Monday, July 17, 2006

The Cat of the Curse-people

More on mad cat owners later. And the following contains blood, madness and hints of sex.

Well, went to see the psychologist the other day.

See, for the past six years or so I have been telling people that people with mental illnesses respond better when tackled holistically - they get less sick when treated with medications plus "cognitive stuff" plus "lifestyle stuff" than they do when treated just with medications. After long years of parroting this to all and sundry I have finally come to beleive that it is true, and since my psychiatrist, while good, is mainly a neurotransmitter kind of guy, I have sought out my own psychologist.

And I went Saturday. He seems almost spookily normal. A largish man with a passion for the football (the World Cup kind) and good Greek cooking, and who has one of those sudden, explosive laughs that bursts balloons, rattles crockery, frightens small children and makes elderly aunts clutch at their chests. He's somehow much less respectable than my psych, which does make it easier to confess my failings. And he's about my age, and I suspect has been through some similar experiences, and he's remarkably easy to talk to.

And as you talk you get things that you didn't know were true until you said them, or that you didn't know were in you until they came out of you.

See, men don't talk about a lot of this stuff. Football, maybe politics, how things work - on average, the amount of things a man can talk about and feel entirely safe talking about is relatively small. I feel incredibly grateful that in my later years I have a group of male friends - the comic book geeks, Benedict, my brother - with whom I can discuss almost anything.

But aside from that, when men meet for the first time, there is an almost infinitely narrow range of acceptable emotions to display, appropriate questions to ask, safe answers to give. My wife once asked me why I was so interested in the football. I said I don't drink beer and I can't fix cars, and that didn't leave a lot of options to prove I was a man. I am only half joking in this.

Imagine a light-house on the rocks of some cold bay, a tall tower with a signal-fire atop it. You put flint to kindling and the light blazes all around, the centre of a circle.

Then instead of a fire, make it a searchlight. The light is brighter, and less wasteful, but it leaves large areas in darkness. The light sees far but not wide.

Narrow things down some more. Instead of a searchlight, use a laser, like the common or garden laser pointer. A thin, coherent beam of light, a light perfectly in step with itself. Monochromatic, perfectly collimated so that it does not diverge - a thin, thin beam of light of a single colour.

That's your brain on too much testosterone.

Anyway, this is what I mean.
One summer when I was sick, and actually rather unwell, there was a group - ten, maybe twelve - men and women with the heads of owls, who stood outside my bedroom window late at night. It was dark, and the melaleucas whispered in the wind, and their thin leaves slithered across each other, and the summer air would sigh through them.

The owl-folk were naked, or clad in some flowing thing like a Greek chiton, and they kept watch, although I was not sure if it was to guard over me or with a more hostile or scientific intent. They would watch throughout the night, and just as I would drift off to sleep, usually around dawn, they would keen or chorus, sing some lament. I could hear the voices but I could not understand the words. The thins they said to me were always on the edge of hearing, in the same way that you cannot quite read something in the gathering dark.

You can't tell anyone that. It's not on the list.

But what could we talk about? There is some kind of permission given when you talk to a psychologist. I imagine this is the feeling, the idea that people have had talking to me in the ED or in the Drug and Alcohol job, when they hunch forward in their chair, hands clasped together, and confess. There is this idea that you are safe, that the two of you exist within a closed circle, that things otherwise unacceptable can be spoken.

So, what did we talk about? The second visit was the more confronting, I'll post on that later - a hell of a lot later. In the first one we talked about fathers.

This is a difficult issue here - not to get all whiny, but there is a lot buried there, from my own father walking out and leaving his two kids when I was four years old to my own almost identical actions a generation later - but we talked about this.

And as we talked one of those 'things you don't know you believe' came out of me - the idea that my father and brother are men in a way that I am not, because they work with their hands. My father built roads with black tar and blue metal, my brother fashions steel. I do what at some level seems a weaker person's task - working with my mouth, my quick brain and my soft hands.

See? Once you get it out there, the idea's daft. And my brother and my father would be stunned to hear that at some level I count my work in the Emergency Department as less of a task, less real, less "hard" than what my dad and brother do.

That was a bit of a revelation. To be honest, we just sat around being revelated for a while, at one hundred and seventy dollars an hour.

The weird thing is ED work is physical. I've had my hands in someone's chest. It's a chest tube, and it's exactly what it sounds like. You give the patient an inadequate amount of anaesthetic, and also something so they forget who to sue, and you make a cut in their skin, in between the ribs. You get a pair of what look like pliers, and you grunch your way though the ribcage (parallel to the ribs) until you can fit a hand inside, and you hear the hiss of air, and the wet breathing, and you can feel the inside of the chest, feel the rib and the muscle, the movement of the lung rising and falling under your fingertips.

If you're lucky, I have read, (or if you're very unlucky, and you've put the tube in the wrong place) you can feel the beating heart.

In my emergency medicine handbook (how big are these people's hands, anyway?) it lists the indications for insertion of a chest tube: blood, or air, or pus, or anything else in the space between the lung and the inside of the chest. It also lists the contra-indications - among them are bleeding disorders (i.e.: people whose blood won't clot, for obvious reasons), and "the unco-operative patient".

No shit, Sherlock.

Presumably that warning is there because there are people (doctors) who thought that there were other people out there (also doctors), who needed to be told that. Don't try and stick a bit of polypipe into the chest of someone who is fighting you off, it won't go well.

Anyway, enough meandering. My niece is away at my father's house, and it's Sarah and me in a blissful night alone. Thanks for listening,


PS - Chiton refers to the tunic. Not the mollusc.


Blogger Niamh Sage said...

PS - Chiton refers to the tunic. Not the mollusc

I thought exo-skeleton, which is a strange mental image.

The owl-people sound oddly beautiful to me. I know it's not common man-to-man talk, but I wouldn't have had a problem with you telling me about them (for what it's worth).

Good luck with the psychologist!

1:12 AM  
Blogger Chade said...

Did you manage to shoot something with your bare hands to reassert your manliness after the harrowing "I'm killing a sun to talk to you' afternoon?

11:20 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Yeah and how about that footy game?! C'arn the Doccas!

8:54 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

I think women have different, but sadly similar, issues about communicating (or merely existing) in non-feminine/female ways or at least not acceptable feminine/female ways. Unfortunately the rules for being female/feminine are virtually imcomprehensible for someone who is not very socially attuned (that would be me). Yet the range of acceptable behavior for women is both narrower and wider. Something to ponder.

Oh crap. Now I've got a lengthy, wordy, and blithery post coming on. Don't do this to me BJ! Really! It's just not nice.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Re the Owl Heads - Did they look like this?

What about Ockerettes?


10:36 PM  

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