On a Mental Patient

Dr. Paul had never found such a difficult case in all his years as a mental health professional. The patient was a single man in his late 30s. He was temperamental. He suffered from manic episodes. He had been violent with friends. He had even cut himself. Add to this terrible list of issues the fact that the patient abused alcohol to an extreme degree.

Yet, Dr. Paul felt that the man was not beyond his ability to help. He felt that he could aid the man in making a better life for himself. So, Dr. Paul agreed with the man’s family to take on the case, but he warned them that the patient would have to cooperate in order for any treatment to be successful.

Well, that was part of the conundrum, wasn’t it? If the family could get the patient to cooperate, they wouldn’t necessarily need the expertise of such a mental health professional as Dr. Paul, would they? But, based on Dr. Paul’s success with similar patients, the family also agreed with the course of treatment outlined by the good doctor and entrusted the man to Dr. Paul’s care.

The outlook wasn’t great. The patient had been in and out of various institutions for some months. Numerous other doctors had tried in vain to help him, so almost no one gave Dr. Paul any chance at improving the man’s lot. The patient himself certainly was not impressed by this latest physician. In a letter to his brother he wrote, “I think that we must not count on Dr. Paul at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that’s that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don’t they both fall into the ditch?” Such an opinion of his own doctor by the patient did not inspire confidence that the relationship would produce the desired results.

Indeed. The man reported that he continue to suffer from, “sadness and extreme loneliness.” However, somehow, through his depression, the patient began to bond with his new doctor.  Soon, he wrote to his sister, “I have found a true friend in Dr. Paul, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.” The two months the two men spent in each other’s company spurred the patient to be more creative than he’d been in years.

Sadly, despite what appeared to have been a breakthrough in his treatment, the man shot himself in the chest and died from his wounds a little more than a day later. His last words were, “the sadness will last forever.“ Dr. Paul was crushed. He was among only about 20 mourners who attended the funeral. All the good doctor had to remember this sad, tormented patient by was a painting the man made of the doctor.

You may have seen it: Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent Van Gogh.

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