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A Day in a Doc's Life


Fahima Yousouf

The sounds of chirping crickets and the night birds filled the air. My lips were slightly moist by the light mist. I pulled my coat tighter as a cool breeze floated by. Standing on the open terrace of the Greenfield Psychiatric Hospital, my eyes swept over the green expanse of the Cleveland National Forest on the outskirts of which the building stood. The waters of Lake Henshaw glistened in the moonlight and the rolling slopes of the Palomar Mountains looked grand and majestic. The institution was situated in a low valley, 35 miles off San Diego in South California. A bird’s eye view of the place gave one the feeling of a house in a fairy tale in an enchanted forest, near the hills with a sparkling blue spring nearby. The location was crucial for the proper running of the hospital since mentally disabled patients need a peaceful atmosphere for their treatment. Many a time has this environment helped a doctor to bring back a patient from madness, despair and tragedy to a world of hope, victory, contentment and love. I consider psychiatry to be a most noble profession who helps to restore one’s mental heath, a condition of mental well-being, balance, and resilience in which the individual can successfully work and function and in which he can both withstand and learn to cope with the conflicts and stresses encountered in life. And that is why I took up this profession.

I’m Dr. Frederick Powell, M.D., PhD in Clinical Psychology, working here for the past 10 years. In this career I have developed a friendly work environment, met lots of interesting people and have cured thousands of patients with illnesses ranging from schizophrenia, affective psychoses, and neurotic illness upto amnesia. But I had to go through failures too that resulted in patients spending the rest of their lives here waiting to be cured by a miracle, or have to be moved to other hospitals for better treatment. At those times I used to wonder why God had withdrawn my chance of restoring a person to his sane self. I then used to console myself that I should not let my failures overshadow my successes.

Anyways, on the whole, it has been a delightful experience. My wife was quite proud of me. She was always ready to listen to the painful stories of my patients and pray with me for their cure. She visited whenever she got time and took it her moral duty to get acquainted with their relatives and raise their hopes and spirits. She was such a lovely woman, with a tender heart and lots of love. And I loved her too, deeply. That was why her death took me by a vicious grip and knocked the wind out of me.

Following the flight crash that put a horrible end to her life, I was in complete distress. In spite of my relatives, friends and colleagues’ support and solace, I could not act normally. Her sweet memories were etched strongly in my mind that I couldn’t accept she was no more. I couldn’t concentrate in my work and in the end, my chief, Dr Martin Howard advised me to take a couple of months’ rest. As a good family friend too, he knew the extent of my affection towards my wife and how it had increased doublefold after the death of our 17 day old baby. I accepted his advice and plunged myself in prayers and devotion. I was thus able to return to work 45 days after Diane’s death. As I involved myself with my cases and devised methods of treatment, I pictured her holding my shoulder and inquiring about how my patients were doing. Soon I got over her physical loss as her spiritual presence took hold of me. I told her all my problems, difficulties and decisions just as I used to when she was alive. Whenever I consulted her, my problems miraculously faded away. In 3 months’ time, I got over my grief completely and worked with the same vigour and energy as I had always, which brought smiles of satisfaction to everyone…….including Dr Howard.

As I stood at the terrace surveying the opposite block, I noticed a light on in one of the 4th floor offices. Looking carefully, I guessed it must be one of the management offices, possibly Dr Howard’s. It was pretty late, but I thought I could submit Mrs. Donaldson’s report if he was in. I turned back and walked briskly in the direction of his office.

“Come in,” I heard the surprised tone in his voice as I pushed open the door and saw him staring wide-eyed at me.

“Fred, is there a problem?” he asked with a slight tint of concern.

“No Doc,” I said with an embarrassed smile as I seated myself in front of him. “I was thinking of retiring for the night after my final rounds when I noticed your light on. I thought that if you were very busy, I could give you the latest report on Mrs. Donaldson.” I handed him the file across the desk. He took it and scanned the pages gravely.

“Well,” he said, “you continue with phase one of your therapy. Don’t increase her level of chlorpromazine. Her frequency of delusions and hallucinations has come down quite well. I’ll tell psychoanalyst Dr Brent Mitchell to check up on her also. There are a good number of chances for her recovery quite soon.”

My lips curved up to a pleased smile. Dr Howard had lot of faith in my work talent. “That’ll be very good, Doctor. I’m glad that you gave me this case. I can relate to her pain on a personal level , you know. I have a feeling I’m the right person to tackle her husband’s loss.”

Dr. Howard nodded and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “It’s quite late, you better turn in for the night, Fred.”

“Yes, Doc, I’m on my way” I said getting up. “I have a session with the Egyptian patient early in the morning. He is still hysteric and we have put him to sleep on barbiturates. Shall I put him on haloperidol also?”

“No, Frederick. I have assigned Dr Gracy Austin to attend to him now. You concentrate on Mrs. Donaldson. I’ll let you know if I find some patient suitable for you.” He smiled faintly. I said goodnight and walked to Room 32. I crossed few beds over to the stout lady on the right. Mrs. Donaldson was asleep. I sat on the empty bed beside her, studying her calm and serene face. She had definitely improved during her stay, judging from the decrease in her howls and screams during many tense nights. “You’ll be alright very soon, Mrs. Donaldson,” I whispered, “I’ll make sure you do.” Suddenly I realized I was very tired. I lay down and soon fell asleep.

Dr Howard was restlessly pacing as the clock struck one. He heaved a sigh. He had been working late the past few weeks and dark circles showed under his eyes. His thoughts were occupied by Frederick, the way he had come to submit the report, the interest he showed in his work. His heart felt heavy when he remembered the ‘confident’ look on Frederick’s face. He made a silent prayer and walked over to the records shelf. He leafed through alphabet ’P’ and selected one. He opened the file and read,

‘Powell, Frederick, age 38. Worked as psychiatrist in G.P.H.

Diagnosed with psychoneurosis after wife’s death. Acute delirium and hysteria from time to time. Treated with lithium carbonate. Might have to undergo ECT( Electro convulsive treatment) if medication fails.

Attempted suicide twice. Made murderous attack on uniformed pilot officer in the premises.’

He turned to the last page and filled his daily report. “Showing emotional and professional behaviour. Still thinks he is doctor. Under very close supervision.”

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