The time is July, 1988, and Dwayne is admitted to the child psych ward. I am his medical student. The diagnosis (from memory today, more than 30 years later) was borderline autism accompanied by various social and behavioral issues. Physically he was short and slight, even for his age, which was around 8 years, and he wore glasses that highlighted a somewhat vacant/absent look, and he spoke with a serious lisp. His favorite movie was not “Ghostbusters,” but rather “Ghoss-bus-sus.”
A few weeks into his stay, the attending physician asks, “What is this kid doing here?” No one has a good answer. Dwayne’s mother was fed up with him and had brought him to the hospital. What treatment we were providing, how the efficacy of that treatment was being measured, the criteria for discharge, and into whose custody—all critical matters, and all hazily resolved, at best. Dwayne was ours, but we had no idea what to do with him.
During my time with Dwayne, I showed him a card trick or two, which he enjoyed, plus I drew a lot of blood out of his arm, which he hated. Really, really hated the blood draws.
Finally, the call came for Dwayne to get an MRI of his brain, to assess for any structural or neurological cause of his problems. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, a sophisticated and amazing technology that would prove utterly useless in this case.
I remember arguing against the MRI at a staff meeting. My argument was not original, I merely was synthesizing all the valid points made by everyone else. The argument was that the MRI likely would show no abnormalities, or if it did show something unusual, there would be no treatment for it. Dwayne would be traumatized not by the procedure itself, but by the preparation for it. The idea also made no sense economically.
I am overruled. “The mother wants to know what’s going on,” is the proclamation from someone in authority.
So the day arrives when Dwayne gets his MRI.
Dwayne reacts worse than anyone anticipates. It takes all five of us medical students to hold him onto the gurney while he receives an injection, and all five us keep holding him as we wheel him to radiology. Dwayne kicks and squirms and screams loudly until the sedative finally kicks in, and later the scene repeats on the return trip back to the ward, when Dwayne wakes up and finds himself in the same foul mood as before. No one understands when I join him, for just a moment, with a little scream of my own.
In between all this pain, like the eye of a hurricane passing over some besieged tropical island, there’s a span of calm when Dwayne is unconscious. He is put inside the MRI, and the imaging takes place. During this time we medical students have nothing official to do except hang out and wait for the procedure to be over. I find a telephone, located conveniently—and unexpectedly—in an old-fashioned telephone booth, where I cherish the privacy. A baby was born that day. I call the mother to offer my congratulations.
Dwayne and some of his cohorts on that ward would prove to be my last patients; a few days later I took a leave of absence from medical school, and wound up not returning.
Dwayne, if still he breathes, is now around 40 years old, and I do wonder what happened to him. That baby I mentioned is now 32 years old, and I wonder about her, too. We live in a big, wide world in habited by approximately 7.7 billion people, so statistically it’s not especially likely that you would run into Random Person X on, say, an Amtrak train into Manhattan or an airplane flight to Minneapolis–nevermind the ordinary local hang-outs of one’s life, which in my case consist of a couple of libraries, the supermarket, and a few Starbucks coffee shops. The likelihood is that these characters of my past have slipped away permanently, not to reappear in this lifetime—and face it, campers, one lifetime would appear to be all we get. I’ll live with that.
Hope you are happy and well. Thanks, as always, for reading my late-night scribblings.