University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – To London With Love

Backbreaking and demanding duties held me totally captive on the neuropsychiatry ward at the American Hospital of Paris, such that I lost all contact with prior patients on earlier services. My more recent assignment had been on infectious disease, where I had worked up and cared for a young French nurse, a colleague at the hospital, who had come down with acute cavitary pulmonary tuberculosis. I recall the biting tone in her voice when, after many days, I finally returned to visit her late one evening:

“Lâcheur!” she hissed at me. (Deserter!)

I’ve forgotten neither the pain I felt then, nor the lesson learned from her single stinging, just word.

In the midst of Bedlam, I was asked to take on a delicate covert operation, the transport to London of a desperately depressed, middle-aged Irish author, Frederick G., who was hospitalized not long after publishing his well-received novel, since made into a movie. As I recall, he had tried to batter himself by lunging at a door jamb in his Paris apartment. As he had improved slightly, it was the hope and plan of the hospital and his attending psychiatrist that we could accomplish this mission without going through the complex legal procedures of transporting psychotic patients across international frontiers.

Visiting with Mr. G., between his electroshocks and psychotherapy, I established considerable rapport, gaining his confidence. He understood enough to realize that he needed to return home for long-term care, and he seemed to embrace our scheme for him to meet his wife at Heathrow Airport, from whence she would whisk him home to Ireland. But his was not a reasoned acceptance. He was still very depressed, and far from well enough to travel.

With utmost planning, careful testing of his sedative regimen, and trials of short trips into Paris, we felt we were as ready as we would likely become. We called his wife in Dublin and arranged the London rendezvous.

The day of our departure was cool and gray. We succeeded in getting our patient acceptably dressed and, with a hospital aide, left by taxi for Orly Airport. Our conversation en route was almost lighthearted, ranging over his work, his treatment, and the promise of his imminent return to Ireland.

Check-in at the airport went well, as did our wait in the lounge, through which I kept up a patter that seemed to mollify his anxiety. All went according to plan until we got into the departure line for passport check, when Mr. G. suddenly became confused, lagged in line, and turned to me, unrecognizing. He asked suddenly, “Who are you? Where are you taking me?”

To hold back would have placed our whole scheme in jeopardy. I could not predict what the effects of my words would be, but took him by the arm and walked forward, engaging him in animated talk about his wife whom we would soon meet — if he would “only step along briskly.” For the few seconds needed to check his and my passport he remained quiet. We boarded the plane immediately. There he sobbed softly during the whole flight.

A very large, severe woman met us at the customs gate in London. The diminutive Mr. G. moved to her like a puppy to its mistress. She thanked me brusquely, without a smile, grasped the hand of her husband, now her ward, and they were gone.

I hadn’t the heart to finish the day sightseeing in London, and, rather depressed meself, took the return flight to Paris.

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