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Frank, My Savior

The academy award winning film “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is what I imagine most people think of when they envision a psychiatric hospital. And, although it’s somewhat dated, it’s not too far off from reality. We still have locked doors, still have the occasional need for restraints when patients get violent. One thing we don’t do is lobotomies anymore, at least not in the physical sense. However, we psychiatrists have to be utmost careful that we don’t ‘lobotomize’ our patients’ spirit, their zest for life. A psychiatric hospital is a universe unto itself. Most psychiatrists don’t want to work in such a place, instead preferring the calm of an office or the prestige of academic research. Psychiatric hospitals are a sea of chaos and the potential for a violent outburst is always crouching at the door. For myself, this universe is a daily privilege to observe the journey of life, to try to help those who are suffering so that they can ultimately help themselves. But - this universe is not always so gentle. And therefore I have to always be aware to keep my wits about me and watch my back. And so it was on a seemingly innocuous Tuesday morning that I was making my rounds. Bill, a very tall and strong patient, was clearly manic. We talked. I told him that I would like him to try Lithium, the gold standard for mania. He said he didn’t want to - he didn’t yell about this, he didn’t threaten, he spoke softy. I told him that I would order it anyway and he could choose to take it or not. As I exited his room and started down the hallway, I heard a soft moan which soon became a loud roar. Bill suddenly came bounding down the hall, yelling and screaming, his arms flailing. I was caught by surprise and didn’t have time to defend myself or escape. Bill punched me, hard, in the face. I put my head down and blood was pouring out. As Bill was getting ready to punch me again, there was suddenly Divine Intervention. Another patient, Frank, who was even bigger and stronger, grabbed Bill from behind and restrained him. That gave time for the mental health assistants to get to the scene and put Bill in restraints. There I was, a bloody mess. in a state of shock. And so were all the patients who were now losing it emotionally. I gathered them all together and I must say the scene was pretty comical. There I was, holding a blood soaked towel by my nose, and telling them that there is nothing to worry about, that everything is definitely under control. As I continued to bleed, I repeated myself and assured them that all is ok. One thing to understand in the world of a psychiatric hospital is that the psychiatrist becomes somewhat of a ‘father figure’ to these patients, especially those who are psychotic, or with weak ego strengths, or with intellectual disabilities. And some of these patients have never had a father who was present in their lives. So they look to me as the father they never had - even if I may be bleeding at the moment. I didn’t ask for this; it just happens. What happened next was incredibly beautiful and touching. In the subsequent days, the patients continuously asked me how I felt, am I getting better, offering me words of care and encouragement. You must understand - these patients have so many of their own intense struggles and pains, and yet they were able to step out of themselves and give me strength. It renewed my belief in the human spirit, our ability to go beyond ourselves and care for others. As for Frank, my savior, I thanked him profusely for coming to my rescue. And, true to form, he responded: “Really, it was nothing. I’d do anything for you, Doc.”

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