etiology of the imperfect patient and/or
the last time i saw dr. theodorus
By Jessie Berry-Porter
With artwork by G.E. Young
[Prelude: From age sixteen through to twenty-one I spent the majority of my time inside a private psychiatric facility alternating between inpatient and outpatient status (dependent on weekly progress reports issued by my psychiatrist). For six years I attended group therapy session at the clinic, alongside forty-five minute therapy sessions with Dr. Theodorus each week. The following documents my last therapy session with Dr. Theodorus.]
December 18th 2012. 10:AM, Wednesday morning, Dr. Theo’s office.
One week before Christmas.
There is a tiny red and white Santa figurine on Dr. Theo’s desk. It balances on a tattered green book, titled The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook. For the better half of forty-five minutes Dr. Theo discusses the mundane tribulations of marital life and previous jet-setting adventures. Often, he combines these two topics of interest.
‘India was a failure. We visited last spring and she had to leave on day two. I would like to return, but it is a delicate issue,’ he says. ‘Too sensitive.’
Dr. Theo often proclaims people as ‘dangerously sensitive’, especially his wife. ‘I am experiencing a difficulty walking outside,’ I say.
‘Afraid of being seen?’
‘No. It is because of the ants.’ ‘Ants?’
‘I cannot stop thinking about the tiny homes I am destroying,’ I say.
Dr. Theo laughs. ‘Ant homes?’
‘I feel careless.’
‘And you feel guilty.’ He writes a note in his notepad, shakes his head. ‘How do you expect to function, to get better, if you are spending your energy considering the mortality of an ant?’
‘I don’t see anything wrong with this.’
Dr. Theo makes another note. ‘I know you are reluctant, but you ought to reconsider ECT as a possible treatment option.’
‘Because of the ants?’
‘Yes. This is becoming ridiculous.’
‘I like ants and don’t want to kill them.’
‘Your nervous system is too sensitive for you to function in life effectively.’
He rolls his chair across the carpet and touches both my knees. ‘Last week I identified the body of an anorexic patient I treated for six years. She had no family and I was her only emergency contact. Her stomach exploded from a binging episode and caused cardiac arrest. She died instantly.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I was able to handle this situation due to my ability to detach from it.’
‘Why would you choose to detach from this?’
‘In order to function we are, at times, required to detach.”
‘What is the point of “effective functioning” if you feel nothing?’
Dr. Theo laughs, spins inside his swivel chair. ‘The point is in the choosing. I have lost over a dozen patients in the last twenty years. The majority of deaths self-inflicted. I remain in this line of work because I know my duty is not to save anyone, but to keep each person alive for as long as possible.’
‘So that’s it. My mother is paying you to keep me alive?’ ‘Of course.’
Dr. Theo hands me a thick hard-covered book from his desk, titled The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy.
‘Memory loss is now at a minimal,’ he says. ‘And usually only affects you short term.’
Dr. Theo leans back in his swivel chair. ‘We have exhausted everything else,’ he says. He glances at his watch. ‘And time is almost up.’
The book is heavy and smells disinfected.
‘I thought it would possess an odour of burnt eyebrow,’ I say.
It is a joke.
Dr. Theo closes his eyes, yawns. His stomach strains his work shirt and a wrinkle of white skin bulges out from between the lower two buttons.
‘Susan informs me you were the first to finish your evening meal last night,’ he says. ‘Under fifteen minutes?’
‘Yes that’s right.’
I hid the peas and roasted potato inside my jean pockets, but do not say this. I remove a small package wrapped tight in brown paper from my handbag, under my chair.
‘I bought you a present.’
Dr. Theo leans forward and takes the package from my hands. He inspects it.
‘There is a card, too?’ he says.
‘Yes. A Christmas card.’
Dr. Theo’s one eyebrow furrows deep across his eyelids. ‘It is only a book,’ I say.
Dr. Theo drops the package on his desk near the Santa figurine, unopened.
‘It is unorthodox to accept a gift from a patient,’ he says.
‘It is The Stranger,’ I say.
Dr. Theo shakes his head.
‘Albert Camus?’ I say.
Dr. Theo makes a note inside his notepad. ‘What does the card say?’
‘Happy Easter I love you.’
He extends his legs in front of him. He is wearing red and green socks decorated with dancing elves and bunches of mistletoe.
‘Have you read The Stranger?’ I say.
‘I have not.’
‘How funny,’ I say.
‘Is it a comedic text?’ he says.
He makes a note inside his notepad.
‘What is the red marking across your throat?’
He leans forward in his chair.
I caress my neck with my hand.
‘I thought you stopped this behaviour,’ Dr. Theo says.
I feel the crinkle of broken skin curl under my fingertips.
‘Are you going to read the book,’ I say.
Dr. Theo turns to the computer on his desk, clicking open a document.
‘The last time you did this was three months ago.’ He faces me. ‘I am going to increase your Lovan dosage.’
He swivels his chair closer. ‘Unless you are willing to try 10mg Cymbalta in combination with your current Lovan dose?’
‘I don’t want the Cymbalta,’ I say. ‘And I was never taking the Lovan. Not really.’
‘What do you mean you were never on Lovan?’
Dr. Theo returns to the file open on his computer. ‘You were administered a daily 40mg Lovan five years ago. You have been taking Lovan since I first started treating you.’
‘No. It’s all pretend,’ I say.
‘Why are you smiling?’ he says.
‘It is funny, kinda.’
Dr. Theo makes a note inside his notepad. ‘What is funny?’
‘I dunno. Everything.’
‘You feel happy right now?’
‘Why are you laughing?’
‘I told you.’
‘Because everything is funny?’
‘Yes. Because it is sad.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t follow,’ he says.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘How funny.’
Jessie Berry-Porter (25) is in her second year studying creative writing at RMIT. She writes non-fiction, poetry, non-fiction poetry.
G.E. Young is a writer and designer from Melbourne.