A Gift to Remember

In twenty years of practicing medicine, I have found manic patients who refuse to take medication are the most frustruating to treat. They drive me and everyone who loves them nuts. Case in point: A seventy-year old manic who informed me he had "fired" his last four doctors because they were all "crazy."  Great. . . No doubt I would soon be number five. "There's nothing wrong with me," he said, arms crossed. "They're the ones with the problem."  I inquired what behaviors worried his last four doctors and he mentioned his motorcycle racing in an ice storm and requesting Viagra when his wife was recovering from hip replacement surgery. The third doctor raised an eye brow at his compulsive yard sale buying. His garage overflowed with junk and his spending sprees left no money for food. When he informed the fourth doctor he hadn't slept in three nights and planned a trip to Washington D.C. (on his motorcycle in the winter) to tell the President of the United States, in person, how to run the country, the doctor wanted to commit him to the psych ward and begin strong bi-polar medications. The patient charged out of the office cursing.

After listening to his tirade for an hour, I told him he had a "chemical imbalance"  that needed immediate treatment. I hoped he'd storm out of my office too. No such luck.

Instead, he developed a crush on me and started bringing gifts. Weird gifts. Like canning jars, a rusty broken alarm clock, an out-of-date calender, and a book about motorcycles. Was he secretly  trying to unload the junk from his garage on me?

The final straw? The day he marched into my office with what looked like an eight-foot long log he'd turned into a massive wall hanging. On it, he had installed a clock (broken, of course), a blown-up photo of his two granddaughters in pink tutus, and a pine tree he had painted with the skill of a toddler. On the tree, were decoupaged pictures of birds cut out of a magazine. Some of the birds were half the size of the tree. The overall effect? Laughable. Dreadful. Crazier than Squeaky Fromme. He yanked down the framed prints of Monet and Van Gogh gracing my waiting room walls and pounded in nails and brackets, fully intending to hang his monstrosity. When my receptionist protested he argued, "She's hung those same old pictures for weeks. It's time she got something new so I'm giving her this." He gestured toward his masterpiece and looked as proud as a pre-schooler handing his mommy a fistful of dandelions.

I could feel my eyes bulge out of my head as I stared at the horrendous wall hanging. Was this a joke?  Was I on Candid Camera? I glanced around the waiting room hoping for a hidden camera, but instead, I only saw patients smirking and elbowing each other. Others stared at me, curious how I'd handle the situation. I said with as much enthusiam as I could, "What a unique wall hanging. I've never seen anything like it." I then told him that  unfortunately, the pink tutus of his granddaughters clashed with the paint color on my walls so I'd have to hang it somewhere else. I assured him I'd find a "special" place for it. The local dump came to mind, but I kept this thought to myself.

After work that night, I hung it in the lobby outside my office and contemplated how to get rid of it without hurting his feelings. As my receptionist, nurse, and I stared at the hideous display, we joked that perhaps we could say it posed a fire hazard since it was made of wood. Or it was so heavy it might  conk a patient on the head. Perhaps the cleaning crew could be bribed to "steal" it. Suddenly, my receptionist slunk to the floor and shook like she was having a grand mal seizure. I thought she was just clowning around so I commented, "I get it, we'll tell him it triggers seizures."  But when she started turning blue, gritting her teeth, and shaking so hard I couldn't arouse her,  I realized she wasn't acting! She actually WAS seizing! We rolled her onto her side, protected her tongue and airway, and wheeled her to the ER for evaluation. She had never had a seizure before and has never had one since. It was clear the wall hanging posed a serious health hazard of inducing seizures and had to go. What a pity!

Sally Burbank M.D.