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The Case of the Agoraphobic Son

The Case of the Agoraphobic Son

There was once a boy.  We’ll call this boy “Johnny” for our purposes.  As a boy, he was diagnosed as both agoraphobic and schizophrenic.

Agoraphobic fears typically involve characteristic clusters of situations that include being outside the home alone…” 

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disease that interferes with normal brain and mental function.  The disease can trigger hallucinations delusions paranoia and significant lack of motivation. 

As Johnny grew to be a young man, he rarely left the house.  The same house here he was raised as a boy.  Johnny spent most of his time in the basement, never causing harm to anyone; being taken care of by the parents who loved him dearly.

One day there was an occasion, probably a wedding, that the family was invited to join.  Of course, Johnny did not want to go.  The parents would be away for just a few days, and this was not the first time such an occurrence had happened. 

As usual, the parents made all the necessary arrangements to ensure Johnny would be just fine: food, drink, phone numbers, etc…   Johnny was also fine with the situation as he was in the past, as long as he didn’t have to go along.

One night, while the parents were away, Johnny experienced a severe episode.  He was afraid, unlike ever before.  And worse, he felt like he wanted to hurt himself.  Still, he still knew well enough to call 911, which he did.  He also called his parents, and told them how bad he felt.  They told him to go to the hospital and they would return as soon as possible.

EMS arrived and took Johnny to the hospital.  It was a state or county psychiatric facility – doesn’t matter which.   Upon admission, Johnny told the staff that he had suicidal ideations – meaning he felt like he wanted to kill himself.  The doctors placed him on suicide precautions and 15 minute observation.  This means that every 15 minutes a staff member would check in on Johnny. 

In between one particular watch, and before his parents could even get there, Johnny was found dead.  He had hung himself.  Needless to say, the parents were devastated.  How could this happen?  Especially when Johnny himself told the staff that he was contemplating suicide.

Obviously, in such a case 15 minute observation was inadequate.  Johnny should have been placed under continuous observation; at least until the doctors were reasonable sure the suicidal ideations had subsided.  This was a gross error that cost a young man the remainder of his life, as well as a lifetime of grieving for his family that loved him dearly.

Even someone with a severe pre-existing disease such as Johnny deserves to have adequate care.  In this case, since Johnny was in a governmental facility, in addition to traditional medical malpractice claims that were raised on his behalf, there were also Federal Constitutional claims that were raised as well.

The U.S. Constitution and the 14th Amendment require that a patient in a governmental facility receive constitutionally adequate medical care.

Johnny’s Estate did receive a significant award.  However, no amount of compensation could ease the family’s grief.  Maybe there was justice, but justice is not always sweet.

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