Consult-Liaison Education Medicine Nonfiction Systems

More Annotations on the Britney Spears Transcript.

I have not paid close attention to news about Ms. Britney Spears’s conservatorship over the years, though was interested to learn what she recently had to say about it. I felt both sad and disturbed after I read her remarks. (Here’s an audio recording, too.)

To be clear, I don’t know anything about her, her diagnoses, or the specific details of medical care she has received. Despite spending most of my career working with people with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cognitive impairment, substance use disorders, and often major medical conditions, I have referred very few people for guardianship… and none of them presented like Ms. Spears. I have never provided care to public figures or similar VIPs.

Following are the reactions and questions I had upon reading the annotated transcript of her testimony, for your consideration:

They all said I wasn’t participating in rehearsals and I never agreed to take my medication, which, my medication is only taken in the mornings, never at rehearsal.

I don’t know what medications she takes. If she is referring to any psychiatric medication here, this hopefully suggests that her medications cause only minimal, if any, sedation. Many medications usually prescribed for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can make people feel tired, sleepy, or sluggish, particularly when people first start taking them.

I was told by my at-the-time therapist — Dr. Benson, who died — that my manager called him in that moment and told him that I wasn’t cooperating or following the guidelines in rehearsals.

I don’t know the terms of her conservatorship, though it is uncommon for managers to be able to call a patient’s therapist or doctor. Can you imagine if your boss were able to call your doctor to report that you weren’t “cooperating or following guidelines”?

Maybe there are releases on information on file for her manager and doctor to talk to each other, though most people don’t want to mix their personal and professional lives like this. That being said, I have had friends or parents of people under my care call me to share information with me, though they understood that I would say nothing in response. I’ve never had a teacher or boss call me, though.

And he also said I wasn’t taking my medication, which is so dumb because I’ve had the same lady every morning for the past eight years give me my same medication, and I’m nowhere near these stupid people.

So many questions here! Who is this “same lady”? Is this a health care professional, like a nurse? For “every morning”? For the “past eight years”? Does she actually need someone to give her medications every morning? Is she unable to do this herself? (This seems unlikely if she is able to “[rehearse] four days a week”, “[direct] most of the show”, and “[do] most of the choreography”.) Or is the purpose of this “lady” to enforce and report compliance? The usual goal is to help promote people’s autonomy and independence, since no one wants to undergo monitoring like this… especially for eight years!

Presumably this “lady” is also using a medication administration record for Ms. Spears so there is written proof of what she is or is not taking. This might be one way the therapist would know that she “wasn’t taking [her] medication”.

Three days later, after I said no to Vegas, my therapist sat me down in a room and said that he had a million phone calls about how I was not cooperating in rehearsals, and I haven’t been taking my medication. All this was false.

An accurate and truthful medication adherence record would provide proof to both Ms. Spears and her therapist about whether she was taking her medication. This is a document that attorneys, judges, and other people could review.

He immediately, the next day, put me on lithium, out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I’ve been on for five years…

If I am reading this right, this means she was under medication administration monitoring for eight years and had been taking the same medications for at least five years (though she said eight years earlier). This suggests a stable medication regimen that she was able to tolerate.

… lithium is a very, very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was used to.

Lithium started at aggressive doses can indeed be “very, very strong”. “Strong” doses of lithium are most often used for people experiencing “mania”, which is a component of bipolar disorder. “Mania” doesn’t mean someone who is “happy” or simply “euphoric”. Mania, in its more extreme forms, looks like increasing amounts of energy in the context of decreased sleep (sometimes for only a few hours, if at all) for many nights, sometimes lasting weeks. People often demonstrate significant changes in behavior during this period of time, such as spending large sums of money they don’t have (e.g., via credit cards) and doing impulsive things that are uncharacteristic of them (e.g., starting businesses with no foundation, having sex with people they don’t know, using drugs or alcohol). Sometimes these combination of behaviors are lethal: People will jump from heights, having full confidence that they can fly.

The thing is, lithium usually doesn’t work that fast. Usually people who are experiencing mania receive lithium to prevent the next episode. They also take something else (ideally for a short period of time) to treat the current episode.

You can go mentally impaired if you take too much, if you stay on it longer than five months.

I don’t know what she means here. Some people take lithium for years (decades!) and they do not “go mentally impaired”. In fact, lithium can be literally lifesaving and keep people well and out of the hospital.

Lithium at high doses, if not properly monitored, can cause sudden changes in mental status and emergency medical problems.

But he put me on that, and I felt drunk.

Yes, this can happen, particularly if the starting dose is high.

I told them I was scared and my doctor had me on — six different nurses with this new medication come to my home, stay with me to monitor me on this new medication, which I never wanted to be on to begin with. There were six different nurses in my home and they wouldn’t let me get in my car to go anywhere for a month.

Six different nurses? Who were staying with her? When people (recall that my experience is limited to non-VIPs, which makes up most of us) are in an intensive care unit (ICU) for a major medical problem, there’s ideally one nurse working with only two patients. Six nurses to one patient is a lot. Maybe she meant she worked with six different nurses, but there was only one nurse in her home at any given time?

People who start taking lithium at conservative doses don’t need this level of monitoring. People who start taking lithium are often still working, taking care of their kids, going to school, etc. When people start taking lithium in a psychiatric hospital, this intensity of monitoring doesn’t happen.

Lithium can be sedating, particularly at high doses, which might be why these nurses prohibited her from driving. But for a month? Does this mean that the dose of lithium was changing/increasing over the course of the month? Or they were overly cautious?

He acted like he didn’t know, but I was told I had to be tested over the Christmas holidays before they sent me away when my kids went home to Louisiana.

It seems that she means psychological testing here, though perhaps this also included getting blood drawn to check the amount of lithium in her blood? This latter bit is called a “lithium level”. As noted above, high levels of lithium can be toxic, so people who take lithium get “lithium levels” drawn on a routine basis to ensure that the levels are not near/at toxic levels. Lithium can also affect the function of kidneys and the thyroid gland, so health care professionals often check these labs, too. If the blood draw doesn’t show any lithium, then that means the person hasn’t been taking it.

Over the two-week holiday, a lady came into my home for four hours a day, sat me down and did a psych test on me. It took forever. But I was told I had to. Then, after I got a phone call from my dad saying, after I did the psych test with this lady, basically saying I’d failed the test or whatever.

I don’t know what this is, either. Did the “psych test” last four hours? (Was it a Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5? I am skeptical: Why would someone start a medication and then do a “psych test”?)

If you don’t build rapport with people, they will provide incomplete or inaccurate information to you. The onus is on the interviewer to build rapport with the patient. I don’t know what it means to “fail” a “psych test”.

“I’m sorry, Britney, you have to listen to your doctors. They’re planning to send you to a small home in Beverly Hills to do a small rehab program that we’re going to make up for you. You’re going to pay $60,000 a month for this.”

I don’t know what “rehab program” means here. “Rehab” often refers to treatment for substance use disorders, though there are no indications to use lithium for substance use disorders. Psychiatric rehabilitation is also a thing, though this usually refers to providing education and support to people regarding social skills, gaining independence, and other strategies to prevent return to psychiatric hospitals and other intensive models of care. The goal is to keep people in the community and away from institutions.

I worked seven days a week, no days off, which in California the only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking, making anyone work, work against their will, taking all their possessions away — credit card, cash, phone, passport card — and placing them in a home where they work with the people who live with them. They all lived in the house with me — the nurses, the 24-7 security. There was one chef that came there and cooked for me daily, during the weekdays. They watched me change every day — naked — morning, noon, and night. My body — I had no privacy door for my room, I gave eight gals of blood a week.

This sounds like an extreme and unethical version of a “therapeutic community”. (The evidence supporting the application of therapeutic communities isn’t great, though some people who have gone through such programs swear by it.) This sounds more like an upscale jail, which, to be clear, is still a jail.

Humans hold less than two gallons of blood, so I don’t know what she means here. Did she undergo a lot of blood draws? To check her lithium level? To monitor whether she was using any drugs or alcohol? (Checking urine is a less invasive way of doing this.)

And ma’am, I will tell you, sitting in a chair 10 hours a day, seven days a week, it ain’t fun. And especially when you can’t walk out the front door.

If she spent most of her time “sitting in a chair”, then maybe this wasn’t a therapeutic community (and more like jail). People usually have to do chores and attend meetings in therapeutic communities. People in (non-VIP) psychiatric hospitals also don’t spend 10 hours sitting in a chair for seven days a week.

I don’t even drink alcohol — I should drink alcohol considering what they put my heart through. Also the Bridges facility they sent me to…

Today I learned about Bridges to Recovery, “residential mental health treatment in a private, luxury environment”. Is this where she went? Bridges to Recovery is part of Constellation Behavioral Health, which is owned by New MainStream Capital.

New MainStream Capital is a “private investment firm specializing in strategic equity investments in leading middle market companies with an emphasis on sustainable growth trends in both the business services and healthcare services industries.” This tells me that they are more interested in getting as much return on investment for their shareholders than providing quality care to people at Bridges to Recovery.

They have me going to therapy twice a week and a psychiatrist. I’ve never in the past had — wait, they have me going, yeah, twice a week, and Dr. [unclear] — so that’s three times a week. I’ve never in the past had to see a therapist more than once a week.

Yes, that’s a lot of therapy. People who participate in psychoanalysis go to therapy four to five times a week. However, psychoanalysis under normal circumstances is a voluntary process. (Full disclosure: I am biased against psychoanalysis.) If the psychiatrist is providing medication services only, that’s a lot of psychiatrist visits. Maybe they know a lot more than I do: How much meaningful medication tinkering can a psychiatrist do with meds every week, when the mechanism of action for so many psychiatric medications remains unknown? (Exhibit A: The serotonin hypothesis.)

I have a friend that I used to do AA meetings with. I did AA for two years. I did three meetings a week. I’ve met a bunch of women there. And I’m not able to see my friends that live eight minutes away from me, which I find extremely strange.

It sounds like Ms. Spears found AA helpful because of the support she got from her community. Much of what she reported in the transcript sounds like absence of community, which of course will have negative effects on her mental health and wellbeing.

I wanted to take the ID [IUD] out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children, any more children.

Many have already commented on her statement that she is not allowed to remove her IUD and how this relates to reproductive justice. This also makes me wonder if she is taking any medications that might result in birth defects.

I am sorry to say that I have had women under my care who underwent involuntary hysterectomies due to their psychiatric conditions. All of these women were in their 70s and 80s, so none of these were recent events, but these women usually were not told that their uteruses were surgically removed until after the fact. By the time I saw them, they were taking minimal (if any) psychiatric medications and were not demonstrating symptoms that would warrant an irreversible intervention without any discussion about it.

There is so much that we don’t know about Ms. Spears and what has happened. I only hope that, if she has experienced injustice at the hands of individuals or systems, she will be vindicated and systems will change for the better.