World Backwards

Thursday, April 24, 2014

As a young medical student,

I sat across from my patient in the old neuro ward.

A retired high school English teacher,

I knew she was once quite sharp.


Post-stroke, with signs of early dementia,

It was obvious that her mental faculty was waning.

She now silently sat in front of me,

With a recently stabilized small bleed in her brain.


She stared at me and spoke:

“My world… my world is…

I looked into her eyes as if I understood.


“I don’t belong… to this world.

They know that… that the system.

It’s not the system… for me.”


She then chimed solemnly, “This is my… world.”


Still pools in her eyes, turned turbulent, cascading down.

A stroke of misfortune and now the breakthrough arrived rudely, brashly, unannounced.


Into her chaotic eyes, I was lost.

Did she even realize where she was?

With her white spindly hair and wrinkly stained hospital gown,

Was she revealing secrets from some otherworldly mind?


Again she chimed, “This is my… world."


I stammered, “Mrs. S, I understand what you’re going through.”

To myself I thought, “my words… so trite!”

I couldn’t even begin to understand

Her mind oblivious to space or time.


Again she chimed, “This is my… world.”


I stammered again, “We’re going to take care of you Mrs. S.

I know things must be difficult for you now.”


Trite, trite, trite.

Here I was, clawing at uncertainty.

Trying to peer into her fragile mind,

A strand of silk flailing aimlessly in this bustling, monolithic hospital,

Safe haven where delirium and delusion wed reality.


It seemed as though she ascended to an ethereal state.

To some, she was hopelessly crazy, useless.

But the block in her mind weighed heavily on me.


She repeated now, calmly, in a way, matter-of-fact:

“This world... is not my world.”

Nodding my head, my thoughts bled with uncertainty.

I stared into her motionless eyes, as if something in those deep blue pools would reveal,

A part of her secret madness to me.


Though I had studied her MRI images, black, white, and gray,

no secret to this show was revealed.

Why couldn’t I enter into that void in her eyes,

As she expressed herself so unashamed, unabashed, so proud?


“I want to understand what’s happening Mrs. S, but I can’t…”

With the glaze of fire fading fast in her eyes, she stopped.

“You try… your best.”


As if reading my thoughts, she knew I wanted…

To understand her mind.

To understand her thoughts.

To understand what made her tick.


I froze in that room that day thinking about her mind.

If only my efforts could bring me closer to understanding

This alien new world that she has inherited,

A world that we want to destroy.