Dr. Gleason found himself in an all too familiar spot – standing with a family representative, studying a patient through an observation porthole of a sterile hospital room door.
The subject was a middle-aged mother of two. She was brought in after experiencing some kind of psychotic episode. Currently she was chemically restrained and under 24-hour watch. Gleason would have preferred to outfit her with a straitjacket, but state and federal restrictions limited used of the archaic device. Despite the bad press it received, the corset was a highly effective management tool.
While patients are under the influence of psychopharmacologic agents, it was nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment. By the time they can remain unsedated, the benefit of an interview has passed.
The man standing beside Gleason leaned into the window, and tapped on the glass.
“I need to ask you to stop doing that. This isn’t a fish bowl, and Mrs. Henson is not a goldfish.” Gleason kept his hands tucked into his lab coat pockets, but wanted to smack the visitor’s wrist like he was an impetuous child. “Mrs. Henson is experiencing a heightened auditory awareness. The tapping would sound like sonic booms inside her room.”
The other man pulled his hand back like he had been shocked.
“I didn’t know,” he stammered. “Is that a consequence of her nervous breakdown?”
“The more accurate phrase is ‘time-limited, stress-induced psychiatric disorder’.”
“So, this is temporary?”
“We can’t determine that at this point,” Gleason tried to not sound bored, “but, there is no indication that Mrs. Henson is in a permanent, fugue state.”
“Did you ever figure out what happened?”
Gleason cleared his throat. They always want easy answers. Something that can explain the unexplainable.
“To answer your other two questions, ‘yes’.” Gleason waited for the reaction. As a perverse pastime, he enjoyed giving vague responses to serious inquires. “Yes, we were able to determine what the triggering event was, and yes, her sound sensitivity is related.”
Using as many medical terms as possible, intermingled with a few, more easily understood generic phrases, Gleason explained the impetus for Mrs. Henson’s present condition.
In layman’s terms, Mr. Henson was a snorer, to a degree and volume that he would wake Mrs. Henson on a regular basis. Out of concern for her severe case of sleep deprivation, he often snoozed in his favorite Barcalounger in the den so the snoring wouldn’t disturb her, and she could get a good night’s rest.
When a work accident injured his back, Mrs. Henson insisted Mr. Henson come back to their bed. To compensate for the noise, she invested in a pair of noise canceling earplugs. These worked so well that it did block out Mr. Henson’s snoring, but it also accentuated the voices in her head.
“Apparently, the voices were louder than Mrs. Henson realized,” Gleason said. ”And, meaner.”
True story: My Mister can wake the dead with his snoring. Puts the Air Force F15 fighter jet flyovers to shame in terms of volume and ferocity. To counter the noise, I do use earplugs, and they work remarkably well. I can block out almost all sound.
The downside is that when I do wear the earplugs to sleep, I have some of the most bizarre dreams. Not really nightmares, just weird, really weird. I tend to wake up yelling.
It is not beyond my imagination to believe that a total lack of sensory input could lead to a complete mental breakdown… think “Altered States” minus the hallucinogenic drugs.