by Garrett Rossi, MSIV
I knew we made a connection that was deeper and more profound than the typical student / patient relationship experienced in most third year clerkship rotations. We talked as if we were old friends catching up after years of not seeing each other.
For 40 minutes, he told me about the voices, one male and one female. He said they sounded like children's voices. I asked him what the voices were saying.
He looked at me with a flat emotionless expression and said, "They are telling me to walk into the ocean but I know I can't swim. Other times they tell me to jump out of my apartment window."
As he continued to tell his story, he looked like a man who had all but given up on the possibility of relief. He had abused alcohol and drugs for a good portion of his life and after beating those habits, he now had to deal with this new challenge. It's fortunate that he had the insight to seek help. He opened up to me and told me things he'd never told anyone before. He was reluctant at first to tell me his story, maybe because he was ashamed of it or maybe because it's not the kind of thing you tell people and expect them not to judge you.
He received money as a result of damage sustained to his home during hurricane Sandy. It was a fairly large sum of money that he could have used to get new housing. Instead he checked into a hotel and used the remainder of the money to solicit prostitutes. He confided in me that he physically abused some of these women. I think he expected me to be shocked or disgusted by his confession.
I said, "This must have been weighing heavily on your soul, and while I do not condone this type of aggressive behavior, you are here now and we can help teach you methods to cope with these impulses."
He looked at me and said, "I feel comfortable with you, and I believe you can truly understand what I'm going through but I don't understand why."
He asked me about therapy and if I believed it could be helpful to him. I explained that therapy can be used in conjunction with medications and that the outcomes are far better when the two are combined. I shook his hand and we parted ways. He relaxed in his room while I presented the case to one of my supervising physicians.
At the time I did not know that our paths would cross again a few weeks later.
On the last day of my rotation at an outpatient treatment facility that provides daily therapy, he walked in the door and said he wanted help. He participated in all the group sessions that day and did very well. He opened up, told his story, and instantly became comfortable with the other group members. It was also the same day as the annual holiday show that patients put together as part of their group sessions. He got up and sang songs with the other patients, and he truly looked happy.
When his group was finished he walked over to where I was sitting in the audience and asked, "Aren't you ever afraid?"
I told him, "I wake up afraid every day but the key is realizing that everyone else is just as scared as I am."
He thanked me and said, "You truly made me feel comfortable."
I wished him the best and we went our separate ways.
That moment was somewhat surreal for me. It might have been the holiday festivities or maybe it was the realization that I actually made a difference in someone's life but for the first time, I felt truly significant as a medical student.