A PSYCHIATRIST’S 1ST LESSON IN VIOLENCE, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

My training as a psychiatrist started when I was two. It was dark and I was standing in a crib screaming my lungs out. No one heard. No one came. No one gave a damn. Not being heard and not being understood has shaped my life.

Twenty-six years later, on July 1, 1969, I entered Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH), an ancient medical fortress located at 34th and Spruce Street, to begin the first day of my three-year psychiatric residency. Residents from Drexel University School of Medicine (back then it was called Hahnemann Medical School), Jefferson Medical College, and The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shared the responsibility for treating thousands of inner city, mentally ill patients. I got off the elevator at the third floor, walked down the dimly lit hallway, and stood frozen staring at the ten-foot-high metal door that led to the locked psychiatric ward. Four years of medical school and a year of medical internship did not prepare me for this moment. Nothing could have prepared me for this moment. Finally, I pushed the entry button.

“Who is it?” a scratchy voice asked through the speaker above my head.

“Art Smukler, one of the new first year psych residents. There’s an eight a.m. meeting.” What if when she buzzed open the door, I simply turned around and left? I’d find a phone on the first floor and explain my grave mistake to the chief of psychiatry. A friend had mentioned that there might even be an opening in Internal Medicine right here at PGH.

“Okay. Come in and close the door immediately behind you.” The door clicked. I sighed and stepped inside. What struck me first was the gloom; a grayness hung in the air and obfuscated any attempt for color to inject life into the wide hallway lined with offices on both sides. The only visible window was way down at the other end of the hall, maybe a hundred feet away. Were those bars across it? Dust particles swirled and danced in the muted light, little molecules that I was inhaling. Was Schizophrenia contagious? Of course not. Nevertheless, I held my breath for an extra few seconds. My next breath was tinged with the odor of urine. A skinny, gray-haired man, six feet tall, bald with a week’s worth of facial stubble, shuffled towards me — tiny steps, jerky and lacking any fluidity. His washed-out Temple University sweatshirt was three-sizes too large and his baggy jeans were wet in the crotch. His face was fixed-and-rigid and dribble oozed down one side of his mouth. As he shuffled, his thumb and forefinger on both hands rolled rhythmically against each other. I turned sideways and let the man pass. What was I thinking when I decided to become a psychiatrist? A tall, stately, latte-colored woman wearing a beige sweater and a knee-length brown skirt, holding a metal chart, stepped out of a doorway and literally blocked my way. Not so hard since I was half plastered against the wall.

“You’re Doctor Smukler, Doctor Arthur Smukler,” she said with authority. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, each strand fully captive.

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“Fourth office on your right.”

“The meeting room?”

She nodded.

“Who are you?” I asked.

She stared me square in the eyes and didn’t break eye contact. I didn’t either.

Finally the woman answered, “Lena, the head nurse.”

I unplastered myself from the wall and extended my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Lena.”

After a few long seconds, Lena gave me a quizzical look and her hand grasped mine, a warm, firm grasp.

“Is something wrong?” I asked. “Something I’m missing?”

She sighed and pointed down the hall. “Room 304, Doc.”

“…Thanks,” I said, and had the distinct feeling she wanted to add something, but thought better of it. Was there a secret to all this madness? As Lena disappeared into the nursing station, an elderly woman with waist-length, disheveled, blond hair with graying roots, approached. She fluttered her eyes provocatively and hissed like a wild cat. Frozen, I nodded hello, and forced myself to keep walking.

A few feet further down the hall, a middle-aged man, black-hair greasy and matted, stood against the wall. His arms were folded tightly across his stained, gray T-shirt, his eyes frozen in place, staring at nothing. As the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention, I walked straight ahead. The schedule called for a full day of orientation before we would take over our new duties. Little did I know what was in store for me…

To read the complete novella, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, PLEASE CLICK TO YOUR RIGHT on the cover.

THE MAN WITH A MICROPHONE IN HIS EAR, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

My sincere thanks to everyone for helping Chasing Backwards have a successful debut.

I’d now like to introduce my new novella, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear.

It is July, 1969 at PGH (Philadelphia General Hospital), an ancient psychiatric fortress. Enter the world of psychiatry through the eyes of a 1st year psychiatric resident on his first day of training on the locked inpatient unit.

A psychotic, paranoid man smashes a piano stool, and using the legs as bludgeoning propellers, tries to attack everyone in his path. He is eventually controlled and placed in leather restraints.

The next day, much to the horror of the clueless resident, this dangerous man becomes his first patient. Learning about Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorders and Paranoid States is the easy part. Overcoming his own fear and how to talk to a psychotic person is something that he’ll never forget and will shape his entire psychiatric career.

The Man with a Microphone in his Ear is available for all eBooks.

Sincerely,

Art Smukler

Don’t forget to subscribe to Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist. You’ll get posts automatically sent to your email address!