Last weekend I started my group counseling class. (I’m studying to become a clinical social worker.) It was a weird and unexpectedly intimate experience, as we colored our worries with crayons and drew pictures of our boundaries and shared, perhaps, more than we had intended to. As we talked about what good clinicians do and how they work, I reflected on all the bad therapists and weird doctors I’ve seen in my life. So, for this week’s Sunday list, I asked the ENTROPY crew for their strangest experiences as a patient, client, or (in Freud’s parlance) analysand.
I’ll get us started.
1) When I was about 16 my family doctor asked me how lesbians have sex.
2) A few years ago I went to see a therapist who was getting trained in EMDR. Since she wasn’t really experienced yet she gave me a discount or committing to a certain number of sessions, six I think, kind of like a therapy punch card. She balanced a sloppy notebook on her knees and waved her fingers in front of my face. “Tell me three words that remind me of your father,” she said, and then looked down at her notes. “No, I mean seven words and three settings.” It felt like failed magic. I left.
3) The second-to-last time my grandmother really spoke to me she was asleep in the hospital on Christmas Eve. She woke up for a moment, saw I was there and told me she “approved of my lifestyle.” it sounds so contrived or wacky when I share it, like something from an “It Gets Better” video but I had never talked to her about my personal life and I was oddly touched.
When I was sixteen or so I was in for a physical and everything was going normally until we got to the part where he needs to check my testicles for cancer. He tells me to pull down my pants and I sort of just giggled a bit but I also didn’t pull down my pants. He waits a second or two and then starts kind of tugging my pants down super awkwardly and my giggling becomes full on laughter and he pretends like this isn’t the strangest moment of both of our weeks and finishes the testicle portion. And then he tugs my pants up for me too!
When I was in middle school, and my friends were abusing drugs, leaving panicked and puzzling messages on my parents’ phone in the middle of the night before disappearing to hospitals, and I was developing anxiety that was going to wreck my experience of high school and most of college, my therapist told me there was nothing wrong, and my life would be perfect if I could just get a boyfriend.
I’m pre-med so here are some highlights from my recent experience “shadowing” an anesthesiologist (warning–some of this is gruesome and graphic):
1) Because one guy’s rotator cuff was so screwed up, the orthopedic surgeon kept shoving the small mechanized x-acto blade through different ports so by the end of the surgery there was a pool of blood on the floor mixed with saline fluid they pump you with during laparoscopic surgery to stop you from bleeding.
2) The guy from that surgery actually woke up too soon, and didn’t remember it but his eyes popped open and he started gasping so the doc gave him a big shot of fentanyl, which worked.
3) I saw the anesthesiologist do a “nerve block” before surgery, in which he used ultrasound to find a nerve in the guy’s shoulder––it looked like the surface of the moon––to numb the guy’s arm, and the first thing the guy said when he woke up for good was “I can’t feel my arm,” to which the anesthesiologist replied “Good!”
4) The orthopedic surgeon was a cocky hotshot who couldn’t figure out the guy’s shoulder so he joked with me a few times that I’d been watching the monitor, I should scrub in and take care of it, and once asked me “Do you have any idea what you’re looking at?” and when I said not really, he said “Good, because neither do I.”
5) Between the two surgeries I witnessed, everybody heard screaming coming from the adjacent operating room, and everybody kind of tensed up but no one went in to investigate. So, uh, yeah.
Sheldon Lee Compton:
I watched my dad have a boil lanced at the doctor’s office once. I still have no idea why he took me with him. I was maybe eight years old. The entire time the doctor worked on this huge boil, my dad kept saying only one thing. He kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus.” He said it over and over again.
Sara Finnerty Turgeon:
1) The last time I saw a therapist, I met with her 6 or 7 weeks in a row, and then I realized she didn’t know my name. So, that was that.
2) While I was giving birth, the doctor told a lengthy story about a documentary she saw about female genital mutilation. This is not what you want to hear when you are pushing a baby out of you.
3) One of the last times I saw my grandfather, I visited him in the hospital. He was supposedly out of it and senile but when he saw me, he said, “Sara! You’re here from California? Where’s Mark? (my husband)” A little while later he said, “Come here, come here. Closer.” And he gave me a kiss on the cheek, something he had never really done before. Then he said I love you. Nurses came in and put on an oxygen mask so I couldn’t understand what he said anymore. He kept trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand. I really wish I could have heard what he was trying to say.
Erin Hart Wisti:
I had a male therapist when I was 20. He was older and seemed a little more conservative/traditional for my taste, but I gave him a chance. It was a university counseling center and they were pretty full that semester. My cousin once told me there’s a danger in liking your therapist too much because you want them to like you back, to see you more as a friend than a client, so you’re hesitant to divulge too much about why you’re there. Believe me – there was NO DANGER OF THAT with this guy. He could never remember anything I told him about myself and generally seemed disinterested/annoyed by my presence. One day, the subject of my roommates came up, and I mentioned I lived with three men. Oh, lord, he was NOT HAVING THIS. In fact, it was the first thing I saw him write down! He asked me half a dozen questions about whether or not living with men caused me anxiety (it didn’t) and then he asked if I had any female friends. When I said I did, he asked, “Do your female friends ever come over to just, you know, flirt with the guys?” Because, you know, women can’t be friends with other women, as they’re always in competition over male attention! When I told him all my roommates were gay (which was kind of a lie as only 2/3 were, but oh well) he looked like he might have a brain aneurysm. He dropped the issue abruptly after that, but god damn was it obvious that he just did not approve of all this men-and-women living together, rampant homosexuality business. Needless to say, that was the last therapy session I attended.
1) When I was little I went to a new therapist, I was probably like 7. She was doing an initial evaluation, trying to talk to me and get me to play with things. Being my usual stubborn self, I refused, and didn’t say a word. After trying everything to get me to talk, she decides to start yelling at me. This isn’t a good tactic for any client, let alone a kid. Needless to say, I didn’t come back.
3) A resident at CHOP examining my file and seeming surprised that I had Asperger’s. He noticed I could look him in the eye and hold a normal conversation. He said multiple times I should get reevaluated, saying that diagnosis was not correct, without knowing me, my issues, or what Asperger’s really is. I get that people don’t know everything, but being ignorant because of it is just useless.
4) I was in group therapy and I had a couple psycho therapists. One guy made a joke out of my suicide attempt in front of the entire room. We were all shocked. When I confronted him about it, he refused to acknowledge that it happened, let alone apologize. Eventually, I left and went to a new place.
5) I did a program at CHOP specifically designed for my pain disorder. I had heard they had a tough love approach, but I found it to be rather sadistic. We had to exercise 4-8 hours a day, five days a week. We couldn’t stop and our only break was taking a walk down the hall. If we stopped, they would give us an “incentive” to keep going, i.e. another even harder exercise than what we had been doing before. We couldn’t sit down the entire time. If we had to throw up or felt dizzy, we kept going. If one actually threw up or fainted, they would be yelled at and forced to keep going, and clean up the mess they had made. We were doing exercises that would be hard for people in good shape without pain disorders. Most of us came in having trouble simply walking. There was one girl who threw a tray at someone’s head. I understood why. The program is supposed to last 3-6 weeks. I lasted about 4 days before I quit. My body just couldn’t take it.
1) When I was in the hospital awhile back, in the surgery pre-op area waiting to have my thyroid gland removed, whatever drug they gave me prior to the anesthesia turned me into a dang standup comedian. I went on and on about how the people on my mother’s side of the family had an unusual anatomy quirk where organs would be discovered to be in slightly the wrong place when they had operations (which is actually true, weirdly), and I also started riffing on everything my doctor and the anesthesiologist were saying to me. I just would not shut up with the zingers, according to my husband, but in my mind I was discussing my case with them in a serious manner, and didn’t understand why people were laughing.
2) I recently had a doctor that seemed uncomfortable with the basics of patient care, and also didn’t like being the after hours person on call. In the latter circumstance, he would never speak to you directly, he’d just have the night service operator (who was not a nurse) give him the gist over the phone, and he would tell her what to tell you. And you had only one shot to explain yourself, no follow-up questions or callbacks allowed. The last time I saw him, for a garden-variety cold, he had the nurse bring him a surgical mask and protective layer of gloves to put on, not even to examine me, just to write me a cough syrup prescription. Then he droned on about the coddling state of modern medicine for twenty minutes, while still wearing the giant blue mask and gloves, so it was like being lectured by a mumbling Muppet. I was relieved to get a letter last month that he was closing his practice.
3) One time when my mom, who had Alzheimer’s, was in the hospital following a fall at her nursing home, every time a doctor or nurse left the room she would start making these very specific gestures, swift and gentle, like she was knitting a large imaginary sweater. Some people would be disturbed by that image, but I found it very comforting, because it made her happy, and she’d only do it when we were alone together. Like she felt it was our secret, and that I could see what she was making even if other people couldn’t. It’s a sweet memory I have of her.