This exercise is designed to test your comprehension of material presented in this issue of FOCUS as well as your ability to evaluate, diagnose, and manage clinical problems. Answer the questions below, to the best of your ability, on the basis of the information provided, making your decisions as you would with a real-life patient.
Questions are presented at "decision points" that follow a section that gives information about the case. One or more choices may be correct for each question; make your choices on the basis of your clinical knowledge and the history provided. Read all of the options for each question before making any selections.
You are given points on a graded scale for the best possible answer(s), and points are deducted for answers that would result in a poor outcome or delay your arriving at the right answer. Answers that have little or no impact receive zero points. On questions that focus on differential diagnoses, bonus points are awarded if you select the most likely diagnosis as your first choice. At the end of the exercise you will add up your points to obtain a total score.
You are the attending psychiatrist in the psychiatric emergency room at a tertiary care medical center on the East Coast of the United States. A woman is brought to the center by ambulance and wheeled in to the psychiatric emergency room strapped to a gurney. She is wrapped in a white linen shawl and is immobile. Although you are unable to see her face, you can see by her hands, which are tightly gripping the rails of the gurney, that she is dark skinned.
The paramedics report that they were dispatched to a private home in a nearby neighborhood after the patient’s daughter called 911 because her mother was "shouting in a strange voice," alternately with garbled speech and with strict demands that she be given specific items of clothing and jewelry. The daughter was reportedly anxious on the telephone and mentioned, "She’s been acting strange lately." The daughter has two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl; her husband was not at home, so she told the paramedics she was going to take her children to a relative’s house and then come to the emergency department.
The paramedics were unable to communicate with the patient because she spoke a foreign language and seemed unable to understand English. They had to use force to place her on the gurney, but she insisted with body language that her head be covered with the white shawl she had draped around her body. She apparently spat at them and seemed to curse, so they were happy to oblige. One of the paramedics tells you that she "seems possessed." She remained silent for the duration of the short trip to the hospital. She allowed them to take her vital signs and to perform a cursory physical examination; the findings were as follows:
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|Blood pressure:||183/96 mm Hg|
|Head, eyes, ears, tattoo in the nose, throat:||Normocephalic; shape of a cross within a circle on the patient’s forehead, apparently done many years ago given the faded quality of the thick dark inked lines. Unable to assess pupillary reflex or extraocular movements because the patient kept her eyes shut tightly. Unable to thoroughly assess mouth and throat except when the woman was screaming, at which time they noted that her oral mucosa seemed pink and moist and that her teeth had brown streaked discoloration. No thyromegaly, no lymphadenopathy.|
|Chest:||Clear to auscultation bilaterally without wheezes, crackles, or rales|
|Heart:||Regular rate and rhythm, S1 and S2 appreciated, no murmurs, gallops, or rubs|
|Abdomen:||Soft, nontender, no distension; bowel sounds appreciated; not hypo- or hyperactive|
|Extremities:||No clubbing, no wasting|
|Neurological:||Unable to assess as patient was not cooperative. From their struggles with the patient, they estimated that she had full strength in all four extremities and no obvious focal deficits|
As you finish reading the notes on the physical examination, the patient begins to howl from behind her shawl. She struggles to free herself from the restraints and begins speaking loudly in what seems like pressured and hyperverbal speech, although in a language you do not recognize.
Given the above presentation, what should you do? (Multiple answers are possible. Points are taken away for incorrect answers.)
You decide to place the patient in an isolation room but not in restraints. You do not give her any medications. Through your closed-circuit television monitoring system, you see that she is curled into a fetal position, wrapped in her white shawl, lying on the gurney, and quiet. After 20 minutes, the patient’s daughter arrives. You bring her to an interview room, and she begins to sob. "I can’t take this anymore," she says. "I brought her from Ethiopia last year because my father died and she did not have anyone to care for her. She is very traditional, but she has become very demanding lately. All I asked of her is to watch my children while my husband and I are at work during the day." She says that her children love their grandmother but find her strange because she has a tattoo on her forehead and they only understand some of what she says. "We’ve been trying to make the children bilingual by my only speaking to them in Amharic and their father only in English. But they are so young."
You ask her to describe her mother’s behavior and how she thinks it has changed to the point where she required a trip to the psychiatric emergency room. The daughter explains that her mother seemed happy at first, but soon she became easily agitated, did not like to leave the house, hid upstairs when she and her husband had guests, and sometimes mumbled incomprehensibly to herself. About 3 weeks ago she demanded to be taken back to Ethiopia, but the daughter refused because there would not be anywhere for her to go there. "Besides, she was beginning to act more and more strangely, and I could not let her go back like that."
The daughter described her mother’s behavior as increasingly agitated over the past 3 weeks, especially after she learned that she could not return to Ethiopia. She would often stay quiet for days, not uttering a word, and then would burst into screams, making demands in a strange voice, and acting as if she were possessed. The daughter clears her throat and looks around awkwardly. "I know you won’t believe this, but there is a tradition in our culture called the zar," she says. "It is an evil spirit that supposedly takes possession of a person and makes them act somewhat like my mother has been acting. My experience with this is not extensive because I never actually saw someone ‘possessed,’ but I heard from friends and older relatives that the possessed person does not necessarily become violent. My mother started throwing pots in the kitchen; she took some of my children’s toys and hid them under her bed, and when she starts her screaming, she gets right in your face."
You ask if she believes her mother to be possessed by a zar, and if so, what is the remedy? The daughter replies that she does not believe in the zar, but "according to my limited knowledge, you have to have a coffee ceremony, find a zar exorcist, give the possessed person what they want, and if the spirit is satisfied, it leaves." She laughs uncomfortably and says, "I know it sounds crazy to you."
You reassure her that you are interested in the zar, that it is important in psychiatry to understand the person in order to understand the illness, and that you want to help her mother as best you can. The daughter then asks if she can see her mother.
Given the above information, what should you do next? (Multiple answers are possible. Points are taken away for incorrect answers.)
List definitions for the following terms. (+5 points for correct answers.)
The patient refuses to move. You call the hospital’s translation service and ask for an Amharic translator. (Alternatively, you ask the daughter if she knows of any members of the Ethiopian community who are not related to her family who may be willing to translate, and then ask for assistance.) You bring the daughter to the isolation room. She approaches her mother, strokes her head, and speaks to her in Amharic. The mother does not respond. The daughter continues to speak to her until her mother abruptly speaks in a strange, deep-tenor voice. You ask the daughter to tell you precisely what her mother is saying, word for word. "She’s just saying, ‘I need coffee. I need coffee. I will not release her until you bring me coffee and a new dress.’ See?" She shrugs. "She’s lost it. She’s pretending to be possessed. I’m supposed to go and buy her a dress on a Friday night? Is she crazy?"
The patient begins to rattle the rails of the gurney and starts screaming. The shawl has come off her face, and you see she has her eyes closed. Then she opens them and looks around, but continues screaming. The daughter backs up and leaves the room.
Given everything you have learned to this point, what is your differential diagnosis?
The Outline for Cultural Formulation contained in DSM-IV-TR is "meant to supplement the multiaxial diagnostic assessment and to address difficulties that may be encountered in applying DSM-IV-TR criteria in a multicultural environment." What are the five parts of the cultural formulation?
The patient is given haloperidol 2 mg i.m. and lorazepam 2 mg i.m. After an hour she is calm but alert. Her daughter continues to translate. You learn that the patient is oriented to person, place, and time, but she still lapses into a strange-sounding voice, which the daughter refers to as her mother’s zar. When speaking in this voice, the patient is demanding a coffee ceremony, a dress, and to be taken back to Ethiopia. Your assessment is that the patient is acutely psychotic, and you admit her to the inpatient psychiatry unit for safety and further evaluation. She is started on risperidone, which is titrated to 3 mg daily. She is also started on sertraline, which is titrated to 150 mg daily for mood symptoms. After 1 week, the patient is no longer agitated and she sleeps well, but she still lapses into her "possessed voice" several times each day.
You are now the treating psychiatrist on the inpatient floor. You do not find an available Amharic-speaking translator, so you depend on the daughter for communication with the patient and for collateral information. You use the Internet to learn about the zar, which is described as a culturally based syndrome common to certain countries in Africa, including Ethiopia. The zar functions in a wide range of crisis-oriented contexts, including infertility, role clashes, marriage difficulties, and intense social and cultural change. Zar illness and therapy, therefore, can represent a method of coping with a disruptive condition, whether it is physiological, psychological, or social. When an individual is afflicted with a zar, he or she attends a zar ceremony with others who have experienced similar illness. A trance is induced, and the zar spirit then enters the person’s body and reveals its identity and wishes through movement and speech. The spirit is not exorcised; rather, the individual forms a relationship with it to prevent future episodes of illness. This typically requires that the individual accept "to undertake certain activities, which may include performing certain rituals, attending regular zar ceremonies, wearing special clothing or jewelry, ingesting specific foods or other substances such as tobacco, or altering his or her marital status to appease the spirit" (Edelstein 2002).
After 10 days, the daughter tells you that she is willing to take her mother home but believes she needs outpatient psychiatric care.
Given what you know about the patient’s progress on the inpatient unit and what you learned by developing a cultural formulation of the case, what are the most appropriate steps for you to take to help this patient? (Multiple answers are possible. Points are taken away for incorrect answers.)
High positive scores (+3 and above) indicate a decision that would be effective, would be required for diagnosis, and without which management would be negligent. Lower positive scores (+2) indicate a decision that is important but not immediately necessary. The lowest positive score (+1) indicates a decision that is potentially useful for diagnosis and treatment. A neutral score (0) indicates a decision that is neither clearly helpful nor harmful under the given circumstances. High negative scores (−5) indicate a decision that is inappropriate and potentially harmful or possibly life-threatening. Lower negative scores (−2 and above) indicate a decision that is nonproductive and potentially harmful.
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|C1. Ethnicity||(+5) Identification with, and feeling part of, an ethnic group, and exclusion from certain other groups because of this affiliationEthnic group: Group distinguished by cultural similarities (shared among members of that group) and differences between that group and others; ethnic group members share beliefs, values, habits, customs, and norms and a common language, religion, history, geography, kinship, and/or race.|
|C2. Culture||(+5) Distinctly human; transmitted through learning; traditions and customs that govern behavior and beliefs|
|C3. Race||(+5) Can be broken down into biological and social race. This question is about social race: a group assumed to have a biological basis but actually perceived and defined in a social context, by a particular culture rather than by scientific criteria|
|a From Conrad, 2006|
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|Axis I:||Psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (+2); rule out malingering (+2); rule out dissociative trance disorder (+2)|
|Axis II:||Deferred (+2)|
The patient is displaying psychotic symptoms in the form of disorganized speech, behavior, and possible delusions or hallucinations. While it may be possible to explain her behavior and speech from a cultural perspective, at the moment it is not possible to independently validate the daughter’s translation or accept her interpretations. Moreover, the patient may be psychotic and expressing her symptoms in a way that is culturally familiar to her. For now, without further evidence or information to make a specific diagnosis, the more nonspecific diagnosis of psychotic disorder not otherwise specified is appropriate.
Once the patient is stabilized, you should find an objective translator and conduct research on the zar. If you consider the patient’s alleged possession by a zar a cultural expression of illness, to label her symptoms as malingering would be the same as denouncing the zar as intentional. If the patient is using the zar intentionally, then malingering is appropriate. Otherwise, the zar can be considered a dissociative disorder, specifically a dissociative trance disorder, which is defined as single or episodic disturbances in the state of consciousness, identity, or memory that are indigenous to particular locations and cultures. According to DSM-IV-TR, dissociative trance involves narrowing of awareness of immediate surroundings or stereotyped behaviors or movements that are experienced as being beyond one’s control. Possession trance involves replacement of the customary sense of personal identity by a new identity, attributed to the influence of a spirit, power, deity, or other person and associated with stereotyped "involuntary" movements or amnesia.
Because you are a Western doctor in a Western hospital, it is appropriate to use psychotic disorder not otherwise specified as the primary diagnosis and dissociative trance disorder as the rule-out.
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|Decision Point||Your Score||Ideal Best Score|