Annie prances through the door, her cowboy boots clomping and paisley skirt flouncing. She sits in the grey plastic chair facing me, transforming it into a throne. Her outfit’s swirls of gold and red bring cheer to this little white room, this big grey building.
I like Annie. I like that she puts mascara on in her car, at stop lights.
I like her bold clothes and personality. I like her openness about her three year hiatus from med school and taking “drugs for my mood” which helped her get back to school, and decide to become a psychiatrist. I like that she is married to a TV star. I wonder if she ever worked as a fashion model.
“Is Dr. Mettha here yet?”, asks Annie.
“No,” I reply.
She shakes a boot , leg over knee. “He’s probably getting Elizabeth.”
“Must be,” I echo. From my seat of black plastic and chrome, I turn to the lone window, seeking a glimpse of sun and ocean.
“It’ll be good for you to meet her. You can come to court with us, if it’s okay with her.”
I turn my head back to attention. “Sure. Sounds interesting.”
“She’s definitely interesting. Been here since –“
The door opens again, inviting in a woman with thick wavy brown hair cascading over her beige cable-knit cotton sweater atop a khaki skirt. Her feet don Birkenstocks. She must be in her late thirties . . . early forties? The wire glasses may be deceiving. She has pretty, soft facial features and full, coarse hair, like mine, but longer, half-way down her back. Behind her is Dr. Mettha, dapper in his charcoal suit and blue tie.
They stand in front of their chairs and sit in unison. Elizabeth sits below the window. Dr. Mettha sits between Annie and I. We face Elizabeth. Together, we form a lop-sided circle.
“How did it go yesterday?” inquires Annie.
Elizabeth describes her ferry ride across the harbour, exploration of used book stores and lingering in cafes. And yes, she stayed way from the university.
Dr. Metta is approving, “I’m glad you enjoyed your pass.”
“The change of scenery felt so good after six months of being stuck here,” adds Elizabeth.”The same food. The same people. The same walls. Wandering around the same grass, each day. Can’t even get a decent cup of tea . . . just Styrofoam cups. . . ”
“Were you tempted to go see Vladmir?” asks Annie.
“I almost went to his office. To confront him. Straighten things out. It had been so passionate,” her voice trails. She elaborates, describing a progression of innuendos, notes, phone calls and gifts. “All those nights sipping wine, reading Russian poetry by the fire. He seduced me and now he’s blaming it on me. Really manipulative.”
Another slimy professor guy, wielding his power, I assume.
“But I stayed away,” she reassures us, as Annie and Dr. Metta nod their heads.
“It’s important. Your court date is next week,” notes Annie. “We’ll be there, but you need to show you’re dependable. For your kids. Need to show you can take care of them. Your husband is making a case for full custody.”
Another bitter spouse using the children as pawns, I figure.
Elizabeth shakes her head and looks at the floor, “How did I get here?”
Later, on the ward, we sit in the staff room, open binders on our laps, adding to the various caregivers’ handwriting filling the lined pages. I enjoy this sunny room of (relatively cheerful) dilapidated turquoise vinyl sofas.
I peek out at the harbour from its windows, as I write about my time with Mrs. Kobash in the binder open in my lap. I have finally realized, during this fourth session, that the subject matter would likely never stray from her desire to leave, cook in her home and reunite with her allegedly mean husband. A lesson in Huntington’s disease and dementia. I have grown to like her disheveled grey hair, and our predictable conversations, though I’m distracted by the pieces of food stuck to her blouse. She rambles on until dismissed to the smoke room, a cave of human chimneys. For the smokers, it is a retreat, a place to relish a jolt of nicotine inspired pleasure and hide from the ever-present eyes of hospital staff.
Annie glances at my note, “Good, lots of quotes. . . .” She passes me her binder. It is opened to a pile of photocopied handwriting on unlined paper, “Elizabeth wrote these.” I scan the scrolling before me, ” Vladmir, my love . . . ”
I am intrigued, but uneasy. Should I be reading reading this?
Does Elizabeth know that I, Annie, Dr. Methta — anyone looking at her chart — can read her letters? I flip the pages.
Delighted to be invited, I go along with Dr. Mettha, Annie and Elizabeth to court. Family court. She is defending her right to custody of her 5 year old daughter and 9 year old son.
Dr. Mettha is called to the stand. He affirms, in his testimony, Elizabeth had been “compliant” and “cooperative” and thus had become “stabilized” and “insightful” during her six month hospital sejourn. With the right “milieu” and medications, she has transformed. The diagnosis? “Delusional Disorder”, replies Dr. Mettha, “Erotomanic Type”. He pauses, “Rule Out Bipolar Disorder”.
The lawyer presents the court with a list. A list of events. A list of times when Elizabeth “took off” in a car, “screamed at” her husband, spent $3000 on clothes in one afternoon, “threatened to jump in the harbor”, “made 82 telephone calls” to her Russian professor, bought an airplane ticket to Russia. This is news to me.
Elizabeth sits on the stand to answer the lawyer’s questions.
Spine straight, shoulders back, eyes alert, graced by tawny tresses. Her round spectacles, crisp white blouse and flowing blue skirt say earthy hippie lady. Her words say sophisticated novice intellectual. No sign of the wild woman described earlier. We are proud of her. She returns to our side
The judge ends the session for lunch, and asks the attendees to reconvene at 1pm. We do as we are told, and return to our seats awaiting The Decision. The judge enters the room and sits behind his desk. He announces that in light of Ms. Mc Gregor’s current stable condition and positive prognosis, she is to have joint custody of her children once she is well enough to leave hospital and take appropriate care of them. The timing is to be determined by the collaborative discretion of health care and legal personnel.
I squeak with a restrained cheer.
We exit the building, surrounding Elizabeth with smiles, congratulations and praise for her poise. The jolly gaggle pile into Dr. Mettha’s van and head home, to the hospital. Triumphant.
The path is clear now. Just a matter of a series of day passes. Then weekend passes until discharge. A couple more weeks or so. The last leg of a half year journey. We are cheerleaders eyeing the finish line.
We meet again in The White Room, a week later. Annie presides, sparking the morning check-in. “How is it going?”
“Good,” replies Jennifer. “Looking forward to seeing my kids.” She plans to have lunch tomorrow with her children, on her weekend pass. Then discharge, next week.
I meet Annie in the staff room on Monday. She hands me a two inch thick binder, the chronicle of Elizabeth’s stay. “Dr. Mettha got a call from the police. Elizabeth was arrested. She was throwing rocks at Vladmir’s window.” She sighs. “He’s pressing charges.”
White Room again. Annie, Elizabeth, Dr. Mettha and I, again. “Did you see your children?” “No, I went straight to his house.” And thus, her sentence to this seaside prison is extended and her children are lost.
That night, I search in my cupboard and retrieve a white porcelain teacup. Its pink roses and gold rim had attracted my eye at a garage sale last year. I place it in a brown paper bag, along with a small glass teapot (another rummage retrieval) and half dozen tea bags.
The next day, I hand the bag to a nurse. “Do you think it’s alright to give this to Elizabeth? “
“I think it’s very nice.” Her colleagues nod. “Should I tell her who it’s from?”
On the last day of my six week stint at the MT Hospital, I sit with Dr. Mettha, in his office. He shows me his paintings and latest books, among the clutter of his files. “You can’t give patients gifts.”
“The nurses said it was okay. She didn’t know it was from me,” I envision Elizabeth clanking about the rolling lawn of NB Hospital grounds, gazing across the harbour. I hope she finds an oasis in her cup of tea.
“Have to be careful,” replies Dr. Metha. “You can’t get too involved.”
Copyright Dr Mia Korn MD 2015
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