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Body Language: First Of All Do No Harm


     There are times in life when a family's course is forever altered. The damage only becomes apparent much later. Or perhaps too late to be undone. This was one of those times. My mother paced the floor because my father had not come home. It was late at night when the police station rang. The officer told her that my father was safe with them.
     When we arrived at the police station, Father was in a room by himself, sitting at a table looking mortified and frightened. He'd lost his glasses and his suit jacket.
     "Lucien, we're taking you home," my mother said.
     "We need to have him evaluated," the officer said. " We found him sitting in his car. He said he couldn't drive anymore because a voice told him he'd die if he put his hands on the steering wheel. He thinks he killed his daughter."
     "Our baby died of a genetic disease. It was no one's fault." She took her husband's hands in hers trying to bring warmth to the ice she felt.
     "The psychiatrist will be here later tonight," the officer replied. "Lucien needs to stay here until he sees him."
     The doctor who evaluated my father found him oriented to time and place and person, but in his opinion, he was subject to mood swings and limited insight and judgment. My father admitted to hearing God's voice. Based on this information, the doctor diagnosed my father as paranoid schizophrenic and thought he was a danger to himself.
     My mother signed the consent form, and on the line asking the reason for my father's admission to Toledo State Hospital, my mother wrote, "Lucien needs rest." She visited the love of her life in a hospital with Goliath structure, a place of parallel trees and concrete buildings that had not aged well. Some delusional architect had tried to enhance the landscape by adding a few turrets and Corinthian columns, but it hadn't helped. The hospital was a squat mess with barred and screened windows. High-pitched voices and cries came from somewhere deep inside.
     Mother sat in the psychiatrist's office waiting to find out how she could help her husband. On the wall was the etching of Herr Freud. Sigmund the Conqueror. Monarch over the unconscious, explainer of impulses, unleasher of Ego, Master of Id. The doctor told her that my father needed electroshock therapy and she agreed because she thought that would bring my father home.
     Father was wheeled in on a gurney, and his arms were tied to iron railings. They put a wedge under his back and globs of paste were put on both temples. A rubber bridge was inserted between his teeth. The doctor turned a dial on a brown box. Assistants kept his mouth tightly closed around the rubber gag. Someone pressed down on his shoulders as he fishtailed and contorted and convulsed. It was only after the lightning went through his head that the pain in his chest began. His breath came hard. He felt faint and sweaty. Pain shot through his chest upwards to his throat. The pain grew worse. Crushing. He was losing power, terrifying seepage of strength.
     Maybe it's better this way, he thought. Won't have to think about Marguerite anymore, her tiny body a ripple of ribs and belly, her little bones threatening to poke through her skin. Her head almost too heavy to hold.
     Suddenly, there was noise, lights, and commotion. Someone gave him nasal oxygen and took his pulse and blood Pressure. Abruptly, he was a body pathology instead of a brain pathology, and he smiled at the irony.
    "How do you feel?" someone asked.

The elephant sitting on his chest was slowly being replaced by a wolf---a sharp bite but not as much weight.
    "Lucien," the doctor said, "Are you okay?"
     "What happened?" he asked.
     "I think you had a heart attack," the doctor replied. "I'm putting you in the infirmary overnight."
     "Tell Evelyn," my father whispered. If he died without telling her, she'd never forgive him. He laughed to himself, because this was indeed the logic of a deranged mind. The nurse who helped him into a clean hospital gown looked down at her patient's face and wondered why he was smiling.