I straightened the papers in front of me for the third time. A few deep, meditative breaths might calm my nerves. It was the first day I’d be seeing patients at Maple Hurst Mental Health, an inpatient facility.
The clock in my office a bulky, throwback from the seventies, ticked loudly in the too warm room. I shivered despite the heat, my hands clammy.
“Dr. Edelson?” An older woman, Nancy, poked her head through my door. I jumped, nearly spilling my coffee. She frowned. The staff, it seemed, felt I was too young to be taken seriously as a psychiatrist.
“Your first patient is ready to see you.”
A man in his late fifties slumped through the door. I stood, putting out my hand which he ignored.
“Gene? I’m Dr. Edelson. You can call me Amanda.”
Gene said nothing, only sank lower into his hunched body.
“Have a seat,” I motioned toward the couches. I’d grouped several together living room-style, hoping a comfortable setting would allow patients to let their guard down. So far it seemed to be having no effect on Gene, who perched on the edge of a couch, his feet splayed like a bird’s.
I cleared my throat.
“Gene, I’d like to talk about your treatment program.”
“I, ah, hoped we could discuss what’s been working for you, how you feel about future treatment options. With, ummm, me. Myself.” I stumbled, my words a tangle of yarn.
Gene looked at me, finally.
“You’re new.” I wasn’t sure if he meant to Maple Hurst or practicing psychiatry in general. He was correct, either way.
“Yes,” I responded.
“Let me tell you a little something about me, Doc,” Gene said. “I’m a war vet. I seen things that made grown men cry.”
Silence, except for the loud “tick, tick” of the clock.
“But you know what? None of that’s what brought me here. I’m in this crazy house because I seen my kid brother die. Oh, I know what’s in that file. They say I’ve got PTSD, that the stress of combat brought out my ‘traumatized inner child,’” Gene spat the words, rose from the couch.
“It ain’t true. What I saw overseas was awful. But it ain’t what keeps me up nights. It’s seeing my kid brother, choking. I couldn’t . . . didn’t know what to do. We weren’t supposed to . . .” his voice trailed off. Tears filled his eyes.
“We stole ‘em.” His voice was louder now, full of anger. “It was my fault, my idea. He died because of me!” Gene was standing now, his voice full of rage, growing louder as he lumbered into my space.
Was he dangerous? I mentally ran through his file. Any aggression? I couldn’t think. He was getting closer. I backed up, bumping into my desk. Think! Think! Somewhere in my training we’d gone over what to do in these situations. Rational thoughts had flown from my mind. My hand bumped a bowl of M&M’s on my desk. My mind continued flailing about, trying to think of some professional thing to do.
Instead, I blurted out, “Candy?” thrusting the bowl into his hands. Gene, startled, looked at it as though it were about to detonate, then dropped it.
“No blue!” He yelled, backing away from the broken dish, covering his face with his hands.
“No, no. No blue.”
Two orderlies rushed into the room.
“What . . .” the question never matured on my lips. The orderlies ushered Gene out.
I sank to the floor, staring at the scattered candies.
“Dr. Edelson, you okay?” Nancy helped me up.
“I’m fine.” I responded. “Nancy, what do you know about Gene?”
“Gene?” She paused, looked at the broken bowl of candy.
“Ah.” She said, picking up a blue M&M. “His brother choked on one of these. Stole some when they were boys, childhood prank. Brother only liked the blue ones.” Nancy tossed the M&M in the trash.
“Guess Gene blamed himself. It was his idea to steal the candy.” She paused.
“Well, you need anything let me know, okay?”
Nancy closed the door behind her. Gene stood with two orderlies, all grinning.
“You’re bad,” Nancy said, waving a finger. “You almost gave her a heart attack.”
“Think of it this way,” Gene said. “She’s gotten the worst day of her practice out of the way. Every day after this will be a piece of cake.”
“Wait till she sees you in staff meeting this afternoon,” said Nancy.
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