This is what happened to Katherine Baker. At the end of 1999, she was prescribed Zyprexa for bipolar disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the time, Baker was told that Zyprexa would make her feel much better.
"I had moved to Seattle to leave an abusive husband and things were going good," Baker says. "I expected that therapy would help things to go better than they already were. They were going well, just not great. After I underwent a stressful lung surgery, I was put on Zyprexa to treat my bipolar disorder and PTSD.
"During the four years I was on Zyprexa, there were so many suicide attempts, I can't count them all. There was one that was especially bad. When I was found, the deputy who found me thought I was dead. I was in a coma in my vehicle for four days and the hospital in a coma for nine more. I believe I was kept in the ICU for around 11 days before being transferred into the psych unit. During my time in the vehicle, my leg rotted from pressure wounds. There was permanent damage to my back, leg, ear and kidney. It took years of recovery and physical therapy to learn how to walk again because they removed part of my calf.
"The years I was on Zyprexa were a constant battle to stay alive. I couldn't understand how I had gotten to that condition so fast. Before Zyprexa I had been active and slender. I held management positions and had been very functional. The 'experts' said 'sometimes this happens—it's a delayed reaction to your life.' I bought into it.
"Suicide was never an out-of-mind thing. The worse it got, the more they increased the dose. I went along with it because they were the professionals. But I ended up with major slashes on my wrists and arms. Not just shallow slashes: I cut ligaments and tendons.
"To find out later that it was avoidable is really hard. And my kids were there for that and I couldn't explain it to them because I didn't understand it myself. But when I changed doctors and got off of Zyprexa, within six weeks I was completely different. I'm still bipolar, and that's not a lot of fun right there, but I'm not fighting for my life every day. I don't wake up every day with the thought, 'I've got to kill myself. How do I do it? Where's the access? Where's the bus to step in front of?' That compulsion wasn't there before Zyprexa and it isn't there after.
"They [doctors] knew about the risks and not only sold it, but pushed Zyprexa as something that would help people. Most of the time, the doctors won't listen if it's a mental health issue, because your opinion doesn't matter. In trying to be a good patient, I stayed on my meds. I did what they told me: 'Keep taking it, take a higher dose,' and it almost killed me.
"I had three different times where I spent three or four days in a coma. I have to have regular tests to ensure my liver and kidneys are working properly because of the number of overdoses I experienced. If I wear shorts or anything but sleeves down to the thumbs, people can tell that something isn't right.
"Zyprexa was supposed to be something that was really wonderful—that's how it was pushed. The higher the dosage, the more extreme the attempts and the closer I came to succeeding. During the Zyprexa years, an ambulance in front of my house was almost as regular as a school bus. Periods where I wasn't actively suicidal were because I was too tired. If I could have gotten up the energy to commit suicide during those times, I would have, but I was just too tired. I didn't have enough energy to do anything but have a heartbeat and breathe.
"People do not understand what it's like. Some nurses at the hospital would say things to me, like, 'You shouldn't kill yourself, you'll go to hell.' They didn't understand, I was already in hell.
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"So, now it's been four years. I haven't been suicidal since six weeks after I stopped taking Zyprexa. I can't believe that at one point I was paying $36 a day to take a pill that was making me so much worse than I had been before. There's a lot that I can't do physically now that I could do before my time on Zyprexa, but I have to look at it as what I have left. I could have died any number of times. It was several years of just pure hell."