Monday, July 15, 2013

Guest blogger Dr. Jesse Hellman and the Question of Whether Ralph Rackstraw was Certifiable

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

These lines are from Scottish poet Robert Burns. He could well have added that we might have the gift to see better what others mean by their acts and words. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps, but very important in trying to understand the issues of involuntary hospitalization that are often discussed here. Yesterday Dinah and her husband joined me and my wife to see HMS Pinafore, and at intermission I commented to Dinah that in today’s culture one of those sisters, cousins or aunts might have called 911 when Ralph Rackstraw talked of suicide: he had the means, he expressed intent, and he believed Josephine did not love him. How differently the play would have gone if he had been quickly certified for observation in the local hospital (see Hogarth’s portrait of Bedlam in “A Rake’s Progress”)!

Recently I have heard of numbers of people (some SR regulars) who were hospitalized without what appears to have been good reason, and then were treated quite harshly and callously on the ward: forced medication and humiliation, which took quite a toll on them. I have no reason to doubt their experiences, but do not understand what exactly transpired.

It led me to ponder more on how we come across to others, and in telling our version of events what is it we stress or do not, what we understand of the other person’s perspective, what they would react to, or not. Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone, engaging in a spirited conversation, and then later hearing from a mutual friend the other person’s version of what went on (if you say “no” think back to dates you had in college)?

This failure in empathy and understanding can occur on both sides, but I suspect it is almost always there in some form. Each person sees only a part of the full picture, or reports it in a manner different from how the other would tell it.

So when someone writes that he did mention to the doctor in the ER that he was having suicidal thoughts but expressed no plan, and was then certified, I wonder what the doctor or others had heard and observed. I wonder what unknown pressures the ER personnel are under, what might have happened recently, what went on in their own lives. At times when people write that they had turned up in an ER I wonder why, and what concerns and fears they had created in others, of which they were unaware.

What experiences have you had in which later you realized that either you or the other person heard or experienced something quite different from what was consciously intended? I would hope in response to this
post we could stay with the question of perception of ourselves and others, as opposed to the many other directions in which the comments might go.