By Carina Cruz Benson
During my time in clerkship, the equivalent of fourth year in medical school, students were required to go on duty at varied hospital departments for clinical exposure to inpatients. It was during my month long rotation in the department of psychiatry that I met H.H who was then in her thirties. She struck me as a pretty and smart lady with forlorn eyes that always looked far. I also knew she liked to smoke even if she was advised not to.
Being assigned under my care, I was supposed to interact with her and do her daily progress notes. There were other patients assigned under my care but it is the memory of H.H that has not at all faded from my mind.
One morning when we were doing a routine walk through the hospital grounds, H.H began telling me the story of her life. Prior to taking her on under my care, I read her medical history and noted all endorsement notes by previous care providers. I had a medical understanding of why she was in the mental ward but listening to H.H first hand made me realize her humaneness, her deep pain and the demons that possessed her soul.
Born to parents who left to work abroad, H.H was brought up by relatives and she was sexually abused as a child. She grew up to be a tomboy and went on to having on and off lesbian relationships. Before she got confined in the mental hospital, she was raped and got pregnant, delivered to a baby boy who was given up for adoption. Her relatives refused to take her back because she was difficult to deal with. She told me that she heard voices talking to her and sometimes, she heard them talking badly to her. I always listened to her and admonished her that when she heard those voices, to just try to shut them out.
One evening while doing my rounds at the ward, H.H went into an extremely agitated state, running around, her eyes very sharp, taking off her clothes, warding off unseen demons and screaming obscenities. I immediately asked for help from the orderlies and it took several of them to physically control her and prevent her from hurting other patients and herself.
That was my first experience of a mental patient in a psychotic state and it unnerved me. Before my rotation ended, I had a chance of walking in the hospital grounds with H.H and I intentionally gave her a stick of cigarette I managed to smuggle in my white coat. She was so happy with that little gift, smiling from ear to ear and she thanked me profusely. I remember just sitting with her in silence as she smoked and looked far away, thinking of memories perhaps that soothed her soul even just momentarily in time. Looking at her at peace for a moment gave me some kind of fulfillment and made me wonder about all the H.H’s in this world. What are we to do with them aside from listening and talking to them and giving them medications?
Almost three decades later, I still wonder about H.H. and how she is doing. Remembering her allows me never to feel sorry for myself from any kind of sorrow or loss. Remembering her makes me resolute in my goal to help people not end up in the mental ward, alone and dependent on drugs and other people.