I remember clearly the first time I met Dave- y. It was the first day of September, and the first day of my year-long internship at the Thorndike Institute. Although the temperature outside was hot and clammy, it was even more uncomfortable inside where I was sweating in the climate-controlled environment. I perspired, not from the heat, but from nerves. I hadn’t known what to expect… and I certainly didn’t expect what I found.
That day had already started off on the wrong foot. First, my car broke down causing me to be three hours late in arriving. I finally arrived at the Institute only to discover my supervisor, Dr. Stilwell, had been called away. So there I was, not knowing anyone or anything. I felt helpless. Eventually, I was able to coerce one of the professional staff, Dr. Theopolis, into giving me a nickel tour of the Institute. I was sorry almost immediately.
Dr. Theopolis droned on and on in a monotonous, less than enthusiastic, recital of the various facilities. Occasionally he would break his militaristic stride to pause in front of a room and give an extremely concise and bland description of its contents. Icy stares abruptly discouraged my questions or hopes for any elaborations. Soon, his drab words barely filtered into my consciousness as I began to realize the shallowness of their content.
In looking back, I realize we must have presented quite a pair. He was a tall, balding, and slightly overweight man, about 55, who wore an unbuttoned white lab coat over plaid pants and a striped shirt, which were apparently put on in record time. I, on the other hand, was an impeccably dressed and, I hope to say, attractive young woman, nearly 26, who was 5′2" tall in my flat heels and weighed 120 pounds drenched and fully dressed. I also had long, straight brown hair at the time, which people said set off my soft blue eyes. Although the contacts were bluer than my irises.
The bored expression on the elder’s face indicated the extent he was enjoying his task. Mine probably revealed traces of anxiety, curiosity, guilt, disillusionment and no little fear. After all, he was an internationally famous neuropsychologist, whose vita must fill a room; whereas I was the naive intern, fresh from graduate work in clinical psychology, who held only an M. A. as I still had to defend my dissertation.
As Dr. Theopolis continued his solitary discourse, I found myself staring at all the closed doors, wondering what lay behind them, curious as to the sources of the strange gurglings and whisperings I heard. Behind many of those doors, I knew, resided my new clientele; patients who had serious enough psychological problems to require hospitalization. I knew many of them would never leave in spite of whatever efforts I could put forth. The thought filled me with apprehension, as I felt terribly incompetent to handle the situation.
As we turned the corner to enter another of the seemingly endless clones of corridors, my daze was shattered by a piercing scream erupting from one of the closed-door rooms. Reacting with more instinct than intelligence, I immediately ran over and threw open the door. Inside, I expected to see a pair of slashed wrists, or a body wracked with agony, Instead, I was greeted with a soft chuckle coming from a young man who sat cross-legged on a bed on the other side of the tiny room.
Stunned, I stood there with my mouth hanging open. The young man -- I guessed him to be about twenty (he turned out to be twenty-two) -- looked up at me with eyes more aged than his body. He was almost pathetic in appearance. His unkempt, dark-brown hair mirrored the disarray of the cluttered, confused room. Strewn about the floor were various items ranging from clothes to books to art supplies. He wore tattered blue jeans with an open flannel shirt hanging untucked. When I looked more carefully, I saw the shirt was not unbuttoned, but ripped. A single tennis shoe lay beneath his stocking feet, its mate was nowhere to be seen. In his hands he held the shredded remains of what once was an etching. He must have just been working on it, for a broken pencil lay in pieces on the bed and floor.
As I stared at him, all of my self-doubts welled to the surface. In spite of all the experience I had working in the Psych Clinic at school, I felt totally unprepared for this. At school, I always felt somewhat in control of the situation. But here, I felt at the complete mercy of the place and the people, especially the one I found myself facing.
The young man cocked his head from side to side slowly examining this new person who so abruptly intruded upon his life. His dark eyes seemed to jerk from right to left, never lingering very long at any one place. He seemed intrigued, not so much by my presence as my appearance, for I did not have on the white coat everyone else wore.
Although his eyes were in almost continuous motion, several times they met mine. I’m not sure what he saw in my eyes, but in his I could see hope pinned across a background of pain and utter turmoil. Gradually, a smile spread across his otherwise expressionless face.
“That’s Dave- y,” spoke Dr. Theopolis, who had come to stand in the doorway, behind me. “He’s one of the patients you’ll be working with. I’m afraid you won’t be able to help him much.”
“Why did he scream?” I asked, without taking my eyes off Dave- y, in a voice barely above a whisper. I hadn’t missed Dave- y’s smile disappearing with Dr. Theopolis’ appearance.
“Dave- y underwent a corpus callosotomy operation when he was thirteen to try and control his severe epileptic seizures.”
I remember at the time wondering why Dr. Theopolis pronounced “Davy” in such a strange manner -- saying “Dave” pausing then adding “eee” at the end, as though he were unsure as to call him “Dave” or “Davy.” I was afraid to mention it, however, for fear it was simply a speech slur and I would embarrass him.
“Callosotomy?” I asked, the word ringing faint bells in my newly dulled memory.
“It’s a procedure whereby the corpus collosum is severed, cutting off virtually all communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.” He answered, with a characteristically condescending tone.
“But why did he scream?” I asked again, bewildered.
“Dave- y is experiencing a recurrence of seizures as well as exhibiting wildly erratic behavior.” He said, then looked down towards the youth on the couch, “I’m afraid we may have to operate again.”
As he spoke, a small tremor shook Dave- y’s body. A quiver, which began on the right side of his face, quickly spread through his body. The muscles on his arms and chest rippled in a disordered array of convulsion. His right leg and arm seemed to spasm uncontrollably. His facial muscles twitched wildly, distorting his face into misbegotten shapes. But his eyes never left mine.
Unperturbed, Dr. Theopolis turned to leave. But I was frozen in place. Dave- y’s eyes kept drawing me. There was something special about him, about his eyes compelling my interest, and compassion. But all I could do was watch.
“Come on, he’ll be fine in a minute. These fits never last long.” Dr. Theopolis’ voice betrayed annoyance.
I began to turn away, but something held me back. Dave- y’s eyes kept beckoning me. I watched his face become more tortured as his mouth opened and his lips twisted around, in an apparent effort to form a word.
Without knowing why, I stifled my fear and hesitantly walked over to where he was sitting. Although I could not make out the words, I was now sure he was trying to say something. When I got closer, I bent down to try to hear his faint murmurings. His right arm and leg flailed more violently against the bed with my approach. Suddenly, his left arm reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me close to him.
“Help me,” he whispered.
Dr. Stilwell was with me the first time I worked with Dave- y. We took Dave- y to the research lab, at Dr. Stilwell’s suggestion. He felt that it would be a good idea for me to run through a few of the basic experiments done with Dave- y so that I would get a better idea of some of the problems experienced by a split-brain person.
“As you know from his file,” Dr. Stilwell said to me as the three of us entered the lab, “Dave- y has been unable to speak complete sentences -- indeed, he can hardly speak at all -- since about three years after his operation. Because of this, it is a little harder to work with him. That’s why these studies are so important to understanding what’s going on inside his head.”
Like Dr. Theopolis, Dr. Stilwell deliberately paused before saying the “y” in “Davy.” I noticed this particularity when other people spoke his name as well. My curiosity was overpowering.
“Dr. Stilwell,” I began hesitantly, “I noticed everyone pronounces his name as ‘Dave-(pause)-eee.’ Why the pause?”
“It’s a complicated story, but I’ll try to explain. When he came to us, Dave- y was called simply ‘David.’ But after his operation, an unexpected development began to take place. Each hemisphere started to develop its own personality and its own identity. Further, the right hemisphere developed its own language center. In order to pacify them, and help us in keeping each of them straight, we called the right hemisphere ‘Davy’ and the left, ‘Dave’ -- together they became ‘Dave- y.“’
I must have had a terribly puzzled look on my face, for he looked at me and laughed. “You’ll understand a bit better when we’ve gone through a few of these experiments.”
I nodded, not satisfied, but at least patient.
“The first few experiments,” he said as he walked to a cluttered table at the far end of the room, “will be with this...” He waved his hand towards a large L-shaped box mounted on the table. The box had a view-scope like the old nickelodeons. Also on the table was an array of objects such as pens, fruit, paper clips, etc., and a set of large cards. Judging from the few face up cards I could see, each card had a picture representing one of the objects on the table.
Dr. Stilwell continued. “This is a tachistoscope – or ‘t-scope’ as it is called for obvious reasons. Are you familiar with t-scopes?”
I shook my head. Experimental Psychology was not my bag -- it was an area condemned to boredom.
He went on. “A t-scope is used to present visual stimuli for very brief intervals --so brief the eyes do not have a chance to move. As you know, all visual information from both eyes to the right of straight ahead is sent to the left hemisphere, and vice-versa for the left. So we can control which hemisphere sees the stimulus by having the subject, Dave- y, look straight ahead at a fixation dot while we flash the stimulus to the right or left.”
I nodded, not totally understanding, but afraid of appearing stupid. Besides, I felt I would understand better after watching.
Dr. Stilwell had Dave- y sit behind the t-scope and look into the view scope while he flashed a picture of one of the objects to either Dave- y’s right or left hemisphere. Dave- y was to pick up that object using either his left or his right hand.
“Now watch carefully, Mary,” Dr. Stilwell whispered to me as he sorted through a stack of stimulus items. “I’m going to flash this picture,” he held up a picture of a banana “to his left hemisphere.” Then he turned to Dave- y, “Are you ready?”
Dave- y nodded. “Okay,” Dr. Stilwell said as he looked across the table at him. “Dave, I want you to pick up the object whose picture you see in the t-scope. But I want you to use only your right hand.”
As soon as the picture flashed, Dave- y’s right hand reached out and, as expected, picked up the banana. Dr. Stilwell turned to me and whispered, “that time I flashed the picture to the left hemisphere -- the one controlling the right hand. Now watch what happens when it is a different hemisphere receiving the information.”
In a louder voice, Dr. Stilwell addressed Dave- y, “All right, Davy, I want you to do the same thing using your left hand.”
Again, Dr. Stilwell flashed the picture of the banana, but this time, Dave- y hesitated. Then slowly his left hand reached out only to hover over the objects. Finally, it settled upon the pencil, which he picked up.
Dr. Stilwell smiled when he saw the puzzled look on my face. “You see, in normal people, although the image was flashed to the wrong hemisphere, the information would be transmitted to the other hemisphere where the decision to pick up the correct object would be made. In Dave- y’s case, the information transfer cannot take place. In other words, the left hand does not know what the left hemisphere is seeing.
“Let me give you another demonstration.”
Dr. Stilwell walked over to a table on the other side of the room. On top of the table were two sets of blocks with each block having a simple pattern painted on each face. Dr. Stilwell quickly arranged the set of blocks to form a large, but very simple geometric pattern. When he finished, he straightened up and, motioning to the table, said, “Dave- y, would you come over here please.”
Dave- y got up from his stool and strolled across the room to the table where he sat down on the chair in front of the unassembled blocks.
" Dave- y, I want you to assemble these blocks,” Dr. Stilwell said pointing to the unassembled array, “in this pattern,” he pointed to the finished set. “I want you to use only your right hand.”
Dave- y’s face looked a little puzzled, but he nodded. His right hand then reached out and gathered the blocks in front of him. Slowly, he began to place them down, but not in the correct pattern. Instead they formed a seemingly random pattern. He kept taking a single block and turning it around and around as though trying to figure out why it did not match the others. As he labored, the array in front of him formed only a Piccassoish resemblance to the master. All the while, Dave- y’s face became more and more furrowed, as lines of concentration, and frustration etched their way onto his skin.
As I watched, the muscles on the left side of his face tightened into a horrible grimace. Suddenly, his left hand shot out from under the table and grabbed his other arm, picking it up and physically shoving it to the side. With the right arm out of the way, the left hand quickly reassembled the scattered array, to form an exact duplicate of Dr. Stilwell’s model.
“You see, Mary,” Dr. Stilwell said to me, “each hemisphere has its own areas of specialization. But since each hemisphere can only exert control over half the body, Dave- y’s right hemisphere, the one best suited for this task, had to use its left hand to physically push the right hand away so that it could finish the task.
As Dr. Stilwell was talking to me, I kept starring at Dave- y. His right hand balled up into a fist and begun to bang down against the table. Again I noticed the rippling of muscles across his face, chest and arms. The tremors increased in intensity until his right arm swept across the table, scattering the blocks across the room. I watched helplessly as Dave- y pushed hard against the table, sending himself over backwards in his chair. On the floor he lay seized by apparent convulsions, emitting loud grunts. I thought I could distinguish him saying “no, no,” but it was so garbled, I could not be sure.
Dr. Stilwell and I rushed over to where he was floundering on the floor. But as we reacted, the fifteen-second seizure was over.
Dr. Stilwell bent over him, taking Dave- y’s hands into his. “It’s all right, Dave- y, it’s all right,” he said soothingly to the glassy-eyed person on the floor. “Come on, let’s sit up.” Dr. Stilwell gently placed his hand behind Dave- y’s head and helped him to a sitting position. But Dave- y’s right hand was still clenched tight. Dr. Stilwell noticed and started stroking his hand. “Dave, relax. It’s okay. It’s not important Davy can do that task better than you.” A loud grunt came from Dave- y.
Dr. Stilwell continued in a soft voice. “We know there are things that Davy does better than you, just as there are things you can do better than him, and just like there are things Mary can do better than me. I just wanted to show Mary what each of you can do best.”
I stood there and just stared at the two of them, trying hard to understand what was happening. I discovered I was not as concerned by Dave- y’s welfare as I was repulsed by my new images of this man/monster sitting on the floor.
Dr. Stilwell, apparently satisfied the crisis was over, straightened up and spoke, “he’ll be all right now. He just needs some rest.”
I again looked down at the surrealistic creature. But the horror I was feeling, the natural repugnance one has towards strange things one does not understand, dissipated with the perception of something I did understand; he was sobbing.
Responding to the universal cry for affection, I went over and sat down next to him, placing my arm around his shoulders. As I sat there holding his hands in my other hand, trying to comfort him from unknown pains, I thought about what I just witnessed. It was now quite clear I had my arm around not one person, but two. And they did not like each other.
Gradually over the next few weeks, I became more use to the idea I was treating two people instead of one. I even tailored the sessions so both Dave and Davy would have a chance to do things each enjoyed. But at the same time I tried to do things they both would enjoy.
I quickly discovered one thing they both seemed to enjoy very much, and that was me. Whenever we were together, he seemed to be at peace with himself. After our initial encounters, the seizures disappeared entirely when we were together -- to reappear again only after I left.
His affections towards me were displayed in other ways as well. He sought during all our sessions to be as close to me as possible -- seeking the comfort of my hands on his. And there was no denying the love he held in his eyes, when they gazed into mine.
I was initially afraid of what his feelings might mean and how they could hurt him. But there was something about him keeping me from reporting his behaviors -- or from trying to discourage them. Maybe it was the ghoulish attraction one feels towards the pathetic, or an oversized proportion of sympathy. But one thing was undeniable -- his progress when working with me was tremendous.
Another issue, however, continued to grow on my mind... he was slated for exploratory brain surgery. The medical staff at the hospital was convinced his problems were physiological -- even though they openly admitted Dave- y’s “attacks” were not like any epileptic seizure they had seen. I found their reasoning lacking. Especially when, as time grew on, I found what I thought had been a lucky accident beginning to appear deliberate.
This “lucky accident” was Dave- y never displayed any of his abnormal behavior -- including the seizures -- when we were alone. I kept asking myself, “why?” One day, after working with him for nearly two months, I decided to put the question to Dave- y directly.
Dave- y was sitting cross-legged on his bed when I arrived that morning, sketch pad on his lap. Music from the “Cars” blaring from the stereo he had by his bed. He was dressed neatly, and his room was completely picked up. When he became aware of my presence, he put the pencil down, and looked up at me with hopeful eyes. A wide, almost sheepish, grin shone forth as he held up his sketch book allowing me to see his latest work. On the surface of the paper, softly etched in subtle lines, was a very flattering likeness of me. I bit my upper lip, to try to stave off the tears.
“It’s so beautiful, Dave- y! Thank you.” I managed to mumble.
“It’s for you.” He said, handing it to me.
I graciously accepted the offering, then sat down in a chair next to the bed. “That’s one of the nicest things anyone has done for me,” I said with sincere honesty.
We just sat there, staring at each other for awhile. My moistened eyes went from his to the drawing I cradled in my lap. His eyes never left me.
“Dave- y,” I began, with my eyes looking at, but not seeing the etching.” Dave- y, I’ve got to talk with you about something.”
I looked up at him, at the scared look upon his face. He gripped the edge of the bed tightly with white knuckled fists. I knew what he had to be thinking, for I had been there before. I reached out and caressed his hand, reassuringly.
“No, I’m not here to give you a ‘Dear John’ speech.” I sighed, knowing someday that speech would probably have to be made.
I sat quietly for a moment, trying to form the question plaguing me. At last I looked into his sad eyes and just blurted out, “Dave- y, I must know something. Yesterday, and most every time we’re together, you act completely different than when Dr. Theopolis or Dr. Stilwell are here. There’re no spasms, no temper tantrums, no turmoil. Why?”
There was a long pause. Then he began, “I...” Dave- y’s face went dead white. The right side of his body tensed as though struck by a lightning bolt. The tremors quickly spread across his body, wracking him with obvious pain.
I dashed quickly for the bottles of medication laying on the table at his bedside, nearly breaking the bottles in my haste to open the child- proof caps. But when I looked back at his withering body, it was not sympathy I felt, but anger. Somehow, I knew I was being made to play the fool, and I didn’t like it. There was something in his eyes...
All I could think of was the hurt he was dishing out, not just to himself, but to me. Forgetting completely about my training, my ethics, my job, I reached over and slapped him in the face.
“Stop it!” I shouted. “Stop it!” I slapped him again.
An emotionally pained expression came over him. The tremors stopped, but I hardly noticed.
“What the hell are you doing!” I shouted, still enraged. “Why are you trying to hurt me?
-- Or yourself?” Those last words barely whispered, hanging dangerously in the air.
I collapsed down into the chair, staring across at Dave- y’s suddenly quiet face. The confusion in his eyes belied a divided mind. Simultaneously, I could feel him reaching out to me with one hand and pushing me away with the other. His left hand sought out mine and grasped it tightly. I let out a deep sigh, for at last I understood exactly what he had been doing.
Dr. Stilwell called me to meet him in his office shortly after he read my report. After being ushered in by his secretary, I sat down in the richly upholstered chair opposite his desk. I fidgeted nervously in the confines of the large, softly cushioned leather seat. Occasionally I glanced across the cluttered, wide oak desk at the middle-aged balding man sitting on the other side. Dr. Stilwell appeared very relaxed, leaning back in his expensive executive chair, with his feet propped upon his desk.
After an eternity of seconds passed, Stilwell looked up at me, as though just becoming aware of my presence. Stilwell’s deep voice broke the stony silence. “Dr. Theopolis will be joining us in a minute.” He straightened up in his chair and somewhat dramatically placed the report on the table.
I wondered how long we would have to wait for Dr. Theopolis to arrive. At least, I thought, they seemed willing to listen to me. I was fearful they would just laugh. But, fortunately, the Thorndike Institute’s excellent reputation as a teaching hospital was well founded. They would listen, I decided, if only to tear my arguments apart. Perhaps now that I have my doctorate, having successfully defended my dissertation a few weeks previous, I would have more creditability in their eyes.
Stilwell continued to peer through his bifocaled glasses at the clinical report he held in his hands. Thick clouds of smoke sporadically spewed from his thick-lipped mouth as he puffed on his expensive cigar. I tried to suppress a cough as the not -so-fragrant aroma reached my nostrils. The attempt was only partially successful. Apparently, the clinic’s no-smoking policy had some notable exceptions, such as the Director’s office.
“I’ve been reading your report on Dave- y.”
I held my breath as he continued. “You’ve obviously invested a great deal of time and energy in this case.” Stilwell paused as he sucked deeply upon the diminishing cigar. “However, I’m afraid your inexperience and lack of knowledge in the area of split-brain research is quite telling.”
The once bright sparkle of hope dimmed quickly, as I sank deeper into the chair.
The opening of the door saved me from further immediate embarrassment. But I was afraid of what was to come.
Dr. Theopolis excused himself for the slight delay, mumbling something about the patient in 314. He then settled into a comfortable position on the small overstuffed sofa, to my right. His penetrating gaze tearing through my brave façade.
“Theo, we were just about to go over Dr. Newnan’s report on Dave- y.” Score one for my new title.
I could see Dr. Theopolis’ facial muscles tense, as his right hand clenched the report it held more tightly. Theo’s attention turned from Stilwell to me as he pivoted to face me.
“Perhaps--,” he began in a very low, intimidating voice, “perhaps, it would be useful if you went over the report again for us.”
I sucked in my breath as I gathered courage. I was beginning to understand what I had done in that report. I had, in effect, told two of the nation’s leading scientists they were completely wrong. Who the hell was I, anyway?
“Well, ” I swallowed hard, desperately trying to gather some moisture for my mouth to work. “I have, uh, been working with Dave- y rather extensively the past several months.”
I looked at the two sets of eyes staring intently at me. “I have also spent a good deal of time reviewing his case history.
“As you remember, for several years after the commissurotomy, Dave- y was free from seizures of any kind. However, they started to reappear three years ago, when he was eighteen. I found this time frame to be very interesting, especially as this is roughly the same period that you,” I said, nodding towards Dr. Theopolis, “first noted the occurrence of right hemisphere speech in Dave- y.”
“Are you implying there is some connection?” interrupted Stilwell.
“Well, not directly. But as work progressed with Dave- y, you both noted how each hemisphere became more and more independent...each forming its own personality.”
Stilwell roughly ground the remains of his cigar into the ashtray. Distracted, I paused to regroup.
“Yes, sir,” I swallowed. “Well, as these personalities became more and more behaviorally divergent, the quote, ‘seizure s,’ unquote, became more and more frequent.”
Theopolis leaned far forward in the couch. “So.”
“So--” I paused and thought to myself ‘here goes nothing.’ “So, I think the two are related.”
“My dear lady,” started Dr. Theopolis in his most condescending tone, “as they must have taught you in kiddy stat, ‘correlation does not imply causation.“’
“I understand.” I tried hard to remain calm, “It’s just that in working with him, I, uh, well, I don’t think his seizures are physiologically based.”
Theopolis muttered a loud “harrumph” and turned away from me. Stilwell leaned thoughtfully back in his chair.
“Do you realize what you are saying, Mary?” Stilwell asked in a voice barely above a whisper. He continued without awaiting a response. “You are contradicting the opinion of one of the most respected neuropsychologists in the country, someone who also happens to be a damn good M.D…and with what evidence?” He paused, staring me straight in the eye. “We are talking about a person’s life, one that might be in serious jeopardy if we don’t operate. In order to risk otherwise, I’m afraid I need something a better than a ‘hunch’.”
“It’s more than a hunch!” I fought to hold back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. Visions of bloody knives carving into Dave- y’s scalp danced vividly in my mind’s eye. “Dave- y is locked into a no-win battle with himself. Each hemisphere, each personality is trying to control his body...”
Theopolis chuckled sarcastically, “a classic schizophrenic.”
“In a way. But in Dave- y’s case it’s much more dangerous.” I sucked in a quick breath and met Dr. Stilwell’s gaze. “In a very real sense, there are two people locked in that one skull. Those tremors we see, they are the result of that battle.” My stomach contracted tightly. As I saw the doubting looks on their faces, I realized then I could never approach them with what I really felt was the cause of those tremors.
Theopolis simply shook his head and chuckled softly.
“Mary, couldn’t it also be possible,” Stilwell’s deep voice remained calm and thoughtful, “the seizures could have caused the radical behavior rather than vice versa. After all, the epilepsy has probably caused considerable brain damage.”
“But there’s no evidence of that.” I turned to confront Theopolis. “Even the MRI failed to reveal extensive tissue damage.”
“The EEG showed abnormal patterns,” replied Theopolis.
“Abnormal? What’s normal about having your corpus- collosum severed?” I glanced over to Stilwell. There was a trace of a smile forming on his face. Apparently, he was enjoying the fireworks.
“Young lady” -- Theopolis’ voice was harsh -- “I dare say I’ve had a little more experience in working with split-brain patients, and a damn sight more experience with EEG’s!”
“Mary,” Stilwell sighed deeply, but continued in a calm, reassuring voice, “It is true we don’t know why Dave- y is experiencing these seizures. That is why we decided to have exploratory surgery done.” Stilwell’s voice softened as he saw a tear trace its way down my cheek. “Dr. Carmichael, who will perform the operation, is one of the country’s top neurosurgeons. And as this is exploratory, there will be little risk to Dave- y.”
“Risk? There’s always risk! Especially when we are dealing with the brain. Look, I know I must appear a little ridiculous...” Theopolis let out a grunt. I took the time to wipe a solitary tear. “But I’m sure of what I’m saying.
“When I work with Dave- y I can see the conflict. His left hand will start to draw, or paint, and the right will push it away. He can’t talk because each hemisphere interferes with the other’s attempts to do so.
“But what really convinced me was when I worked with him on the t-scope. Before, when you flashed an object in the right visual field, such as a pencil, and asked him to pick that object out of an array of objects in front of him using only his left hand, he couldn’t do it. He might guess, but he would almost always be wrong. When I started working with him, I decided to do it a little differently by rewarding him for each correct response... he got it right.”
Stilwell sat forward in his chair, staring intently at me.
I continued, with reborn hope. “I repeated the task again, and again to be sure. He got it correctly every time.”
“You probably had the exposure set too long.” I could swear Theopolis muttered “you twit” under his breath at the end of that sentence. “He was just moving his eyes.”
“I thought of that, of course. I started with the exposure setting you used before, then moved it down to 100 milliseconds. There was no time for eye movement. I was as puzzled as you by this, so I began to watch carefully how he did it, to see if there was some way he could be cheating.” I dropped my voice dramatically, “what I observed was a series of muscle twitches across the back, face and chest occurring immediately after stimulus onset.”
“Rapid light flashes have been known to trigger epileptic seizures.” Theopolis quickly interceded.
“But these were not random twitchings,” I replied excitedly. “There was a definite pattern to each one. No, these apparent ‘spasms’ were not accidental, but were a form of communication from one hemisphere to the other for mutual gain.”
“I suppose you’re now going to tell us the seizures he’s been having are nothing more than one hemisphere swearing at the other.” Theopolis smiled at his own sarcasm. Then he turned and looked at Stilwell. “I think I’ve heard enough.” Theopolis rose from his seat. “If you’ll excuse me, I have more important things to attend to.”
My last reserve of self -control was nearly exhausted. But I could not give Theopolis the satisfaction of having a “hissy” fit. I managed to temper my emotions but could not help asking. “What the hell is more important than saving a person’s life?”
Theopolis’ temper control was not as effective. “Who the hell are you to lecture me about saving someone’s life?” he said, fairly shouting. “It is I that is trying to save that young boy’s life. I don’t need some pretentious idiot girl from Kansas to tell me what’s best for my patients!”
“Patience, Theo... ” spoke Stilwell, softly.
“Look, you may know more about the brain and how it works than I do. But what do you know about people?” My eyes were seeing blood red as I continued with a voice now filled with emotion despite my efforts to remain calm, “You say you care about Dave- y’s life, his wellbeing, but what you really care about is being right. You can’t stand the thought of some ‘hick’ girl from Kansas showing you up. If you really cared more about Dave- y than about all your lousy publications, then perhaps you’d care enough to see if there’s anything to what I say. Then maybe we really can help him.”
“I already know there’s nothing to what you’re saying.”
“Do you? Tell me, why is it he never has a ‘seizure’ around me? I’ll tell you why... because he, they, both like me.” Theopolis broke into a grin, but I went on. “You may think that’s funny, but if you were really thinking, you’d realize it means something. Examine the record! I’m the only girl they’ve both ever liked. God knows why, but I am. When I’m there, they don’t need to fight, because they both want to be there with me.”
I turned and faced Dr. Stilwell. “All I’m asking is you give me a chance to prove I’m right. His condition, even if you don’t think it’s improved, you’d have to agree hasn’t deteriorated in the past couple of months...One month, that’s all. And I’ll get the evidence you want.”
Stilwell cupped his hand underneath his chin, with his elbow planted on the arm rest. Pensively, he rocked slowly back and forth. I wiped the moisture from my cheeks, feeling every second of agonized silence. Finally, Stilwell looked down at the report laying on his desk, then gazed up into my reddened eyes.
“All right. One month.”
Dr. Stilwell cooperated fully by having my regular workload lightened in order for me to spend more and more time with Dave- y; which I did.
Dave- y’s affection for me continued to grow. But I said nothing. The rationale I used on myself was in this case it didn’t matter what the implications for therapy were, as long as it worked. But I’m not sure, even now, whether that was the whole truth.
Dave- y’s seizures gradually became less frequent, even when I was gone. Instead, his energies became channeled into more constructive areas. For instance, I started tutoring him in his high school classes, which he had forsaken some three years earlier. He also continued to draw, and even finger painted…with both hands. The latter was fascinating to watch as he would use his left hand to draw various shapes, then would help give them color with his right. The results were fascinating, and beautiful.
The turning point, however, came on the night of December 23th, and Dave- y and I decided to have a little party in honor of Christmas’s as I would be gone the next few days. I brought my guitar and even managed to smuggle in a bottle of wine with some bread and cheese.
I don’t know where or how he got them, but he had his room lit by candlelight when I arrived. He even had my favorite Neil Dimond album playing on the stereo.
Of course, as soon as he saw the wine, he broke out into the biggest grin I’ve ever seen. I believe that night must have been the first night he ever had alcohol to drink. Always before it would have been too dangerous on top of the medication he was taking. But he had not taken a single pill in over two weeks now, so I saw no problem.
He surprised me with another picture he had drawn, this one wrapped in a bow. As I took his gift, tears filled my eyes as I held a most beautiful portrait of myself, done with painstaking care with colored pencils.
We sat around for a while, laughing at all the dumb jokes I could remember. It was strange, because I don’t think he understood half of the jokes I told, but he laughed anyway, whenever he saw I was about to. I even got him to talk a little bit about himself, or, rather, about his family. I still could not talk openly with him about his problem, for fear any mention of it would trigger another “attack.”
After drinking a toast with the wine, and sharing some of the bread and cheese, I decided to put on my one-person folk-singing show. Although no master by any means, I could still play the guitar without embarrassing myself.
I began by singing a few old Judy Collins tunes, which he loved tremendously. But what surprised me the most was he sang along -- fluently, although occasionally misplacing a word here and there. I felt tremendous. We never had so much fun.
When I was through playing the medley of the few songs we both knew, I started to put the guitar down. But, as I did, he reached out with his hand to stop me. Then he leaned back and pointed at the guitar I still held in my lap.
“I want you to teach me guitar.” He said in a very subdued, but contented voice.
The request startled me. I never thought of teaching him to play, and now I felt foolish. Of course the guitar was a nearly perfect instrument for him to learn, for all it required of the right hand (Dave) was to keep time by strumming. The left, meanwhile, was responsible for the cord selection, which the right hemisphere, Davy, was best suited for anyway. In this way, the guitar required both hemispheres to work together to achieve a common goal: a song. And now, because of me, he had the motivation to learn.
We spent the rest of the evening going over the strings and some easy chords. I even taught him a few simple songs such as “When the Saints go Marching In,” which he picked up with surprising ease. By the time the night nurse finally broke us apart, we had become so engrossed in the music, we had completely forgotten to hide the wine bottle.
I knew I made tremendous progress with Dave- y in the two weeks since the fateful meeting with Stilwell and Theopolis. But I didn’t kid myself. It was going to take time. Unfortunately, I was not given that time.
It was the day after I returned from my short Christmas break, when I was again summoned into face Dr. Stilwell. At the time, I was sure he was going to chew me out royally for bringing wine into Dave- y’s room the other night.
But when I got into his office, I realized something more serious was afoot. Dr. Theopolis was there, and so was a stranger. He was a tall, fairly good-looking, and definitely distinguished gentleman with dark black hair specked with streaks of grey, especially around the temples. His hands were the most memorable part of him, however, as they were long and sleek, like a piano player’s.
Dr. Stilwell ushered me in with his arm around my waist. His hand held me firm, as though trying to reassure me. He led me over to the distinguished stranger.
“Mary, I would like for you to meet Dr. Carmichael.”
The sound of his name was like a stake piercing my heart. In blind anger, I whirled out of Stilwell’s grasp, all but ignoring Carmichael’s outstretched hand.
“You said one month!” I could not control myself. I was nearly hysterical as tears rained down upon my cheeks. I knew what was happening.
" Ma r y, Mary, listen to me,” Dr. Stilwell spoke. He sought unsuccessfully to place his hands upon my shoulders to calm me down. I was not about to calm down. He continued anyway, “Dr. Carmichael is going to be out of the country in two weeks, and this is the only time he could fit us into his very demanding schedule.... Mary he’s the best there is, and you want the best, don’t you?”
Theopolis was his usual understanding self. “This is ridiculous. How can you call yourself a clinical psychologist? Get a grip on yourself. You’d think he was going to operate on you.”
All I could think of was “you son-of-a-bitch.” I’m not sure whether I actually said it or not, but I’m sure the look I gave him said it clear enough. But I managed to pull myself somewhat together, knowing I wasn’t doing Dave- y or me any good like I was. In the background, Dr. Stilwell was reciting the various reasons why they had to operate, but I didn’t hear one word... All I could think about was the surgeon’s scalpel slicing away. It wasn’t right. I could not let it happen.
I wiped away the tears still streaming down my face and turned to face Dr. Stilwell. And I spoke, with a voice weakened by tears, but strengthened with determination.
“Dr. Stilwell, you must not operate. There is nothing physically wrong with Dave y.”
A snicker could be heard coming from the direction of Theopolis. I ignored it.
I continued as best I could, alternating looking at Dr. Stillwell and Dr. Carmichael. I completely ignored Dr. Thorndike. “Look, two weeks ago, I gave you a report on what I found. On the strength of that report, you recommended putting off surgery for a month. Since that time, Dave- y has, by your own admission, made tremendous progress. Damn, he hasn’t even had one seizure witnessed by anyone in the last five days. And when was the last time you saw a bruise on him? Yet you want to operate?” I paused, forcing myself to calm down, noting I had the complete attention of at least two of the three men. Theopolis was looking down at his notes, obviously perturbed.
I continued, my voice beginning to break, “My report, however, was not complete. I left out perhaps the most important part for fear you’d think I was some half-baked idiot and not pay the slightest attention.”
“Go on,” Dr. Stilwell said, as he sat down behind his desk.
“I’m sure you could tell in my report I was implying Dave- y was faking, or rather deliberately having the seizures.”
Dr. Stilwell nodded. I continued, “What I didn’t say was why.”
I paused long enough to suck in all the breath I could, which wasn’t much. I couldn’t even bring myself to look him in the eyes, for fear I would see them laughing back at me.
“I believe that Dave is suicidal -- and is, or rather was actually in the midst of carrying it out.”
The room became deathly quiet. The expected chuckle, however, never came. Gradually, I summoned enough courage to look up. Dr. Stilwell was leaning back in his chair, thoughtfully puffing on his pipe, which apparently replaced the cigar for the benefit of his guests. “Please continue,” he said, with more tenderness than I thought possible.
“You see,” I began, “Dave was methodically clever in planning his suicide. He had to be since Davy did not want to die. Dave could not directly commit suicide since Davy could, and did stop any of his physical attempts at taking both their lives. That’s why his body was so often covered with bruises. It’s from Dave- y physically fighting himself. Yet Davy could not prevent Dave from simulating the tremors. And Dave knew if he continued to have ‘seizures’ despite the increased medication, and all other attempts to stop them, you would sooner or later have to operate. And if you operated, there was a good chance that either Dave or Davy, or both would not survive, which was exactly what Dave wanted. Davy knew this, but any attempt of his to communicate it to the outside world was blocked by Dave, setting off another battle of the body. And of course, these ‘battles’ would appear to be a seizure or at least ‘erratic behavior’...further helping Dave’s cause.
“Dave’s plan was working to perfection, except for one thing... me. Dave slipped and let me see the truth -- perhaps he was crying out for help. I hope so.”
Dr. Stilwell remained quiet for a while. Then he tapped the ashes from his pipe into the ashtray, only to fill the pipe with fresh tobacco he removed from a pouch in his pocket. “Why,” he began at last, “do you suppose he chose to reveal the plan only to you.”
“He didn’t do it deliberately. I figured it out by watching his behavior. Once I stopped thinking of him as a ‘split-brain’ patient and started thinking of him as a regular client, the behavior pattern became fairly obvious.
“But the real key comes from both Dave and Davy liking me. When I’m around, there is no conflict between them as my presence pleases them both. And that’s the way I think I can help them. By showing them the things they can have and share, if only they work together.
“Look, Dr. Stilwell, try to put yourself in their position for a moment. I once had a roommate in college I couldn’t stand. It was so bad, I found myself going out of my way so I would avoid seeing her. But in their case, there is no escape from their roommate. They’re stuck with each other, sharing the same body, and not just for a semester, but for the rest of their lives. It could make anyone go berserk.”
“This is unadulterated bullshit!” cried out Theopolis. “I’m sorry, Bill,” he said to Carmichael, “that you had to hear this. I assure you, most of our interns are competent!”
“Why, you cold-hearted egotistical son-of-a-bitch!” That time, I know I said it. “If you would stop for a minute and really think, you’d see I am right!”
“Mary,” spoke Stilwell, firmly, but somehow reassuringly, “Please calm down!”
Carmichael then spoke for the first time. “Dr. Newnan,” his use of my title was encouraging, “although I disagree being operated on by me can be considered suicidal.” He chuckled softly, “let me assure you I do not -- and will not -- operate needlessly.”
At that moment, a nurse opened the door. “Dr. Stilwell, Dave- y is here now.” Looking at me, and then at the nurse, Stilwell nodded, “show him in.”
Dave- y entered cautiously. Apparently, he heard some of the conversation, but I wondered how much.
“Dave- y,” spoke Dr. Stilwell, gesturing at Dr. Carmichael, “I would like for you to meet Dr. Carmichael.”
Dave- y looked at Dr. Carmichael, then looked at me in time to see me wiping the tears from my reddened eyes. Then he looked back at Dr. Carmichael. Confidently, he walked over and took his right hand in his.
“Nice to meet you, Dr. Carmichael. I’m David.”
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