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Vanprooyen v. Berryhill

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 21, 2017

Melissa Vanprooyen, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued Date: July 6, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 6755 - Young B. Kim, Magistrate Judge.

          Before Posner, Kanne, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          POSNER, Circuit Judge.

         Melissa Vanprooyen applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, claiming disability based on a litany of maladies. An administrative law judge found her impairments to be severe but not disabling and denied benefits. The Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied review, and the district court (a magistrate judge presiding by consent) upheld the administrative law judge's decision, precipitating this appeal.

         Vanprooyen initially claimed to have become disabled in March 2010, when she was 26 years old and fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a brain hemorrhage. She also alleged a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, short-term memory loss, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, seizures, and fibromyalgia.

         Already by March 2009 Vanprooyen's personal physician, Dr. Dorothy Jones, had prescribed generic Xanax to treat her anxiety and panic attacks. In July, after she had begun inpatient drug treatment, Dr. Jones noted that she was taking a different anti-anxiety medication and pronounced her "medically stable." In October and December a psychiatrist named Harlan Alexander treated Vanprooyen for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. During one session Vanprooyen revealed a history of addiction and said her Xanax prescription kept running out because she must "double it to make it work."

         Her fall on the stairs caused a traumatic brain hemorrhage and brain contusion in the left hemisphere, which required her hospitalization. An EEG (electroencephalogram) performed to rule out epileptic activity showed mild brain damage. After a week she was discharged from the hospital with a doctor's note saying that she could resume working after her next neurosurgical appointment, which would be in a week or two. She was prescribed medication, including Ul-tram, for general pain, migraine headaches, and seizures.

          A week later Vanprooyen saw Dr. Alexander. She told him she'd experienced strong headaches since the fall and had run out of the pain medication given her by the hospital doctors. The psychiatrist prescribed her Ability, Zoloft, Trazadone, and Xanax.

         A month after her fall, Vanprooyen had a neurosurgery follow-up by a Dr. Nassir Mansour, who declared she'd "made a very good recovery." She was alert, her cranial nerves intact, had full strength, and was "very keen to go back to her job" as a waitress. But just a week later she suffered a tonic-clonic (i.e., grand mal) seizure. She had another seizure in the emergency room and was taken to intensive care suffering from a subdural hematoma (bleeding under the skull that can cause serious brain damage, including death). Dr. Jones treated her at the hospital and noted that her seizure medication had been discontinued. A neurologist obtained a CT scan (a scan for determining internal injuries) and noted that it showed softened brain tissue. He opined that Vanprooyen "may be relatively stable" but said she should take anti-epileptic medication for at least two years. He ruled out driving for six months, climbing to any height, using machinery, drinking alcohol, showering without assistance, or working more than eight hours a day. Though complying with the limitations imposed by him, Vanprooyen continued to have headaches, and a couple of weeks later the doctor changed her anti-seizure medication-which however she stopped taking almost immediately because it made her drowsy.

         In December 2010 she suffered another serious seizure, and the neurologist reduced her work ceiling to six hours a day while also stressing the importance of her taking her medication. A few weeks later he reviewed a new EEG, which revealed abnormalities in Vanprooyen's brain capable of causing seizures.

         In January 2011, Vanprooyen described to Dr. Alexander, the psychiatrist, worsening anxiety, migraines, and difficulty sleeping. At her next appointment she reported that her mother had thrown out her Xanax. The Xanax had helped, so Dr. Alexander refilled the prescription.

         Vanprooyen delivered a baby in October 2011. She hadn't suffered a seizure since December 2010 even though another physician had changed her anti-seizure medication because of negative side effects, noting that Vanprooyen's medical issues included the use of methadone to combat drug addiction.

         Eight days after her child was born, Vanprooyen went to the emergency room after experiencing several days of pain (which she scored at 7 of 10) radiating from her lower back to her legs. An emergency room doctor attributed the pain to fibromyalgia. After leaving the hospital she returned to Dr. Alexander and told him she'd been anxious throughout her pregnancy and wanted to resume taking Xanax (which apparently she'd stopped taking while pregnant). Although the doctor refilled the prescription, Vanprooyen's anxiety didn't abate, and soon she began reporting ...


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