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Detox Diagnostics -- Keeping Medicine in Psychiatry

Detox Diagnostics -- Keeping Medicine in Psychiatry

It has long been known and generally appreciated that psychiatric diagnoses can be established in medical and surgical special care units and in the general medical and general surgical patient populations, both in hospital units and in ambulatory care settings. The impact of comorbid psychiatric illness on medical disorders is reasonably well-appreciated (Glassman and Shapiro, 1998; Musselman et al., 1998). Is the reverse also true? Need mental health care professionals remain vigilant to identify and address general medical and surgical issues in psychiatry units?

The following vignettes briefly review patients admitted to the inpatient psychiatry unit with either alleged acute psychiatric conditions or to "dry out" but who were in urgent need of timely medical and surgical interventions. (To read more case studies, please refer to the Psychiatric Times Online Exclusive article at www.psychiatrictimes.com/detoxcase.html--Ed.)

Since we know cholelithiasis with cholecystitis, respiratory failure and malignancy to be common disorders in our general patient population, and we know that our chemically dependent patients are representative of our general patient population, then we can reasonably expect to see these potentially serious and potentially life-threatening (yet readily treatable) disorders in our chemically dependent patient population as well. When we, as health care providers, are willing to give up, rescind and/or withhold the label of "alcoholic" and/or "addict" and focus our bedside history and physical examinations on our chemically dependent patients, just as we have always done on our medical and surgical patients, then we can be empowered to provide comprehensive, high quality care. While we recognize the increased percentage of chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C and (chronic and acute) AIDS in our chemically dependent patients and the need for specific testing and appropriate treatment and care, I present the following cases to raise the index of suspicion on the rapid and timely, beginning-at-the-bedside diagnosis, treatment and care of acute respiratory failure and curable cancer in chemically dependent patients.

Case I

History. A 23-year-old Hispanic college sophomore was admitted to the inpatient psychiatry unit with "acute anxiety." He specifically denied penicillin allergy, substance abuse and any family history of psychiatric disorder. His spleen had been removed three years previously, following a motorcycle wreck.

Physical Examination. The admitting vital signs revealed an oral temperature of 104F. During the admitting physical examination he began to cough rusty sputum.

Imaging. A chest X-ray revealed a pulmonary consolidation.

Laboratory. Sputum gram stain revealed gram-positive diplococci. Sputum culture revealed the pneumococcus sensitive to penicillin. His pneumococcal rusty pneumonia and his alleged acute anxiety resolved with the administration of penicillin and intravenous fluids. He was also provided and documented with the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. He appreciated the timely diagnostics, treatment and care. Acute anxiety can have an underlying medical cause.

Critique. When our 23-year-old college sophomore was asked: "How did you come to be hospitalized on our acute inpatient psychiatric unit?" he said, "When I telephoned my student health service and I said that I was suddenly very nervous and I could not sit still, they telephoned the hospital and they put me here. The first time I was examined was after I was put in bed here." The medical physical examination of our patient led to his sputum gram stain and chest X-ray, which led directly to his diagnosis of pneumonia.

Case II

History. A 42-year-old African American male was seen in ambulatory aftercare a month following a drinking binge stating, "Doctor, this will only take a moment. I only want my Antabuse [disulfiram] re-started, one-half a pill every Friday morning. I know that is all I need, because I only drink on weekends. Oh, and Doctor, I would like my dentures adjusted." The patient took no other medications regularly. There was no evidence of liver, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal or diabetes disorders. The patient presented with his significant other who pledged to now watch and thank him for taking his weekly medication, and the patient pledged to thank his significant other for watching him take it. Further, the patient and his significant other pledged to begin, for the first time, 12-step work with sponsorship.

Physical Examination. This robust, muscular man was seen to have a soft tissue lesion on his lower lip.

Patient Education. When I recommended surgical excision of his lower lip lesion, he said he was not worried about it because it did not hurt or bleed. "I just want my dentures adjusted," he repeated, "and I want to re-start my weekly Antabuse. Now can we get that done, Doctor?" I just sat quietly; not speaking, not moving, not writing, not typing, just maintaining eye contact with him and letting him and his significant other feel my concern for him as a person, as well as a patient. After a moment the patient said, "OK, Doctor, I will have it cut off of my lip, but also make sure that my dentures are adjusted and my weekly Antabuse is re-started!"

Consultation. The patient was provided with timely and definitive dental oral surgical treatment and care. Disulfiram was provided; 125 mg taken by mouth once a week every Friday morning, per the specific request of the patient and his significant other. The histopathologic report of his soft tissue lip lesion was squamous cell carcinoma, completely excised. The patient said he appreciated the adjustment of his dentures and the excision of the cancer on his lower lip. He thanked me for providing his "weekly Antabuse as one of his Tools of Recovery" (Grossman, 2001). Twelve-step work with sponsorship was recommended (and documented) for him and for his significant other to develop and use their Tools of Recovery.

Critique. Our chemically dependent patients' needs may differ from their wants. The painless feature of his lip tumor led me directly to the diagnosis!

Case III

History. A 49-year-old Native American woman was admitted to the inpatient psychiatry service to sleep off a drinking binge. On her second hospital day she complained of "belly discomfort."

Physical Examination. Her temperature was normal.

Laboratory. Her urinalysis was well within the reference ranges of our laboratory. Specifically, there were no red blood cells in the microscopic examination of her urinary sediment.

Ultrasound. Her belly ultrasound revealed a right kidney mass with no gallstones visualized.

Surgical operation and (tumor board) pathology. Her right kidney mass was surgically removed. Histopathologic examination revealed a carcinoma of her kidney, but there was no cancer invasion of her renal vein or renal capsule. The chief of surgery commented, "The kidney cancers that we cure are the ones which we find incidentally." The patient expressed her thanks for our timely diagnostics, treatment and care. Twelve-step work with sponsorship was recommended (and documented) to help her to develop and use her Tools of Recovery. Curable cancer may be found in our chemically dependent patients.

Critique. The diagnosis of kidney cancer in this woman was an incidental finding. The kidney is normally difficult to assess on a medical physical examination. The absence of fever and of red blood cells in the patient's urine made the diagnosis of kidney malignancy more challenging. From this woman we relearn our limitations.


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