exam and confirmed our worst fears: my wife suffers from a cluster of neurological movement disorders caused by the medical profession. Dr. Widnell gave us an option that, at the time, she told us wasn’t really an option at all because the drug she proposed could be worse than the movements and could possibly add to my wife’s already-untenable pain. When Dr. Widnell concluded with “Yes, the conditions are awful — sorry, I can’t help,” we left with my wife in distress, feeling even more hopeless.

Doctors must understand: we go to them for help and hope. If they have no help to give, then hope is conferred only through honesty and compassion in their responses. Hope may only be found in compassion when science and medicine fail.

Neurological conditions often come with subjective components that are possibly even more dangerous than the conditions themselves. Suicidality is a well-known element of one of my wife’s movement disorders and after each appointment with every neurologist we’ve met with, I’ve had to scramble to walk my wife back from the edge of despair. I shudder to think what would have happened if she hadn’t had family support. And this is how crazy our medical system has become.

If a surgeon left a sponge in someone, we could sue for damages, malpractice, or a lesser offense, we could write a bad review. If a neurologist dismisses a suicidal patient with disregard, or worse, a permanent blot on their medical record as a “difficult patient” with some sort of “functional disorder”(the equivalent of a psychosomatic complaint), and the patient takes their own life, the patient is blamed. We’ve only partially evolved to seeing mental illness as actual, biological diseases, but the actual biological doctors in charge of our brains treat their patients as the ones responsible for the brain’s dysfunction. This attitude continued to show up in subsequent doctors.

When we eventually had the opportunity to go back over Dr. Widnell’s notes of our appointment, her callous assessment of my wife’s medical issues carried over onto her clinical notes, which, unfortunately, went on to inform our subsequent search for medical help and care. This is the area where Dr. Widnell failed the most.

Widnell referred to my wife as a “very anxious, frustrated and at times tearful woman.” She also suggested she had a mental illness as a possible reason for her negative reaction to Dr. Widnell’s diagnoses and the resulting lack of options for help. I don’t know about you, but if I’d just been diagnosed with several lifelong untreatable and painful neurological disorders — caused by the medical profession’s misdiagnoses of a head injury — frustrated, tearful, and even a little rage would be an acceptable reaction, both socially and personally. But rather than comfort, the callous disregard and cold clinical assessment and suggested mental health diagnoses from Dr. Widnell hampered our ability to deal with these progressive, chronic conditions.

We shouldn’t expect miracles from medical professionals nor should we expect perfection. Even professionals screw up — they are mortal and fallible like the rest of us. However, I do expect them to understand the gravity of their positions. Understand that through their interactions the human beings in their care can be improved by them or harmed, simply through their professional conduct, and in health “care,” that conduct’s standard ought to be blatantly obvious.

If the treatment lands on the side of harm, then the medical professionals are doing something wrong. Oddly, the “harm” I hear of, time and again, falls on the specific branch of medicine: neurology. So, I write this review in the hopes that Dr. Widnell and others in that field will stop blaming their patients for their illnesses and show more compassion, care, and empathy to those whose lives are up-ended if a condition or injury results in their brains being impacted.

Given the new age of information, your interactions with patients continue, long after you see them, via online notes. These can and do inform critical future medical care for many. On the flip-side of that, their experiences with their providers are also available online. Therefore, your accuracy and compassion are more vital than ever and should be critical components of any professional practice.

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