'I thought I could fly out the window': Medication brings autoworker back from the brink

Schizophrenia Update, December 2002

Windsor Star
October 10, 2002 Thursday Final Edition

By: Veronique Mandal Star Health-Science Reporter

At the University of Windsor in the fall of 1970, Rick McKenzie had, by all accounts, a beautiful mind.

A hockey player who had studied in the United States, McKenzie, then 25, was working toward his degree from the faculty of physical education.

But that fall, Mckenzie began losing touch with reality. By Christmas he was hallucinating and hearing voices. "I couldn't write my exams, I was reading what I thought were hidden messages into the way people moved and would have conversations with people on TV that made sense to me," said McKenzie.

"I thought I was invincible and would run into moving cars. On the second floor of a hospital one time I thought I could fly out the window. I sat and tormented myself with the notion but fortunately didn't."

McKenzie spent several years in and out of hospital, getting in trouble with the law and experimenting with different medications. Unable to complete his studies, McKenzie took a job at a Chrysler plant -- far from the career he'd planned but an opportunity nontheless to get his life together.

He married a psychiatric nurse and had a daughter. Life was good. So good he went off his medication. He deteriorated. Got fired. And lost his wife.

Realizing his mistakes, McKenzie went back on medication. He was given his job back, established a civilized relationship with his wife and became an important part of his teenage daughter's life.

"I've been on the new medication rispiradone for 10 years and I'm really doing well," said the warm and friendly 56-year-old. "It makes me drool but I saw Michael J. Fox, the actor with Parkinson's Disease, chewing gum to control a problem with his mouth. It works for me, too."

McKenzie said he is fortunate not to be homeless, able to take care of himself and be a productive member of society.

McKenzie and others like him are examples of how the most successful battles against schizophrenia have relied on sheer force of will and a determination to fight back.

Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, but with support and love the very success story portrayed in the motion picture A Beautiful Mind -- in which John Forbes Nash Jr. overcame his affliction to capture the Nobel prize -- can be repeated.



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