At two o'clock Friday afternoon, George Hannaby came to her room with the results of the final battery of tests and with the reports of consultants who had given one last round of opinions. The fact that he had come himself, rather than let the oncologist or the brain specialist (who were in charge of her case) bring the news, most likely meant that it was bad, and for once Ginger was sorry to see him.
She was sitting in bed, dressed in blue pajamas that Rita Hannaby, George's wife, had been kind enough to fetch (along with a suitcase. full of other necessities) from the Beacon Hill apartment. She was reading a paperback mystery, pretending to be confident that her seizures were the result of some easily corrected malady, but she was scared.
But what George had to tell her was so bad that she could no longer hold fast to her composure. In a way, it was worse than anything for which she had prepared herself.
They had found nothing.
No disease. No injury. No congenital defect. Nothing.
As George solemnly outlined the final results and made it clear that her wild flights, performed in a fugue, were without a discernible pathological cause, she finally lost control of her emotions for the first time since she had broken into tears in the alleyway. She wept, not noisily, not copiously, but quietly and with enormous anguish.
A physical ailment might have been correctable. And once cured, it would not have prevented her from returning to a career as a surgeon.
But the test results and the opinions of the specialists all conveyed the same unbearable message: Her problem was entirely in her mind, a psychological illness beyond the reach of surgery, antibiotics, or controlling drugs. When a patient suffered repeated incidents of fugue for which no physiological cause could be found, the only hope of ending the seizures was psychotherapy, though the finest psychiatrists could not boast of a high cure rate with patients thus afflicted. Indeed, a fugue was often an indication of incipient schizophrenia. Her chances of managing her condition and living a normal life were small; her chances of institutionalization were dismayingly high.
Within reach of her lifelong dream, within months of beginning her own surgical practice, her life had been shattered as thoroughly as a crystal goblet struck by a bullet. Even if her condition was not that extreme, even if psychotherapy gave her a chance to control her strange outbursts, she'd never be able to obtain a license to practice medicine.
George plucked several Kleenex from the box on the nightstand and gave them to her. He poured a glass of water. He got a Valium and made her take it, though at first she resisted. He held her hand, which seemed like that of a very small girl when clasped in his large mitt. He spoke softly, reassuringly.
Gradually he calmed her.
When she could speak, she said, "But George, damn it, I wasn't raised in a psychologically destructive atmosphere. Our home was happy, at peace. And I certainly got more than my share of love and affection. I wasn't physically, mentally, or emotionally abused." She angrily snatched the box of tissues from the nightstand, tore Kleenex from it. "Why me?
How could I, coming from my background, develop a psychosis? How? With my fantastic mother, my special papa, my damnedifitwasn'thappy childhood, how could I wind up seriously mentally disturbed? It isn't fair. It isn't right. it isn't even believable."
He sat on the edge of her bed, and he was so tall that he still loomed over her. "First of all, Doctor, the consulting specialists tell me there's a whole school of thought that says many mental illnesses are the result of subtle chemical changes in the body, in the brain tissue, changes we're not yet advanced enough to detect or understand. So this doesn't have to mean that you're screwed up by your childhood. I don't think you've got to reevaluate your whole life because of this. Second, I'm notI repeat. notat all convinced that your condition is anything as serious as debilitating psychosis."
“Oh, George, please don't coddle-”
“Coddle a patient? Me?” he said, as if no one had ever suggested anything half as astonishing to him. "I'm not just trying to lift your spirits. I mean what I say. Sure, we didn't find a physical cause for this, but that doesn't mean there isn't a physical problem involved. You might have a condition that's not yet sufficiently advanced to be detectable. In a couple of weeks, or a month, or as soon as there's any worsening of the problem, any indication of deterioration, we'll run more tests; we'll take another look, and I'd bet everything I own that we'll eventually put our finger on the problem."
She allowed herself to hope. Discarding a wadded mass of tissues, she fumbled for the Kleenex box. "You really think it could be like that? A brain tumor or an abscess so small it doesn't show up yet?"
"Sure. I find that a hell of a lot easier to believe than that you're psychologically disturbed. You'? You're one of the steadiest people I've ever known. And I can't accept that you could be psychotic or even psychoneurotic and not exhibit unusual behavior between these fugues. I mean, serious mental illness isn't expressed in neatly contained little bursts. It relops over into the patient's entire life."
She had not thought about that before. As she considered his point, she felt a little better, though not wildly hopeful and certainly not happy. On the one hand, it seemed weird to be hoping for a brain tumor, but a tumor could be excised, perhaps without gross damage to cerebral tissues. Madness, however, responded to no scalpel.
"The next few weeks or months are probably going to be the most difficult of your life,“ he said. ”The waiting."
“I suppose I'm restricted from hospital work for the duration.”
"Yes. But depending on how you come along, I don't see why you can't help me out at the office."
“And what if I .-. . threw one of these fits?”
“I'd be there to keep you from hurting yourself until it passed.”
"But what would your patients think? Wouldn't exactly help your practice any, would it? To have an assistant who suddenly turns into a meshuggene and runs shrieking through the office?"
He smiled. "Let me worry about what my patients think. Anyway, that's for the future. Right now, at least for a week or two, you've got to take it easy. No work at all. Relax.
Rest. These last few days have been emotionally and physically exhausting."
“I've been in bed. Exhausting? Don't knock a teapot.”
He blinked, confused. “Don't what?”
“Oh,” she said, surprised to have heard those four words pop out of her, lit's something my father used to say. It's a Yiddish expression. Hok nit kain tehynik: don't knock a teapot. It means, don't talk nonsense. But don't ask me why it means that. It's just something I used to hear all the time when I was a kid."
“Well, I'm not knocking a teapot,” he said. "You may have been in bed all week, but it's been an exhausting experience nonetheless, and you need to take it easy for a while. I want you to move in with Rita and me for the next few weeks."
“What? Oh, I couldn't impose on you-”
"It's no imposition. We have a livein maid, so you won't even have to make your bed in the morning. From the guestroom window, you'll have a nice view of the bay. Living around water is calming. In fact, it's quite literally what the doctor ordered."
“No. Really. Thank you, but I couldn't.”
He frowned. "You don't understand. I'm not just your boss but your doctor, and I'm telling you this is what you're going to do."
“I'll be perfectly fine at the apartment-”
“No,” he said firmly. "Think about it. Suppose one of these seizures struck while you were making dinner. Suppose you knocked over a pot on the stove. It could start a fire, and you might not even be aware of it until you came out of the fugue, by which time the whole apartment could be ablaze and you could be trapped ' That's only one way you might hurt yourself. I can think of a hundred. So I have to insist that . . . for a while you must not live alone. If you don't want to stay with me and Rita, do you have relatives who'd take you in for a while?"
"Not in Boston. In New York, I've got aunts, uncles .
But Ginger could not stay with any of her relatives. They would be happy to have her, of courseespecially Aunt Francine or Aunt Rachel. However, she did not want them to see her in her current condition, and the thought of pitching a fit in front of them was intolerable. She could almost see Francine and Rachel huddling over a kitchen table, speaking in low voices, clucking their tongues: "Where did Jacob and Anna go wrong? Did they push her too hard? Anna always pushed her too hard. And after Anna died, Jacob relied on the girl too much. She had to take over the house at twelve It was too much for her. Too much pressure too young."
Ginger would receive considerable compassion, understanding, and love from them, but at the risk of sullying the memory of her parents, a memory she was determined to honor, always.
To George, who still sat upon the edge of the bed and awaited her response with an obvious concern that touched her deeply, she said, “I'll take the guest room with the view of the bay.”
"Though I think it's a horrible imposition. And I warn you, if I really like it there, you might never get rid of me. You'll know you're in trouble if you come home some day, and I've hired people to repaint the walls and hang new drapes."
He grinned. "At the first mention of painters or draperies, we'll throw your butt out in the street." He kissed her lightly on the cheek, got up from the edge of the bed, and walked to the door. "I'm going to start the release procedures now, so you should be out of here in two hours. I'll call Rita and have her come pick you up. I'm sure you can beat this thing, Ginger, but you've got to keep thinking positive."
When he left the room and his footsteps faded down the hall, she stopped struggling to maintain her smile, and it collapsed instantly. She leaned back against her pillows and stared morosely at the ageyellowed acoustic tile on the ceiling.
After a while she got out of bed and went into the adjoining bathroom, where she approached the sink with trepidation. After a brief hesitation, she turned on the water and watched it whirling around and around and into the drain. On Monday, at the surgical scrub sink, after successfully performing the aortal graft on Viola Fletcher, Ginger had been panicked by the sight of water swirling into a drain, but she could not imagine why. Damn it, why? She desperately wanted to understand.
Papa, she thought, I wish you were alive, here to listen, to help.
Life's nasty surprises had been the subject of one of Papa's little sayings that Ginger had once found amusing. When anyone fretted about the future, Jacob would shake his head and wink and say, "Why worry about tomorrow? Who knows what'll hit you today?"
How true. And how utterly unamusing flow.
She felt like an invalid. She felt lost.
It was Friday, December 6.
Laguna Beach, California
When Dom went to the doctor's office on Monday morning, December 2, in the company of Parker Faine, Dr. Cobletz did not recommend immediate diagnostic procedures, for he had only recently given Dom a thorough examination and had seen no signs of physical disorder. He assured them there were other treatments to be tried before jumping to the conclusion that it was a brain disorder that sent the writer scurrying upon errands of fortification and selfdefense inhis sleep.
After Dom's previous visit, on November 23, the physician had, he said, become curious about somnambulism and had done some reading on the subject. With most adults the affliction was shortlived; however, in a few cases, there was a danger of it becoming habitual, and in its most serious forms it resembled the inflexible routines and patternobsessed behavior of worstcase neurotics. Once habitual, somnambulism was much harder to cure, and it could become the dominant factor in the patient's life, generating a fear of night and sleep, producing profound feelings of helplessness culminating in more serious emotional disorders.
Dom felt he was already in that danger zone. He thought of the barricade he had built across his bedroom door. The arsenal on the bed.
Cobletz, intrigued and concerned but not worried, had assured Dominickand Parkerthat in most instances of persistent somnambulism, the pattern of nocturnal rambling could be broken by the administration of a sedative before bed. Once a few untroubled nights had passed, the patient was usually cured. In chronic cases, the nightly sedative was augmented with a diazepam compound during the day when the patient was plagued by anxiety. Because the tasks that Dominick performed in his sleep were unnaturally strenuous for a somnambulist, Dr. Cobletz had prescribed both Valium during the day and a 15 ing. tablet of Dalmane, just before slipping under the covers each night.
On the drive back to Laguna Beach from Dr. Cobletz's offices in Newport, with the sea on the right and hills on the left, Parker Faine argued that, until the sleepwalking stopped, it was not wise for Dom to continue living alone. Hunched over the steering wheel of his Volvo, the bearded and shaggyhaired artist drove fast, aggressively but not recklessly. He seldom glanced away from the Pacific Coast Highway, yet he gave the impression, through the sheer force of his personality, that his eyes and attention were fixed constantly and entirely upon Dom.
"There's plenty of room at my place. I can keep an eye on you. I won't hover, mind you. I won't be a mother hen. But at least I'll be there. And we would have plenty of opportunity to talk about this, really get into it, just you and me, and try to figure how this sleepwalking is related to the changes you went through the summer before last, when you threw away that job at Mountainview College. I'm definitely the guy to help you. I swear, if I hadn't become a goddamned painter, I'd have become a goddamned psychiatrist. I have a knack for getting people to talk about themselves. How about it?
Come stay with me for a while and let me play therapist."
Dom had refused. He wanted to stay at his own house, alone, for to do otherwise seemed to be a retreat into the same rabbit hole in which he had hidden from life for so many years. The change he had undergone during his trip to Mountainview, Utah, the summer before last, had been dramatic, inexplicable, but for the better. At thirtythree, he had finally seized the reins of life, had mounted it with a flourish, and had ridden into new territory. He liked the man he had become, and he feared nothing more than slipping back into his dreary former existence.
Perhaps his somnambulism was mysteriously related to the previous changes of attitude that he had undergone, as Parker insisted, but Dom had his doubts that the relationship was either mysterious or complex. More likely, the connection between the two personality crises was simple: The sleepwalking was an excuse to retreat from the challenges, excitement, and stress of his new life. Which could not be allowed.
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