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WEATHER DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. GOOD NIGHT. - Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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It has been a pretty uneventful week, aside from the cross-country flight and the hurricane and the demon.

The hurricane was of course Isaac, which seems to have had it in for the Alexander family from the beginning. First it hit Port-au-Prince when my father was there on our annual medical mission to Haiti (2010, 2011), which I unfortunately missed this year due to my work in Alabama. He and his team not only had to deal with the rain and wind and flooding, but the airport closed down for the better part of a week and my father missed several days of work, which for a doctor is kind of a disaster.

Then Isaac shifted course until it was pointed right at Alabama. The meteorologists gave dire warnings. I bought emergency water bottles, just in case. The newspapers ran a bunch of articles interviewing residents about their preparations, from which my favorite quote was: "Isaac is the son of Abraham. I don't think that's a coincidence. It's God's way of telling us not to worry, that everything is going to be okay." HURRICANE NAMES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.

Well, between the meteorologists and the crazy interview woman, guess who was right? Hurricane Isaac shifted course at the last moment, hit New Orleans, and central Alabama got nothing more than a few hours of light rain and a Very Blustery Day. My desire to see a real hurricane at least once in my life continues to go unfulfilled, and Isaac joins the Hall of Shame For Flaky Disappointing Weather right alongside stupid useless Super Typhoon Shan Shan.

I've been trying to study some Catholic theology lately. Although several amateur theologians have been extremely helpful, I still don't have satisfying answers for a lot of my Catholic theology questions. So I was extremely pleased to get a rare opportunity to meet a domain expert earlier this week. And by "domain expert", I mean a demon.

The elderly man who I'll call Robert was referred to us from the emergency room with the vague comment "intermittent delusions" written on his chart. Dr. H sat him down and began taking a full history as to what exactly these delusions might be, but as it happens he needn't have bothered. About three minutes into the interview Robert began grunting and retching. Then his face flushed red, he fell to the floor, and he began to convulse. Then, in a horrible rasping voice that sounded like the combination of every death metal track you have ever heard, he shouted:

Obviously I don't remember the exact glossolalia and am just trying to capture the general feel; the rest I'm pretty sure I've transcribed pretty accurately. Anyway, he said that, blacked out for a few seconds, and then got back up on the chair and started answering questions again as if nothing had happened. His answers revealed, surprise surprise, that he was an extremely religious Catholic, that he believed he'd become possessed by the demon Apollyon several years ago, that he'd undergone a few mini-exorcisms since then, and that the only reason he was in the psychiatric hospital was because the bishop refused to call in a full exorcism until he'd been evaluated by psychiatrists to "make sure" it wasn't "just" a mental illness. Which, he informed us, we had better do quickly and then let him out, since this was totally beyond our expertise and he had no business being here.

He had of course made one fatal mistake, which was in claiming that something was beyond Dr. H's expertise. As soon as he was out of the room, Dr. H addressed the rest of the team - a younger doctor, a social worker, a medical student, a nursing student, and me. "So," he said "Here's the most important thing you have to watch out for when you're dealing with a demon possession case..." And you people thought you were joking when you suggested he would be a master of the occult.

The most important thing you have to watch for in cases of demon possession, it turns out, is whether in the course of convulsing and dropping to the floor and so on, the person is genuinely flailing in a way that seems likely to cause serious injury, or whether they're doing it very gradually and self-aware-ly so that they don't knock into something and hurt themselves. Because if you're remotely conscious, it's very very hard to suppress your self-protection reflexes - this is why actors have so much trouble pretending to fall over: they tend to prefer a sort of gradual crumple that eventually gets them to the floor without placing undue pressure on any body part. Robert's fall, convulsion and blackout were all more like the actor's than like someone with a genuine medical problem like a seizure. Therefore, said Dr. H, the source of this behavior was very close to consciousness (although not necessarily actually conscious) rather than something deeper like a true dissociative episode, which wouldn't have been so polite and and self-protective. Presumably a demon wouldn't have been either. Dr. H believes Robert is not psychotic, but has various social and life problems that he needs to sort through with therapy, after which he will spontaneously stop manifesting the possession behavior which was just his way of dealing with his issues.

...except that Dr. H went on a three day vacation, his replacement decided to put Robert on antipsychotic drugs, Robert didn't like them, and he decided to leave the hospital Against Medical Advice. Sigh.

That just leaves the cross-country flight. I finished my month long rotation, left behind Alabama and its demons and snakes and goblins (did I tell you about the goblins? No? I need to get around to that story) got on a plane, got turbulenced about heading through the fringes of useless flaky Hurricane Isaac, and landed in Utah last night. I'll stay here for a while visiting my grandmother in her stunningly beautiful desert retirement community, and trying to put up with her hourly attempts to engage me in conversation about how all Republicans are the Devil.

[User Picture]From: gwern branwen
2012-09-02 10:27 pm (UTC)
I am beginning to understand why there seem to be so many psychologist/psychiatrist writers.
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