I pondered the truth of the message.
Lord over beasts?
Do they fornicate with their young?
Do they beat, burn, starve, mutilate, and suffocate their loved ones?
Lord, recreate us anew, like the animals we strive to be different from.
Julia W. Burns, MD
No patient had ever hurt me and that was a source of pride. I knew that aggression preceded fear, and this meant that I never threatened a patient, never approached patients in a domineering manner. Believing that my calm and mild demeanor created a safe environment for patients and myself, I was determined to keep it that way. Just a few days ago, a patient, Helen, became so impatient with the treatment team’s decision about her behavioral level that she kicked a hole in my door, her foot just a few inches from my head. Laughing loudly, she turned and ran down the hall, bragging to her peers that she had tried to kick Dr. Burns. “I got her door, that bitch,” she yelled, bragging about the hole she had left below my name plate.
Later that week a new admission came. Too few had studied his medical record or they would never have threatened him or intimidated him into obedience. I decided to stay on the floor about five feet from the sofa and pray. What can I possibly say to make him feel safe? How can I persuade him that our facility is different, that he can go to school, play soccer, or watch movies? That with us, he will not be raped? We rested there over an hour. He was exhausted from his trip, flying across the country in wrist and ankle chains, having to ask permission to speak, go to the bathroom, or eat. Eventually, he fell asleep but I stayed awake, watching him, making sure that my head and body were low and nonthreatening. Each time he shuddered awake and startled because he did not remember where he was, I was there, quietly watching and waiting.
“You are here, Harry.” I murmured while he slept. “Here with us. I’m your new doctor and we are going to start over. You are the chairperson of your treatment plan. If you can stay safe, you will never go in the time-out room again. I pray that you find some peace here.”