Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Most Frightening Words You Never Want to Hear

No, it’s not something like “Of all the things of mice and men, these are the things that might have been” or something to that effect. True, the things that might have been can send us musing and regretting for too much of our time, if we let it. But you have no idea what the most frightening words are until you are in a situation where they will turn your body cold, bring a sweat to your forehead and make your heart race with fear.  Pray you never hear them.


How do I know what they are? Because I used them and they had the effect I wanted. No, I’m not a sadist, nor do I admire the Marquis de Sade or his penchant for acts against little children, but a little bit of fear can go a long way. I needed those words in order to turn a young man around so he'd begin to have some vision of how terrible his existence could be if I chose to do what I was empowered to do.

The words were something that have lived in my memory since the first time I used them some 25 years ago on a weekday morning in a small cinder block room with a table bolted to the floor. Why do they come to mind now? Sometimes memories bubble up from those neuronal depths because a little jog, a short phrase or a bit of video pulls them back in full force. Today it was watching an episode of "Orange Is the New Black." Yes, TV dramas can have qualities we don't always attribute to them. They can bring new insights, if they're well framed and written, and they can serve as more than entertainment. But not for everyone.

The scene in question is from Season One where Pipper is put into the shoe (solitary confinement) because the social worker on her unit can't handle his lesbian preoccupation, sexual frustration with his wife or the fact that he has too much power. He's a snake who tries oh, so hard to keep that aspect of his personality hidden beneath that wonderful professional demeanor he affects. 

Enough time in an environment of sensory deprivation will change you, no matter what you think that you would be able to endure. The research studies have shown what it can do and, certainly, we know that the CIA has made frequent use of these techniques and others that are a bit more violent. The silence can be so bad that, like those put into water tanks, the sound you hear is that of your heart beating. Watch the Dirk Bogarde film "The Mind Benders" and get a feel for what it might be like. 

We've all had a bit of this fear reaction. Remember what it was like when you were a kid playing the game known as "Hide & Seek?" You hid somewhere, trying hard not to breath in any perceptible way so that the seeker wouldn't find you and you prayed you'd be safe in your hiding place. Many times you weren't caught and, even if you were, what was the worst that would happen? Yeah, you' wouldn't win the game. There weren't any horrible consequences. 

But in the TV series, the man teases Pipper with those frightening words. And they are, "I have the keys." Not too scary you say? No, not unless you're on the receiving end of being confined, and helpless and no way to get anyone to be an ally or to help in any way. Then it becomes very, very frightening, especially if you're young and vulnerable and you've never been in a place like this before.

When did I use the words and why? I was working on an admissions unit in a psychiatric hospital and I was told that a new admission was coming in. The admission was a 21-year-old male who had gotten very drunk the night before, had a fight with his girlfriend and he threatened to kill himself. I have no idea why he wasn't held in a bed at a local hospital or overnight in the local jail. Whatever the reason, he was coming to us and I was to be the responsible person to evaluate him. It was my decision; admit or have him taken home.

They brought him in wearing handcuffs and looking a little bit scared. He was trying hard to just keep from trembling and I knew from his history and the events of the prior night that I could make a difference in this kid's life if I used the words. But mind you, it's not only the words, it's an explanation of what the words portend.

After the initial evaluation when I had determined he wasn't suicidal nor was he an appropriate admission for a psychiatric hospital, I began.  First I told him that three locked doors separated him from freedom once I took him inside. Then I gave a rather abbreviated but nonetheless explicit description of where he would be sleeping with 30 or so psychiatric male patients behind yet another thick wooden locked door. "The staff will all be on the other side of that door," I said, "and they won't hear what's happening in that room where they've just left you and I don't want to describe what could happen in there. It could be pretty ugly and, since the staff are not only on the other side of that heavy door and separated by yet another door with a large day room in between, you could experience something you really don't want to happen to you." 

Then I initiated my major bit of theatrics as I pulled my large ring of 20 keys from the chain that attached it to my waist and slammed it on the desk in front of him. Yes, I know "Seven Beauties" is dancing through your head right about now. He flinched and I told him, "You don't want me taking you back there, do you? I have the keys, you see. Once I take you there, I have no power over what happens back there." 

He shook his head and his eyes opened wide as he muttered that he didn't mean what he said. He was drunk. His girl had upset him and he wanted to go home. End of story.

I signaled the front desk to have someone pick him up and take him home. We never saw him at that hospital again and I suspect he wanted to stay very far away because I had the keys and he didn't.

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