Junior Doctor's Diary: A sneak peak into the mind of a mentally ill patient
By Dr Kiaye Oliver | January 20th 2022 | 3 min read
Perhaps the reason we never take mental health too seriously is that most of us have never been in the company of a mind that has gone berserk. If you have yourself for that company, you may well be in for a rough ride.
We should all get to live the life of a person with schizophrenia for just one day to appreciate how it feels like to have a chaotic mind. As virtual reality continues to find its way into this third-world economy (read middle income), we will one day get to experience a simulated life in mental captivity. We will get to hear the voices in our heads and visions unknown to others.
The mental health issue reminds me of when Dr. Kamaliza got a backlash for allegedly missing a spinal cord disease at the neck level.
"Daktari, how could you miss this?" The consultant physician asked, in a deep voice, sending chills down Kamaliza's spine. His intact spine. I was sure it could not be a spinal cord disease; I saw the lady walk yesterday. Kamaliza saw the lady walk yesterday.
How could it be a spinal cord disease? I couldn't open my mouth for fear of controversy, and I also didn't want the ward round to eat into my afternoon. The round was in the last room, second last bed. The afternoon sun was blazing hot, and the ward was stuffy, reeking of disease and despair.
The patient in question was a young girl. About 19 years of age; lets call her Justina. She had never uttered a word since she came. She dried in her bed and assumed the position of a dead man lying lifelessly in a coffin. We did not know how long she had been like that before we saw her. We stood there for about half an hour, and she never winced. She gazed at the roof as if she was looking at something we could not see. Her mind was in complete disarray; we didn't know it yet.
An envelope dropped from where it hung on a hook above Justina's head, and two scans fell into a basin by her side. One of the scans covered the neck region, and it showed a normal neck, another scan that captured the brain was also reported normal. Justina was in her world, one that could neither be captured by scans nor tests. A world that remains widely unexplored because we can't see or touch the mind as we do tumors and wounds.
She could not respond to even the most painful stimuli in her environment. Perhaps, no pain could beat the psychological pain that was her daily companion. Our only problem was that she was mute so she could not tell us her side of the story.
"Change the diagnosis to a catatonia, and call the psychiatrist," the physician said, bending slowly to the fact that he could also not get into the heart of the matter. Catatonia is when a patient assumes uncomfortable positions for long, seen in mental diseases, especially schizophrenia.
The psychiatrist's review was consistent with schizophrenia. She was put on a course of drugs that stabilized her symptoms within no time. She mumbled a few words two days later, much to the surprise of many.
Reality is often fragile, and we don't know what our minds will be like when we suddenly lose connection to ourselves. The line between sanity and insanity is very thin, invisible to the naked eye. You never know when you cross over.
And as we wait to experience the life of a person with schizophrenia in virtual reality, I pray that when that day comes, may we have the courage to live just for a day, in a mind shielded from reality. A mind that can't keep quiet or is engulfed in dark clouds of perpetual sadness. Only then will we truly learn the tragedy of a broken mind. Only then will we develop compassion for those affected.
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