TRAVEL WITH ME TO JULY 1, 1969, by Art Smukler, MD, author & psychiatrist

I sat in the Airstream, sipped my morning coffee, and savored a fresh blueberry muffin. Are wormholes real? Can we actually slip through one and go back in time? What if we could? Would I really want to go back to the moment when my psychiatric career began? That first day of my first year of residency at PGH (Philadelphia General Hospital)?

In that ancient, medical fortress, thousands of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, suicide attempts etc. got the help they needed. Now, places like PGH no longer exist. Severely ill patients wander the streets, every day another challenge to find food and a place to sleep.

Would I go back?

Yes!

Don’t close the hospitals! I’d scream. Don’t believe the politicians who promise to treat patients in a community-based mental health system! It’s a lie. All they want to do is save money! I’d scream and yell and spend a lot more time being an activist.

Also…it would really be cool to be young again. All those new adventures. Watching my children grow up. Having a chance to fix the mistakes that, in retrospect, I know I made.

Plus, I’d buy Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Google and on and on before they were really discovered.

Show me the wormhole!

On the other hand, would I be able to come back to 2022? Would I leave everyone behind?

Hmm. Maybe I need to rethink my wormhole fantasy. The whole grass-is-greener scenario could be a nightmare. While I’m screaming to not close PGH, how would I explain to myself that the place is a nightmare – dark, damp, smelly, scary? Having to be there every day, even as a doctor, wasn’t easy. It gave me the creeps.

Life can be complicated.

Maybe, I’ll just enjoy my morning coffee?

Then again, what about…

Check out THE REAL STORY, a mystery. A fun adventure with an amateur sleuth, who needs to go back into his own unconscious.

THROUGH THE WORMHOLE TO 1972 – THE STATE HOSPITAL IS BACK! by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

My morning bike ride, on the bike path between Santa Monica and Venice, CA, was especially poignant, but not for the obvious reasons.

Interspersed among fellow bike riders, hardy girls in bikinis (It was a nippy 62), hardcore volleyballers, walkers and joggers, surfers, riders of the Bird (the new rage electric scooter) and philosophers — strolling with their cups of coffee and addressing the human condition, were hundreds (YES HUNDREDS) of Street People — arranging their numerous bags filled with gathered treasures, curled up on the sand under dirty blankets, screaming obscenities easily heard from blocks away, taking care of swollen bladders against the walls of buildings, wild-eyed and staring into oblivion, making comments (Thinks he’s so hot! Asshole! You won’t put poison in my body! Come near me and the devil will finish you off!), wrapped in sheets and blankets.

The Street People, of which at least 1/3 are psychotic, were my constant companions as a young psychiatric resident in Philadelphia. The training ground was PGH (Philadelphia General Hospital), founded in 1729 and closed in 1977. Now these unfortunates, who used to fill the beds of hundreds of state hospitals, roam the streets all over the United States. Back in the seventies Community Mental Health was the new rage. It would solve the problem of housing thousands of psychiatrically ill people and save us billions of dollars.

Initially it all worked quite well. There were numerous mental health facilities, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and mental health workers. Then the federal and state money dissolved into other programs and the mentally ill followed their illnesses into the streets.

Do-gooders support the rights of the homeless, but they ignore the fact that these people need food and a safe place to deposit their bodily waste. Fouling the streets is more of a problem than just aesthetics. There is truly the potential to infect many people with bacteria that can easily be picked up by rodents and other disease-carrying-animals and birds. Also, a paranoid person really believes he is being attacked. The streets can be dangerous!

So here I am, remembering “The good old days” when I was a young psychiatrist. In just a few minutes I’ll be having my morning cup of coffee at one of my favorite cafes and reading all about the economy, Trump’s latest brag, a new movie or TV series to see, a great book to read, and how we need to do something about the problem of the homeless. Well, it’s not just a problem; it’s an epidemic!

Luckily a lot has been accomplished since the seventies — new meds, new approaches to mental illness, and a significant reduction in the stigma of mental illness. Taking care of the mentally ill on our streets is also taking care of ourselves. Even selfish people can get behind making changes and investing in the mentally ill and ourselves. Housing, hospitals, medication and mental health workers are expensive. Who better to spend it on than ourselves. Improving the condition of millions of street people will “Make America Great”. Even narcissists sometimes come up with a good tagline.

If you enjoyed reading, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist, you might also enjoy Dr. Smukler’s novels, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.