“How many voices do I hear I in a day?” asks Susan Hannah in her piece “Voices” (Field Notes, Fall 2011). Twice I read that line and twice I heard my story’s main character, Holt Worliss, speak in his slow, Kootenay drawl: “Well, how many didn’t ya hear? Not mine — not my daughter’s.” In my story, Holt’s only daughter, Georgia, is hospitalized for her first psychosis and Holt can’t bear how the Haldol prescribed for her scourges her body. The rigidity, the tremors, the tachycardia — it’s too much for Holt to endure. He steals her back to their farm and so begins his lifelong home care program for his schizophrenic daughter. My story, at one level, is about not hearing. The psychiatrist doesn’t hear Holt and Holt doesn’t hear his wife’s opposition to his plan for their daughter and, of course, no one hears Georgia.
Holt’s outrage originates in me. I remember struggling to get my brother’s psychiatrist, Dr. O., to hear me. I made calls to his office. I pled with his answering machine. I left frantic notes on the ward with the nurses, praying that Dr. O. would heed them. He didn’t. He discharged my brother from the hospital with a prescription for antipsychotics I knew he wouldn’t fill. And for the long, desperate days afterward, I struggled to find my brother, still in the throes of psychosis, somewhere on our city streets.
When Dr. O. finally met with me after my brother’s readmission, he did hear my voice. I was yelling by then and Dr. O. remained as passive and expressionless as if he was sitting for a passport photo. If I didn’t calm myself, he said, he’d call security and have me removed. He admitted nothing, he didn’t apologize — he, as far as I could tell, didn’t hear a word that erupted from my agonized spirit.
I visited with my brother afterwards. His hospital bed was on the same floor as the meeting room in which I’d just berated Dr. O. He told me that everyone could hear me shouting. “Watch out,” he said, “or Dr. O. will lock you in the quiet room.”
The “quiet room” was the hospital’s euphemism for a small cell that had only a mattress and a toilet designed to inhibit drowning oneself in the bowl. Over the subsequent months, I’d visited my brother in more than one quiet room. Quiet rooms have a thick door and heavily insulated walls. When the door is closed, it’s hard to hear anyone on the outside — or for them to hear you.
Andrew Boden’s recent short stories, essays and poetry have appeared in The Journey Prize Stories 22, The New Quarterly, Prairie Fire, Other Voices, Vancouver Review, and Descant. His story “The Parts of Ourselves Without Names” was a recent honourable mention in Glimmer Train's "Family Matters" fiction contest. In 2012, he co-edited Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness, an anthology of personal essays published by Brindle & Glass. He lives and works in Burnaby, British Columbia with his wife and three calculating cats.
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine