He lay on the bed in his stained hospital gown, his testicles on view to the shared room. His eyes had a vacant stare, like an impenetrable barrier to the personality behind them. He sat up on request of the reviewing psychiatrist, who considerately covered his lap with the corner of the blanket. He looked like the kind of man who tended to a vege patch in a home he possibly had lived in since he immigrated from Greece in the fifties. His dark eyes framed by feminine long lashes contrasted with his overweight, middle-aged body.
Following the initial pleasantries exchanged between him and the Psychiatrist the conversation turned to the reason for his admission. I watched with curiousity at my boss, wondering if his questions were flowing in any conscious direction.
“How are you going Mr Kodopolous?” The psychiatrist spoke in a soft concerned voice, an etched furrow in his brow from years of intense listening. There was a prolonged silence. “Not very good, I have pain in my stomach, it hurts, it’s hard to move.” He had a slight speech impediment that gave his words an effortful, child like quality.
“What happened to you?” The psychiatrist continued to move to the core of the problem.
“I’m going blind. I can’t walk my dog anymore. I can’t read the paper. It’s the diabetes,” he answered turning his head abruptly to the left as if someone had called out his name from the corner of the room.
“That sounds very difficult for you,” the psychiatrist continued despite the patients sudden distracted attention.
“Yes it is,” he replied, his attention once again directed to the questioner. “I couldn’t handle it anymore, so that’s why I stabbed myself,” he looked up with his hands resting on his stomach.
The machine next to him started to beep in an intrusive and distracting tone.
I stood as a silent observer trying to integrate the image of this lonely, bald man with the violent act he had performed. The empathy I felt towards him, suffering from the unpredictable losses of life, was suddenly sucked into a black hole leaving me feeling alienated and confused. I felt unable to conceive of how someone who appeared so familiar and recognisably human could behave so aggressively towards himself.
“Were you thinking about ending your life for a long time?” The psychiatrist continued trying to assess the impulsivity and risk this man now posed on the ward.
“To be honest I have been feeling like this for a long time. If someone could give me a gun I would kill myself.” His face was energised by the possibility of death.
“Is there anything that you used to get pleasure from that you can recall?” another member of the group questioned from the sidelines.
“I’m going blind, it’s too late.” He responded with desperation that pervaded the room.
“Apart from your diabetes you take some other medications for mental illness. Can you tell me about that?” The psychiatrist took control of the interview again.
“I have injections every month. That’s for my schizophrenia.” He volunteered quite openly.
“What effect does the schizophrenia have on you?”
“Well I don’t know exactly but people have been coming into my house and taking things. They sometimes come in and move things around and I can’t find them. Like the TV remote. I put it down next to me and then someone comes and moves it.” He explained in a somewhat perplexed manner.
“But you live alone don’t you Mr Kodopolous?” the psychiatrist challenged.
“Yes, but I don’t know sometimes people come in.” He held his position despite the blurriness of his story.
He lay back on the bed, his gown twisting awkwardly around his waist once again exposing his testicles. An unspoken request for us to conclude the interview.
“We think we can help you Mr Kodopolous. We will come back tomorrow and see you again.”
We left him in his world of disturbing internal dialogues and blurring external realities. His schizophrenia medication was increased. I reflected on the state of the under-resourced public mental health system, too blind to see a man’s suffering, until the day he so violently spotlights his distress amidst his lonely, dark world.