A Man of Integrity

I was very impressed with the psychiatrist I saw on the single day referenced in this story.  In fact, I put a call into the clinic this morning to see if I could use his name.   It being six years ago, however, he might not remember me.  It being a very memorable event, however, he just might.   Then again, he struck me as such an amazing individual, it’s quite likely that all his visits are just as memorable.  So maybe he won’t remember me after all.  We’ll see.

I believe it was the year 2015 when I decided I would try to get a $20 monthly disabled bus pass, rather than continue to hike up my transportation bill with two dollar drops here and there.  Because a regular bus pass was $80 in Alameda County at the time, I figured it was worth a shot.

As I strolled into the clinic where a psychiatrist was to evaluate my case, I saw a young doctor approaching me from down the hall.  He seemed a bit distraught, or perhaps preoccupied.

“Mr. Pope,” he addressed me.  “Right this way.”

He sat me down in his office and started us off with something unusual.   Apparently, he needed a twenty-minute recording for some sort of presentation before some kind of board.  Thinking I might fit the bill, he asked if he could interview me.

“There is methamphetamine abuse in your history,” he began. “Would you mind if I recorded your answers to some questions first?  Then we can see about getting you your disabled bus pass.”

“I don’t mind at all,” I agreed — even though I did mind.  I never could shake the “tweaker tag” that followed me around, year after year, via medical chart.  I believe I signed something, and the interview began.

Although I don’t recall the exact line of questioning, I was quite surprised when he stopped the recorder about five minutes into the interview.

“I don’t believe you!” he cried. “You are not coming across like a tweaker.”

“Thank you,” I said.  

“In fact, you are coming across like a highly intelligent, perfectly capable and competent man.  I’m sorry, Mr. Pope, but I do not believe you have a legitimate disability, and I am hesitant to sign for your disabled bus pass.”

“Well, um — it probably says on my chart that I am bipolar.”

“Yes it does.  And you are showing no symptoms of bipolar disorder either.”

“That’s probably because I’m not bipolar,” I continued.  “Ever since I had an episode in 2004 that I believe to have been medication-induced, doctors have been reading the word ‘bipolar’ on my chart and not questioning it.  In fact, you are the first clinician who ever has.”

“Does this disturb you?”

“Not at all,” I replied.  “I take it as integrity.”

The doctor paused for a moment.

“I take your statements as integrity, as well.”

“I appreciate that,” I replied.  “But I must say, there really is something wrong with me, and it really does keep me from being employable.”

His interest piqued.  “What do you think is wrong with you?” he asked.

“Well, for one thing, I am able to perform complex tasks that most people find almost impossible — such as typing at an extremely fast speed and playing a piano just as fast.  I have no trouble organizing my thoughts into complex sentences, and to create impressive improvisational music comes natural to me.  However, I am incapable of doing the simplest things that most people do routinely.  I have a really hard time buttoning my shirt and zipping up my pants.   My hands seem only designed to type and play a piano.”

“Go on,” he said, seeming to be intrigued.

“I have great difficulty concentrating.  Oh, I concentrate fine — until I come up against a snag.  Then my mind drifts off into outer space, and I have the devil of a time returning to the intended point of focus.  Although I write profusely, I can count the number of books I’ve read cover to cover on two hands.   My mind spaces out when I’m reading, and sometimes even finds itself rewriting the book I’m reading — all before I realize what I’m doing.   Couldn’t get a college degree, in fact.  Couldn’t handle the reading load. “

“Stop right there!” he exclaimed excitedly.  “Now I have something I can use.”

He turned the recorder back on and let me speak for another twenty minutes.  Then I watched as he immediately picked up my papers, and signed for me to receive a disabled bus pass.

My jaw dropped open.  “Wow!” I shouted.  “What is wrong with me?”

“You’re ADD, man!!”

I tend to doubt that the good doctor will remember me — at least not by name.  And with the fast pace of the business in the Bay Area, he may well choose not to return my call.  It was that very fast pace, however, that led one doctor after another not to question the misdiagnosis they were reading on my charts.  In such an environment, it was certainly refreshing to encounter a doctor whose professional integrity exceeded his sense of hurry.   We’ll see if he returns my call.  

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No – NOT on Drugs . . .

One day I was sitting at my Spot on the corner of Shattuck & Allston in Berkeley, California, leaning my back against the red brick wall of the Downtown Berkeley BART station, as usual.   A young man approached, conversed with me casually for a few minutes, then asked me a question.

“You seem to be a pretty bright guy,” he began.  “What is it about being on drugs that makes a person not want to eat?”

“Do you mean, physiologically?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do they do something to the body that takes away the appetite?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I just asked a homeless guy across the street if he wanted a sandwich, and he said no.”

Something didn’t seem quite right.  So I asked him: “Well, what drug do you think he was on?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know much about drugs.”

“Did he seem intoxicated?” I asked.  “Or dopey?  Or more like, spun?  I mean, were his eyes darting around to and fro, back and forth?  Did he seem paranoid?”

“No, none of those things.”

“Then how do you know he was on drugs?”

“Well, he must have been on drugs.  Why else would he have turned down the sandwich?”

“Did it ever occur to you that he might not have been hungry?”

“Well, no I hadn’t thought of that.”

“How did he respond when you offered to give him a sandwich?”

“He just kinda smiled and said ‘No thank you.'”

“Well then, I would say, he simply wasn’t hungry.   That’s all there is to it.”

“Yeah, but you guys are here suffering all the time, having a hard time finding food.  Couldn’t he have just saved the sandwich for later?”

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“I suppose he could have.  But around here a person who isn’t hungry usually says no, in the expectation that you’ll go give somebody else the sandwich — someone who actually is hungry.”

“That’s what I did.”

“Good for you.”

I remember looking away and smiling at passersby, in what was I suppose a none-too-subtle way of conveying that it might be a good place to end the conversation.

“But it’s been bugging me,” he went on.  “I felt like he wasn’t grateful.  He should have been thankful.  I mean, I was offering him food, wasn’t I?”

“Well, he smiled, didn’t he?   He had probably just eaten something.   But I’m interested in why you thought he was on drugs, when he didn’t particularly seem to be.”

“Aren’t homeless people on drugs?”

“Some,” I said slowly.  “Not all.”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “You don’t seem to be on drugs.”

“But that guy didn’t seem like he was on drugs either, right?”

“That’s right.”

“So how do you know I’m not on drugs?

“Good point,” he replied.  “I guess I don’t.”

“Say, let me ask you something.  Do you think that if a person is homeless, it must be because they’re a drug addict?”

“Well, isn’t that true?”

“No, not really.  Homelessness and drug addiction are not synonymous, you know.   There are drug addicts who live in big mansions, and there are people experiencing homelessness who have never used drugs in their lives.”

At around that point, he took out a dollar bill and tossed it in my hat.

“Thank you,” he said.  “I think I just learned something.”

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