Lily goes berserk


Lily goes berserk

Early on as a physician in the US, I had admitted under my charge, a little old retired schoolteacher I shall call Lily. Lily was as petite and delicate as the name suggests, and spoke English befitting a schoolteacher — beautiful, grammatical, very correct and polite. But her language was a deceptive veneer, hiding the fact that she was severely demented.

Lily could hardly remember when she had last eaten, or where she was. Her only son came to see her every day, but thanks to dementia, she believed he was out to grab her money and property. She had been abducted from her house, she had concluded, and imprisoned here.

Inexperienced, I tried to reason with her the first day. “You take me for a fool, don’t you?” she challenged me. “You’re obviously one of them, too! Shame on you! Do you think the white coat will hide your black heart?”

Notwithstanding the paranoia, all went well initially. Her physical illness kept her too weak to get out of bed. Our excellent clinical care, however, ensured this changed in a few days. And as soon as she felt strong enough, Lily decided to make a break for it.

It was mid-morning when Lily got all 40 kilos of her out of bed, and sprightly walked out of her room. A couple of nurses rushed to her. They requested she go back to her bed, but she continued her escape down the corridor. The nurses followed her, coaxing. Lily, perhaps trying to shake off these pursuers, ducked into one of the other patient-rooms. This created an ‘intruder in patient room’ situation, and an immediate security-breach code was called out hospital-wide.

Meanwhile, the commotion awoke the occupant of this room. He was rather disturbed to wake up to a toothless face peering myopically at him from six inches away, and the increase in heart rate it caused triggered off a few more alarms. Ignoring the alarms, nurses’ requests to leave, and PA announcements, Lily decided the IV pole (still hooked up to the other patient) required close scrutiny. After careful consideration, she fortunately decided it would not make a good escape partner, and left the room.

By this time, security personnel responding to the emergency arrived. The scene now looked like this: Lily stood against a wall in the corridor, with 10 big, burly men in uniform wearing holsters with shiny guns, and other hospital staff — about 30 in all — surrounding her at arm’s radius.

In a beautiful display of how Americans can go by the rule book without letting any sense of perspective interfere, not one dared use any force against her. Cornered, she launched into a tirade. “Aren’t you policemen ashamed of what you’re doing? Trying to imprison a harmless little lady like me! You should be out there catching criminals with your guns! Come to frighten an old lady who always followed the rules and paid her taxes! What has the world come to?!”

Some of the security personnel looked suitably contrite, as schoolchildren must once have, at her tongue-lashing. The security officer tried to calm her down, gently patting her shoulder. She immediately turned on him. “Officer! Assaulting an unarmed old lady? I will press charges!” Taken aback, he retreated.

As the “security threat” remained “unresolved”, fresh security personnel were deployed. Now about 50 people surrounded the defiant lady. The impasse might well have continued all day if her son had not arrived a half hour later. Pushing through the crowd, he walked straight up to her. Saying, “Maa, you’ve got to get back to bed and let these people go about their work,” he effortlessly hoisted her up into his arms. Ignoring her stern “Joe, you let me down right now,” he marched straight to her room, deposited her on her bed, and raised the side railings. So did the superdemon turn back into a brinjal.

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