Flight of the Dodo - 2. Chapter 2
Ed is sent to a mental hospital for an evaluation of his suspected diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia.
Luckily, the psychiatrist I was referred to had his office in the medical building across the street from North Park General Hospital, so Syl didn’t have to drive me into Seattle. Dr. Vickers was a short man with graying black hair and a bushy graying beard. He spoke with an accent I couldn’t place. His graduation certificates said he went to college in Massachusetts and medical school in Illinois. Also, he had some kind of certificate from the University of Cambridge in England. I asked him about it, but he said it was not conducive to our discussions. Every day at the start of our sessions he said, “god ettermiddag,” and at the end he said, “farvel for nå.” I asked him what he was saying and he wrote in down on the back of one of his business cards. I showed E3 the card and he started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“This is Norwegian. He’s saying good afternoon and goodbye for now. You should ask him how he knows Norwegian.”
“He doesn’t like it when I ask questions. He always says it’s not conducive to our discussions. I don’t think he likes me.”
“Well, ask him anyway. Maybe he’s Norwegian.”
“But his last name is Vickers. That isn’t Norwegian.”
“Maybe his mother is Norwegian.”
I told Dr. Vickers about talking to E3, and I asked him about speaking Norwegian. He said that he was born in Norway. He emigrated with his mother to America after his father was killed when his fishing boat sank during a storm in the North Sea. She married a man named Albert Vickers who adopted him. Mr. Vickers was at Pearl Harbor consulting with the Navy on December 7, 1941, and was killed. Dr. Vickers said he was in Norway during the war. That didn’t sound right to me because Norway was occupied by Germany during the war. I ask him about that. He said he was with the OSS.
I thought my appointments with Dr. Vickers were going quite well. He would ask me questions about how life was going, and I thought my answers were logical and fairly representative of my life. Of course, my being African and only speaking French came up early in our sessions. He seemed to be okay with that. He asked about my family and how I interacted with them considering I had been switched at birth. I told him they seemed okay with me being African. During what would be our last session together, Dr. Vickers asked Syl to come in with us. He told her that he had made arrangements for me to be treated at Western State Hospital for my suspected diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia. Syl asked why he couldn’t do it and he said they had professionals who dealt with that form of schizophrenia. He said that it was quite rare for children to get schizophrenia and it was possible I was suffering from something else.
E3 drove me down to Western State Hospital; Syl sat in the front passenger seat staring straight ahead. Nobody said a word. Of course, since I only spoke French, they wouldn’t have known what I was saying. Not knowing how long I was going to be in treatment, Syl packed me a suitcase of my everyday clothes. E3 drove up to the gate and stopped. He had to give the guard the required information for me to enter the grounds. The guard gave E3 a little map that had a circle around the building where I was to be treated. I eventually discovered they had three units for kids of various ages. I was in the one for older teens: seventeen through twenty. The twenties were included because they couldn’t be in the same wards as the twenty-one and older patients. I think things like that were different back then. Driving across the grounds it seemed to be a dreary place. There weren’t any people outside the buildings, but that might have been because it was sort of a drizzly day. The few windows on the buildings had bars over them and the glass had been frosted. Most of the parking lots that I could see only had a few cars in them. E3 drove into the small parking area for my unit and didn’t have any problem parking as there were only six other cars and they were all parked on the side by the building. He got out and came back to my door. I didn’t look up at him after he opened it.
“Come on, Ed, let’s get this over,” E3 said. “Do you want me to get your bag?”
“No, I should be able to do this,” I said.
Syl didn’t make any moves to indicate she was going to get out of the car. She sat in the front seat staring out the windshield. She didn’t say, “goodbye,” or anything. Maybe she was crying. I don’t know what occurred exactly, but I knew something had changed in the family dynamic. Possibly, she had accepted that I was crazy and was determined not to show any emotion that might indicate that she still loved me. Maybe she had finally realized I had been switched at birth or she knew that all along. Being a kid and being crazy was different back then. Kids simply didn’t go crazy and have to be admitted into state mental hospitals in the 1960s.
“Come on, Edvard, get out of the car,” E3 said. I could hear the anger in his voice. Was it possible E3 and Syl had been fighting over the fact that Syl could finally see that I was an African, but E3 was still insisting I was Caucasian and of Norwegian ancestry?
Not wanting E3 to make a scene, I got out and reached in to pull my suitcase out. I stood and looked over at E3, but he was already walking toward the entrance to my unit. I hurried as best I could because I’m very inept at doing anything close to being athletic and watched him press the button to announce our arrival. The door opened in only a few seconds and I saw a short man with wavy black hair who was wearing a red flannel shirt, khakis, and brown wingtips. Was it possible he had seen E3 park our car?
“Yes?” he asked.
“This is my son,” E3 said. “We were instructed to come here.”
“The boy’s name?”
“Edvard Oscar Pedersen.”
“Oh, yes, we’ve been expecting him,” the man said without a hint of emotion. Maybe that was a requirement of his job. “Do you have his referral information from his psychiatrist?”
“Oh, sorry, I left it in the car,” E3 said. “I’ll go get it.”
“Is that your suitcase, son?” the man asked.
“Yes,” I said.
E3 returned and handed the paperwork over to the man.
“Thank you for bringing your son down to us,” the man said. “We’ll do our best to help him return to some semblance of normal. Edvard, I’ll take your suitcase and you may enter the building.”
I went in, stopped, and turned, but E3 was already walking toward the car. I could see Syl staring, but she wasn’t looking in my direction. I don’t know why I expected a more appropriate emotional response, but I did. It was as if I had crossed a line into a new existence on a different planet in the solar system. I heard the door shut and the lock click.
“As a resident, you are not to touch that door unless there is a staff member present,” the man said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, I guess so,” I said.
“You will not say guess so here. You either follow staffs’ instructions or you will receive demerits. If you accumulate too many demerits, you will be put in detention to clear your balance. Trust me you don’t want to have to spend any time in detention, if anything, being in a straitjacket for hours at a time can be quite uncomfortable. Now, come with me.”
We went down a short hall and turned into an office with three desks, a cabinet with glass doors that appeared to be locked was by the wall, and three women in white nurses’ uniforms were sitting at the desks. I could tell they were nurses because they were wearing nurses’ caps.
“This is Edvard Oscar Pedersen,” the man said as he put the suitcase down just inside the door.
“Thanks, Ernie,” one of the nurses said. “Oh, why don’t you sit over by Louise, just in case. Edvard sit on the chair in front of my desk.”
I sat as instructed.
“Your initial diagnosis from your referring psychiatrist is early-onset schizophrenia,” the nurse said. She didn’t have a tag on her blouse, so I didn’t know her name. “During your stay with us we will evaluate your physical and mental status to determine if that is an accurate diagnosis or if you are suffering from some other form of mental illness. Now, Edvard, how old are you?”
“Seventeen, but I’ll be eighteen on December twenty-second,” I said. “I have never had a real birthday because the twenty-second is so close to that other day, but I don’t remember what it is called. If I remember correctly, there are lots of presents from lots of different people and some man or woman named Sanity Clause, I think. I don’t remember well.”
“Young man, I didn’t ask for your birthday. Three demerits, Louise.”
“Three demerits, Nan,” Nurse Louise said.
“You live in North Park, Washington, and attend Louis Bergman Alternative High School in that city. Is that correct?”
“Why do you attend the alternative high school?”
“Because of my poor scholastic performance during my freshman, sophomore, and junior years at North Park High School.”
“What are your poor scholastic issues?”
“I can’t concentrate. Also, I have trouble following instructions, and I have an IQ of 73. Plus, no one likes me because I can only speak French. Are you having a trouble understanding me? I can hear everyone here is speaking French, so you must be able to understand what I’m saying, right?”
“Actually, no. When did you realize you can only speak French?”
“If I remember right, it was in sixth grade. If I remember correctly, I realized at that time I had been switched at birth with a boy whose parents were from the République de Côte d’Ivoire. You probably know it as the Ivory Coast.”
“At what point in sixth grade did you realize you should be living in the Ivory Coast?”
“I’m pretty sure it was during the time I was home with the flu and Syl had to put a bucket beside my bed for me to puke in. Syl doesn’t like me because I’m a dummy and do stupid things. She is always calling me a stupid, ignorant dodo. No, no, no, that is all wrong. Maybe, maybe it was in eighth grade. I was tripped going into the cafeteria at Captain David Nyberg Junior High School and I broke my kneecap and right wrist. I got to ride in an ambulance to the hospital. Syl had to go to the hospital to sign papers so I could receive treatment. E3 had to leave work early to come to the hospital because Syl had to go home to take care of Erika, Emmett, and E4.”
“Who is Syl?”
“Oh, sorry, she is married to E3.”
“Who is E3.”
“He is the father of Edvard, Erika, Emmett, and E4.”
“Do E3 and E4 have names?”
“Oh, sure, they are the same as E1 and E2.”
“What are their names?”
“Oh, wait, you know I didn’t start speaking French until the summer between junior high and high school. Sorry, I’m sometimes confused about dates and when something happened to me. I’m speaking French now, right?”
“No, Edvard, you are not.”
“But if I’m not speaking French, then that might mean I’m not from the République de Côte d’Ivoire. And, if I’m not from there, I might not be an African. What did you do to me? Everything was okay until I came through that door I can’t touch or I’ll receive demerits. Oh, God, where am I?”
I don’t remember much after that. In fact, if you want to know, I think I didn’t become aware of anything for quite a few weeks. I immediately noticed I was in some sort of hospital the morning I woke up. I had an IV in my arm and both wrists were tied to the bedframe. Crazy people are normally tied to their beds. I think it is so they don’t wander away and do crazy things in the ward. Supposedly, crazy people are considered dangerous by normal people.
“Oh, you’re awake,” a voice said.
I tried to move my head, but I think it was strapped to the bed preventing me from seeing who spoke to me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get the doctor,” the voice said.
I looked around as best I could, but it was almost totally dark where I was and I couldn’t see anyone. Maybe it was only a dream.
“Hey, Bro’, how’re y’all gettin’ on? They treatin’ y’all okay?”
I looked around my bed, but I still couldn’t see anyone. Where did that voice come from? Where was I?
“Well, well, the Norwegian Crown Prince has come back from his little Arctic misadventure,” a man’s voice said. He was speaking Norwegian and for some reason I could understand what he was saying. “I suppose you expect everyone to give you obeisance now that you’re back. Well, that’s not going to occur anytime soon. No, sir, the King has specifically tasked me with your cure and trust me that’s not going to occur anytime soon. No, sirree, you’re sick, sick worse than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. All that walking around on those ice floes didn’t do you any good. You’re lucky that polar bear didn’t eat you after he pulled your skiff away from the ship. No, kiddo, you’re not going anywhere this time.”
I looked toward where I thought the voice was coming from, but there was no one that I could see. Was this all in my head and if it was, what could I do about it? I willed myself to go back to sleep, but the dream continued because I had been asleep all along.
The next time I felt like awakening from that bad dream that was still running through my head and I tried concentrating on where I was and how I had gotten there, but I couldn’t imagine why E3 would have put me in such a crazy place. Then for the first time in a long time I realized that I was crazy to think I was switched at birth, from the République de Côte d’Ivoire, was therefore an African, and communicated in French. I remember staring at what I thought was the ceiling, but it actually looked like a puffy cloud floating in the sky.
Didn’t that strange voice say I was the Crown Prince of Norway? How could that be? I lived in the United States of America. Sure, I was of Norwegian ancestry, but how could I be a member of the royal family? I was a nobody. No one in school spoke to me. No one at home spoke to me. No, no, no, that wasn’t right because the other members of my family did talk to me; or, at least I thought so at that strange moment in that strange crazy place.
“Ready to rejoin the living?” a voice said.
I looked over toward the sound and saw that man with the wavy black hair who brought me into the building, but he was wearing different clothes. Obviously, at least one night had passed and now it was morning. Then I realized my head wasn’t strapped to the bed.
“Come on, do you want breakfast, or not?”
“Yes, sure,” I said.
“Okay, get out of that bed. Come on, they’re serving breakfast now.”
“What about my IV and the straps holding me to the bed?”
“Edvard, look around you. Do you see an IV or straps on your wrists?”
I looked and, of course, he was right. It had all been a dream. I was actually in a two-bed room and the beds weren’t the usual hospital beds. In fact, they looked kind of like my twin bed at home. The other bed looked as if it hadn’t been slept in. Well, of course, it did because there weren’t any covers on the mattress. Maybe I was in that detention place that man the nurse called Ernie had warned me about.
“I want you to know that French stuff and being switched at birth really didn’t happen,” I said. “In my dream, I realized I had been crazy to think something dopey as that.”
“Well, where are you now?” he asked.
“I dreamt I was the Crown Prince of Norway and had just returned from the Arctic where I was almost killed by a polar bear.”
“I think dreamt is the key word there.”
“Yes, I suppose it was a dream,” I said. “So what is going to happen to me here?”
“You’ll be evaluated by our psychiatric staff, have some x-rays and lab work done over at the main hospital, and then a diagnosis will be given. Does that sound okay to you.”
“Yes, sure, as long as I’m not dreaming this.”
“I can assure you you’re not dreaming this. Now, come on, get out of bed. After you eat you can have a shower and put on clean clothes. You have your first appointment with your psychiatrist this morning.”
So began my first conscious day at the state mental hospital. The older teen unit had three corridors leading to the dayroom. The sleeping areas, toilets, and showers for the boys was in one corridor, the girls were in another on the opposite side of the dayroom. Between them there was a short corridor out to the main entrance that also had the office for the nurses, three quiet rooms, four offices where patients met with psychiatrists and psychologists, and a room that had a washing machine and dryer for patient use. The dayroom was where the patients stayed between waking and going to sleep. There were a number of four-person tables on one side and an open area for walking on the other side. There was no TV, no magazines, no books, nor anything else to do in the dayroom other than to sit at a table and talk to other patients who would talk to you or you could walk around the open area.
There were twenty kids in the unit. Surprisingly, there were more girls than boys and that continued throughout my stay. Nearly every time a girl would leave, another girl came in to replace her. Sometimes a boy would leave and a girl came in to replace him. At one point there were only four boys there. Allen, 20, was seriously schizophrenic; he walked in circles in the dayroom mumbling bits of traditional Christian hymns, like “Amazing grace going on as to war silent night holy holy” over and over. Jeff, 19, was in a delusion that he was a soldier in Vietnam; surprisingly, he went over there exactly six months, twenty-eight days, after his eighteenth birthday. I guess you could say he never came back. He was always crawling under the tables to get away from incoming mortars and rockets. Stewart, 17, was kind of like me in and out of delusions that didn’t make much sense and dealing with bouts of what is called acting out, which got us an injection in the butt of a powerful sedative and time in the quiet room to sleep it off. That was one of the things that came out of my talks with my assigned psychiatrist.
“Good morning, uh, Edvard, I’m Dr. Nolan,” she said. She was a young woman, maybe thirtyish, with long brown hair down to her shoulders, bright blue eyes, and the whitest skin I had ever seen on anyone. I think people call that sickly. She was wearing one of those white doctor jackets over a light green blouse. “I’ll be your psychiatrist during your stay with us here at Western State, but you will be seeing some of our psychologists for testing. I’ll be exploring your psyche to see how you react to the world around you. Any questions before we begin?”
“No,” I said. Why get into how crazy I was so early in our relationship. Maybe she was a nice person.
“Um, that’s interesting, usually new patients have tons of questions. Anyway, what is your earliest childhood memory?”
Earliest childhood memory? What kind of question was that? But it did make me think back to that early time I was an only child because E3 and Syl had not got around to making babies in earnest. I think I was a mistake or an unexpected consequence of a night on the town.
“Do you want a good memory or a bad one?”
“The choice is yours.”
“I think it was summer. E3, Syl, and I had gone over to Grampa E2 and Gramma Phyllis’ house in Port Angeles on a Friday after E3 got off work. E3’s cousin, Niles, met him at the house and they left to go fishing over on the ocean at La Push. Syl and I stayed at the house until Sunday afternoon when E3 returned. He caught a fifty-three-pound king salmon. I hung out with E2 while E3 was gone. He had National Geographic magazines back to the 1930s, which were interesting, but not as interesting as the maps. He had maps of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the whole world. I liked to look at the maps of New Zealand, Switzerland, and Mauritius. The map of the whole world on the wall in E2’s den kept me busy for hours running my fingers along roads, rivers, coastlines, the borders of countries, locating cities, towns, villages, lakes, seas, oceans, islands, mountains, and the relationships between all of those things.”
“Who is Syl?”
“Syl is my mother. She is married to E3.”
“Do you know her full name?”
“Oh, yes, it’s Sylvia, but back then it was easier to call her Syl.”
“Why not Mommy or Momma, or something like that?”
“Why would I do that? Syl was mean to me. She certainly wasn’t mean to Erika, Emmett, or E4. I was oldest and had to act like a big boy or Syl would hit me with her slipper, shoe, or the piece of cedar kindling on top of the refrigerator. I got hit by that piece of kindling a lot and not on my butt, either. As far as Syl was concerned any part of my body was fair game. I don’t know why she was so mean to me. She acted like a crazy person around me and I know what being crazy is all about.”
“Do you know the names of E3 and E4?”
“Yes, it’s the same as E1 and E2’s names, which is Eric Orton Pederson. E1 was the first, E2 is a Junior, E3 is the Third, and E4 is the Fourth. It is easier for me to refer to each of them by their number in the sequence. Otherwise, they would all be Erics and I’d never know who I was talking about.”
“That’s interesting, you must be quite bright.”
“No, I’m not bright, I’m a dummy because my IQ is only 73. That is why I was always naughty as a little kid. I was too stupid to figure out how to be good. Plus, I got hit a lot because Syl simply doesn’t like me. She’s always calling me a stupid, ignorant dodo because I’m a dummy.”
“That’s strange your psychiatrist didn’t include your IQ data in your profile. Would you mind if we tested you again?”
“No, but I’m sure it won’t do any good.”
I had lots of tests, including an IQ test, but no one ever clued me in on what the results were. They confirmed Dr. Vickers’ diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia. They changed my prescriptions to a different antipsychotic and added an antidepressant. They certainly didn’t add anything to make me smarter. Also, they added an anti-panic pill that I was supposed to take if I felt a panic attack coming on. One thing they didn’t do was to teach me how to swallow that anti-panic pill without water or any other liquid. All the panic attacks I had while I was there and after I left were because I didn’t have any liquid to swallow my pill or I did have water, but didn’t swallow the pill in time to stop the attack.
In the end, E3 came down alone to pick me up. I sat on the chair outside the door to Dr. Nolan’s office while she gave E3 the results of my stay at the hospital and recommended I see a new psychiatrist named Dr. Roberta Kaiser because she was supposed to be an effective psychiatrist with young people like me. Her office was in Seattle up on First Hill or more commonly called Pill Hill because of all the hospitals and medical offices up there. E3 told me that Syl wouldn’t be able to take me to my appointments, so I’d have to take the bus. E3 said I should have the intelligence to do that. What could I say? It wasn’t my fault he didn’t believe I was crazy as I really was, but it was strange he said that because he must surely have known my IQ was only 73. I barely had the intelligence to walk across the street without almost getting hit by a car, which really happened a couple times before I figured out to look both ways. It’s hard being crazy and dumb at the same time.
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