“In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet, to discourse of what there good befel,
All else will I relate discover’d there.”
In England at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were, perhaps, a few thousand ”lunatics” housed in a variety of disparate institutions but by the beginning of the twentieth century that figure had grown to about 100,000. That this growth should coincide with the growth of alienism, now known as psychiatry, as a medical specialism is not coincidental.
Walking that path is not easy for any medical intern, even if they willingly applied for a job that involves mentally disabled people. Psychology is the study of behavior and mind, embracing all aspects of human experience, or at least that’s what it says on every article on the internet and you can find at the beginning of every psychology book. For every psychologist, his profession means something more, something less or something else.
Psychology students tend sometimes to work internships in Medical Institutions or Asylums, under the careful supervision of a specialist doctor.
For Ava Atkins, the Medical Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham represented the beginning of a new life and new responsibilities. As of last month, September 13th, Miss Atkins completed her studies and signed up for the internship program at Nijinsky Hospital, named after the greatest male dancer of his era, famous for his intense performances, gigantic leaps, and ability to dance on his toes, something uncommon among male dancers at the time.
When he took to choreographing ballets, his modern take on the dance led to a riot. By the time Nijinsky was 26, the symptoms of his disease were affecting his work. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals, often going weeks at a time without saying a word, it said in an article. Somehow, that grabbed Ava’s attention and she asked her professor to put a good word for her.
Now, a week later, Ava was walking up the stairs to an enormous hospital that looked more intimidating by each passing moment. Ava showed her student card and the bodyguard opened the front door for her to enter. Once inside, she had to find the nurse in charge of her internship papers and sign a few files, just in case she would get hurt during her time inside the hospital.
The nurse standing at the front desk was talking on the phone, her bushy eyebrows furrowed in a frown. She was quite robust and small with a face that seemed asymmetrical but Ava was sure she had enough force to knock her off her feet; easily at that.
Ava swayed from one foot to the other, squeezing the handle of her purse tightly. She wasn’t nervous necessarily but it was intimidating, especially after the episode from her last visit to a mental hospital. It wasn’t everyday her teacher would take them out on the field but whenever she did, there would be a patient waiting by the door, swaying from side to side with eyes dark like a demon’s and scary behavior. Of course, those were rare patients and psychiatrists would take those cases before a psychologist could blink but it was strange to know that a person could inflict so much fear without being aware of it.
Ava shuddered before she raised her head and met the squinted eyes of the head nurse. Having a better look at her face, the nurse was really chubby and had such a strong gaze that even a doctor would shudder under her stare.
“You’re here for the internship, ay? Not many of you come around; not after what happened to the last one.” The nurse continued, walking around the desk towards the young psychologist. Ava was ready to ask what happened to the last intern but the nurse interrupted, “Come this way. You will be assisting Dr. Adelaide and will do exactly as she says. You can stay here for as long as you want but never after curfew. You have the liberty to wander on your own only in this side of the building but you should be careful how you act or what you say around certain patients.”
As the nurse was explaining the rules, Ava couldn’t think of anything but how many ‘buts’ there were after every ‘can’. With the last sentence memorized, Ava started to look around and see exactly the place she was going to work in, even as a mere intern. The walls were white and the halls were completely empty except the casual chairs here and there; every room was closed with an electrical code and the doors were metallic so no one could get out or get in; most doors didn’t have a window but Ava remarked that most of them had at least one big glass adorning half of the wall where you could watch what was inside but the ones locked in could not see anything outside.
As they were getting further into the hospital, walking up the stairs to the first floor, Ava remarked that rooms were getting smaller and smaller with no glass and no windows whatsoever. The doors were metallic but they were locked with a special card that only certain nurses had.
On the first floor, the walls were a dark grey but it didn’t seem like it mattered with how grumpy the patients looked. Ava came around lunch and the patients were getting their meds before going to their group meetings. That was probably where the nurse was taking her- to Dr. Adelaide’s group meeting.
“Here,” The nurse started before pointing towards what looked like a sad waiting room, “Is the relaxation room. Patients come here for entertainment and where you, as an intern, have to be careful how you sit, how you speak and how you look. It would be better if you would not draw attention to yourself.” The woman finished and glowered at Ava over her shoulder before continuing to walk.
The room, in itself was simple and the only entertainment sources were an old piano in the corner, a table with a pack of cards on each side and chairs. In the far back, under the windows, was a long low table with stuff on it that Ava couldn’t quite recognize.
The nurse was a few feet down the hall already when she realized the young intern was taking too long to get acquainted with the room. Ava snapped her head to the direction the voice came from and gasped before rushing after the nurse. The older woman rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath; words that could probably make Ava feel unwanted. It didn’t matter as they finally arrived at their destination. The door was cracked but Ava could see and hear Dr. Adelaide speaking.
The nurse opened the door wider and the room became silent. Dr Adelaide was a tall woman in her mid thirties with an elegant flair and long blonde hair. Ava was a bit jealous how professional and feminine the doctor looked compared to her who had average height and looks.
The nurse nudged Ava inside before she closed the door and left. With slow uncertain steps, Ava walked right through the middle of the circle and sat on the available chair next to the doctor.
“Hello, Miss Atkins. It’s a pleasure to have you assist me during the group meetings.” Dr. Adelaide begun before turning to the five awaiting and curious patients, “This is Dr. Atkins and she will watch and contribute to our meetings from now on. Let’s welcome her,” she said and everyone started to clap.
Ava was confused and embarrassed so she smiled awkwardly and fidgeted until Dr. Adelaide spoke again.
“Good. Now let’s continue our session.” she said and turned to the boy two seats from Ava. “Tell us what you have done today, Matthew.”
After 5 Years
Recent reports have disclosed new information about the attacks in Paris and Belgium. The authorities do not want to give us many details but as far as we are concerned, the next attack can happen anywhere.
As of late-
It was mid April and Spring has definitely settled down in London, sudden changes in the weather included.
The door to a small yet fancy office opened enough for a petite woman to stick her head and smile softly at her boss, “Dr. Atkins, your patient is here.”
The announcement forced Dr. Atkins to turn off the television across her desk and get up. The door closed only to open a few moments later, a teenage boy walking in awkwardly.
“Nice to see you Isaac. How has your weekend been?” She asked politely, her brown eyes staring straight into his blue ones.
The boy was tall and looked very mature for his age but inside, he was a scared boy with trust issues and a disorder that wasn’t making it easy for him to open up and socialize.
“N-Not well. I’m preparing for the college entrance exam and it got worse.” Isaac started, moving towards the leather couch and sitting on it as close as possible to the door.
Ava nodded, already aware how much stress college entrance examinations could be, especially for students with agoraphobia (fear of crowds) and atychiphobia (fear of failure).
“It’s going to be alright, Isaac. Remember our exercise?” she asked, taking a few steps towards the young student. “Well?” Ava urged.
Isaac breathed in and out slowly, fidgeting nervously, “No matter what happens, life is a path full of options. I can always try again and choose what is right for me.”
Ava blinked and tilted her head to the side, confused how Isaac actually memorized what she told him last week.
“That too but I did say something easier.”
Isaac’s eyes widened and he swallowed nervously, thinking that he didn’t understand the point of their last discussion, “I-I-“
Ava sighed and sat next to Isaac, keeping her posture open so he would understand she wasn’t going to yell at him.
“You can do anything you want as long as you have the confidence that you can. I cannot give you confidence, you have to look inside and find strength within.”
Ava smiled after her little optimistic speech, making Isaac nod and relax.
“What if I don’t get in?” his blue eyes widened at that terrific thought and he shuddered.
“What if you do?” Ava interfered quickly before he would get anxious once again, “What if you get in with the best grade? What then?” she continued, a light smile gracing her face.
Isaac looked down at his hands, his mind swirling with ‘what ifs’. Ava ’s eyes fell down on his hands and noticed some strange tattoo made with a pen on his left hand. It couldn’t be from a club since he was scared of crowds and was still getting used to going to the market on his own so there must be something else.
“Have you met someone lately? Someone who came over your place? Maybe a family friend or a cousin?” she didn’t want to be indiscreet but it felt vital to know how he got that sign.
It was weird how it seemed to trigger something in her mind but the memory was so old that she couldn’t quite figure out where she had seen that before. It was a mark for something, a circle with Alpha and Omega and she was sure she had seen it somewhere before in a book.
Isaac noticed just how focused she was on his new tattoo and covered it slowly, “Nothing happened. No one came.”
“What is that on your hand?”
Isaac bit his lower lip and blinked innocently, “It’s not a permanent tattoo. It cleans off with water.” He mumbled in his defense.
“What does it mean?” she asked, her eyes rising to his so she could show him the genuine curiosity swirling through her brown orbs.
It made him relax to the point he smiled widely and turned to her, “It is really an Christological monogram. It is a symbol often depicting Jesus Christ, a divine sign that attracts God’s protection on the wearer. Also, a khrismon symbolizes rebirth, light, victory.”
Ava nodded along, registering the information yet realizing she had heard that before, “Where did you get it?”
Isaac blushed faintly
“The park,” He whispered, feeling embarrassed.
Ava raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “It’s good that you could finally go to the park. You’re making progress.”
The young adult nodded slowly, content with his achievement.
For the next hour or so, Ava created such an atmosphere that Isaac could enjoy and speak more of his worries. It seemed that he was getting better yet going into a shopping center without having someone to rely on was a nightmare.
“If you take your medicine as prescribed and come regularly, you will get to the point where you can actually go on a date or have a friend over. But everything can be done with baby steps.” She concluded at the end of their meeting.
Isaac nodded, “Baby steps.” He repeated, feeling like his life could finally go down the right path.
The boy got up and smiled down at her before he waved shyly and left, his mother waiting for him right outside the door. Ava got up as well and leaned against the door frame, watching her patient walking towards the elevator at a slower pace than when he first came to her, two months ago.
“He’s making real progress. His mother is happy.” The secretary, Charlie Bloom, added from her desk.
But there was something strange about that khrismon and the way he accepted it so easily when he went to the park.
Walking back in her office, Ava didn’t bother closing the door so Charlie took the opportunity to remind her boss about some little detail she might have forgotten.
“Tonight is the farewell party for Dr. Johnson. He’s moving to Sweden and his office will be taken over by a newbie.” Charlie informed the brunette but Ava only waved it off. “You need to come, Dr. Atkins. The big boss will be there as well and he’s going to appoint Johnson’s patients to someone new.”
“I’m not interested.” She mumbled, ready to close the door so Charlie could shut up.
Unfortunately, the petite secretary was fast and stuck her head around the corner just in time.
“I heard that you will get them. It’s been already decided but Big Boss wants to go out and drink for free.” Charlie added right before the she got pushed out and the door closed.
Ava could still hear her secretary talk to herself about her manners or something but Ava’s mind was stuck on that khrismon. She was sure she had seen it before, tattooed for real on a boy’s hand.