Thursday, May 15, 2014

Flash Fiction: Must Contain This Sentence...

I'm not sure what it is about nights like tonight, but I can feel that this is going to be a bad one. It seems to be the only thing shrinks can expect from working at an asylum, or "mental health rehabilitation facility." The board makes us call it that as if folks don't actually know what it's really all about: making crazy people not crazy. That's what we like to think, anyway. Sadly, many of the "residents" of this place are lifers. Never again to see the light of day. I'd go crazy just looking at those padded walls, especially since I got called in at 2:00 am to talk to a patient in solitary confinement.

As I enter the building, I begin to ponder what might have happened. Did someone get hurt? How many were involved? Is extra intervention necessary to deal with this problem? Will this take all night? I would much rather be sleeping at home and deal with this during my office hours later, but there's always that intern who pulled a double shift and is looking for an excuse to bring me in for a consult, or the on-call resident that thinks every interaction with a patient holds significant information on how to treat them. In my experience, both of these people exist simply to annoy their colleagues and kiss the asses of the grant committee to get more funding for some long-shot research project that won't deliver any promising medical results. Nonetheless, when the horn sounds, I come running. I am a doctor, after all.

Walking down the hall in solitary confinement is like some of the patients; some of the windows are lit but nobody's home. I know that sounds jaded, but in some cases it holds true to the state at which some of the patients are in. Some are incurable, which makes them dangerous. The best we can do is give them their own space and one-on-one therapy so they don't hurt anyone. Used to break my heart to do this to them, but now it's common practice. I look through one window to see a patient writing on the wall of his room, where all I can make out is "the criminal disappears after the inventor." Seems pretty vague and screwy to me. Maybe a retelling of some demented dream brought on by psychotic delusions, or even the start of an event that put him in here. It's all the same at 2:00 am, but I need to focus on the reason I'm here, and not get distracted by every patient that writes stuff on the walls. Get in, deal with the problem, get out.

As I reach the end of the hall, I hear an intern talking to one of the security patrol personnel, also known as "the guards." When the intern saw me, he broke away quickly to walk with me and talk. He tells me that one of the patients started making enough noise to cause some other restless patients to wake up from deep sleep. Crazy people don't like having their sleep disturbed either. What are the odds?

We walk to the room where the offending patient is located, who is making no noise at this point. If it weren't for multiple eye witnesses, I think I would go right home. Sadly, that is not correct etiquette, which is dictated by hospital protocol written by the people who sign our paychecks and nothing more. As I look in at the patient, I notice nothing immediately out of the ordinary. The lights were on, but the patient seemed to be asleep. I prescribe a mild sedative in case he wakes up again and begin to walk away. I can't believe I got called in for something so trivial. Such is the cross us attending physicians must bear, I suppose. I walk back and my eye is drawn to the patient from earlier, writing on the wall. The same sentence over and over like a mantra. I've seen something like this many times over and want to intervene and get to the bottom of it, but I just don't have the energy. I am sorry for what happened to you, but I cannot help you right now, pal.

Pulling into my driveway, I start to think back to the patient's room. It was surprisingly clean compared to others. Cleaner than any of those rooms should be. Considering the company that is kept in that wing, details like that tend to stand out. It may just be nothing, but I call the intern again and order him to check in on the offending patient and call me back. The call doesn't come.

Driving up to the office, I see lots of yellow police tape and cruisers in the parking lot. My stomach drops, wondering if this had anything to do with the intern not calling me back last night. Making my way through the mess of cops and asylum personnel, I eventually reach the scene that is causing the commotion. Fearing the worst, I peer through the doorway of the room I checked in on last night. It was no longer clean.

The white floors now run crimson with the blood of the intern, whose throat, wrists and ankles are slashed. I can't do anything else but look away out of shame. I make my way outside and fall to my knees, trying to come to grips with sending a young doctor to their death. For some reason, my mind goes back to the patient writing on the wall, and my attitude toward him. I think to myself that if I had taken more time to help people like him when I see the problem, something like this can be avoided. I thought I've stopped blaming myself for those things a long time ago, but I guess I haven't yet.

My head in my hands feels heavy from regret. I can't take it anymore. I hate crazy people.

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