I Had A Debilitating Reaction To Psychiatric Meds At Work

My eyes and head were frozen, unmoveable.

woman taking pill VH-studio / Shutterstock

I reached for the pill container next to the salt and pepper shakers on my kitchenette table. I would take a 5mg pill of prescribed Haldol for my paranoid schizophrenia when I got to work because if I took it any earlier, it would make me sleepy and I'd be tempted to go back to bed. 

I left my apartment building with my alligator purse slung over my shoulder and walked across the street to the bus shelter. 


I got off at 12th and Main, walked the three blocks to the courthouse, and climbed the cement steps to enter the lobby.

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Seated in front of my word processor, I swiveled around in my chair, opened the desk drawer, and reached into my purse. I opened the bottle of Haldol, took out one pill, popped it in my mouth, and took a swig of Diet Coke.

Looking Toward HeavenPhoto: JESHOOTS.com / Pexels


Twenty minutes passed until suddenly, out of nowhere, my head tilted upward and my eyes locked.

I couldn’t control the movement of my head and eyes. It was controlling me. I slowly pushed myself away from my word processor hoping this bad spell would pass. Pat was seated at her desk and I was looking upward with my locked eyes.

“Please help me. Something is wrong because of the medicine I took. I can’t control my head or eyes.”

It was like a crazy scream to heaven.

“Are you doing this for attention, Julie?” asked Pat, hostile and put off.


“Get in here,” Pat said. She got up from her desk, took my arm, and started guiding me to an empty office.


“What’s wrong?” Emma asked.

“Get Jane. Have Jane call her father to come get her,” ordered Pat.

Jane came into the office and shut the door behind her.

“Your father’s on his way. He said he would be behind the courthouse to pick you up in ten minutes,” she said.  My father worked two blocks from the courthouse in his law office.

“I don’t know why this happened. I think it’s because of my medicine,” I said.

Jane was looking at me with pity on her face. She walked to the door of the office, opened it slightly, and said to Pat, “Don’t let anyone come into this office. I don’t want Julie to be embarrassed.”

My locked head and eyes were so intense I could count the cracks in the ceiling tiles. Ten minutes seemed like an eternity.


“I know you must feel scared. I’m going to walk you down to the parking lot. I don’t want you to fall when we take the stairs. Don’t worry. I’m with you Julie,” said Carla the office manager as she guided me. I didn’t want to ride the elevator.

Carla led me out to the parking lot. My father was there in his Taurus and Carla opened the car door for me.

“Thank you,” my father said and Carla nodded, closing the car door.

"Take me to the emergency room,” I said to my father.

“You’re going to be okay, baby,” he said.

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In fifteen minutes, we pulled up into the ER parking lot as close to the emergency room door as we could get without being in an ambulance. My father gripped my elbow and led me in and I was admitted to a curtained cubicle right away. 


I was lying down on the exam gurney and the doctor entered and immediately knew what was wrong.

"This is a reaction to your medication. You need to take Artane with the Haldol. I’m going to give you a shot to counteract the side effects. I’m going to give you a shot in your hip.” He administered the shot in my hip and it felt like a sting.

“My psychiatrist didn’t tell me I always had to take the Artane with Haldol.”

“The Artane is an anti-spasmodic. You won’t have rigid facial muscles or eyes locking if you take the Artane with the Haldol. It’s not unusual that you don’t know how to take your medicine. Many people come to the emergency room because they haven’t taken their psychotropic drugs correctly.”


“I didn’t know any of this. Is my medicine dangerous?’

“There’s a possibility of Tardive Dyskinesia with long-term use.”

“What’s that?”

“Loose mouth movements and the tongue hanging out of the mouth involuntarily.”

I thought my body couldn’t become more uncontrolled than it already was.


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“Sweetheart, what happened?” my mother asked.

“I didn’t take my Artane with the Haldol and had a side effect,” I said.

My mother was oozing sympathy toward me, likely to impress the doctor with her motherly concern but I knew she was incredibly upset this happened at work — or at all.


I returned to work the next day and my co-workers didn’t say anything to me about the medical incident. My secret was safe. No one at work knows I am a paranoid schizophrenic. I once told Pat I take pills sometimes for depression but she said nothing. They won’t talk or gossip — I hope.

Someone once told me that people with mental illness are touched by God. This is what living with paranoid schizophrenia is and that day in 1992, looking up with locked eyes, I was looking toward heaven wishing I was a bird that could fly away into the clouds.

Now, I’m on a new medicine that doesn’t have side effects. But when I think back all those years ago, I still burn with embarrassment and shame.

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Julia A. Ergovich writes from Kansas City, Missouri. She holds a BLS in English from the Jesuit school Rockhurst University and is leading an artful life.