I love psychiatrists. Besides the fact that several of my family members have availed themselves of psychiatric services, I have always admired the intellect and insight required to truly “see” into another person’s mind, combined with the patience to listen, even when one is bored or otherwise preoccupied—these are skills I do not have. When I was in medical school however, I thought I might become a psychiatrist. That is, I did until I actually did my psychiatry rotation. I was assigned to the locked ward at the VA hospital. This was back in the days when truly psychotic individuals were locked up, and were not found pushing shopping carts full of their belongings around Central Park and other large city venues while searching dumpsters for food.
I took my assignment very seriously. I knew that schizophrenia was characterized by visual and auditory hallucinations—the patients were seeing things and hearing things that actually weren’t there. I studied the books, and I practiced a calm, empathetic demeanor. I was ready to bridge the gap between fantasy, hallucination and reality. I knew that with focus and understanding I could bring my patients back into the world of the here and now. I was going to be a SHRINK!
My first patient was a youth who had served in Viet Nam. He had come back a changed man, and not in a good way. He had lost touch with reality and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He had been on the ward for several weeks, and was still having hallucinations despite large doses of thorazine and Haldol. He had been known to refuse to speak to medical students and residents, and there was even talk of violent behavior. So I was very gratified that he agreed to grant me an interview, otherwise known as a “therapy session.”
In my best psychiatrist voice, I asked the young man what the problem seemed to be, and why he was there as an inpatient at the VA Hospital. He said to me, “I see things.” I resolved to delve deeper. Casually, I said, “And how do you ‘see’ things?” He replied, just as casually, “I have X-Ray vision.” Now THIS was getting interesting. I was treading a fine line here, wanting him to feel comfortable talking to me, yet not wanting to endorse or otherwise encourage his visual hallucinations. But still…I was fascinated. So taking a deep breath, I asked, “What do you SEE?”
He took an equally deep breath. He took a step back. He looked me up and down, not once, but several times. And then, in a loud voice, he announced: “I SEE TITTIES!!”
Okay, you can call me gullible now.