The ground is covered with stones. Our host is squatted, touching each stone passively then rearranging it according to color. He’s engaged mindfully. It’s an impressive coping skill. Even a psychiatrist has to admit that.
Nearby, a group of very hungry onlookers stand about trying to look relaxed and patient, trying not to stare at our host and his stones, trying to understand what has happened. He’d invited us to his house for barbeque, right? That was three house ago, right?
Or maybe it’s just me: I’m the hungry onlooker. Hunger and associated toils have pushed aside all reason. I lose touch with social graces when I’m hungry.
I’m about to ask our host about dinner when a voice interrupts me: “You asked about my work at the hospital?” Someone is speaking, and by the tone of her question, it seems I’ve been on the exchange for some time now. I don’t remember the subject, but I act like I do: I nod. “I do house-cleaning,” she says. “I work in the emergency room, been doing it for 4 years now. Used to clean restaurants, mainly floors, but now I’m at a better place.”
I don’t know what to say. “Uh…do you like it there?”
“The hospital is wonderful. Everything is wonderful, really, except for the sixth floor. That’s where they keep the crazies. You know, the crazies: the ones with no hope.”
Bang, now I’m listening. I’m a psychiatrist, I work on the sixth floor, and I like crazies. And it dawns on me she doesn’t know I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist. This is how I get the REAL information. “What don’t you like about the crazies?” It’s a cautious question.
She sips at her drink and leans forward. “They scare me. Sometimes they’re aggressive, and three doctors will show up and hold the crazy down, and one of the doctors has to give him an injection. They actually give injections!” She chuckles. There is some private joke here. I don’t get it, but I laugh with her. “But you know who are worse than the crazies? The doctors. They’re all so rude. They don’t have time to listen to anyone. They walk off without letting you finish what you’re saying. They always complain about being too busy. And they like giving injections. Now that’s crazy.”
So I do the only thing any decent psychiatrist would do: I listen. She tells me about her husband and children, about the long journey it took to get from Mexico to North Carolina, and about her boss who secretly has a crush on her. By the time the barbeque arrives, my new friend has told me her life story. With dessert comes all her secrets: the unusual triadic integration, recurrent ego-dystonic dreams, myriad of underdeveloped coping skills, and several problem cognitions that cause weight gain. I listen. I just listen.
She never did learn I was a doctor.