'The Gentle Giant'
Steam spews from the boiler-room three floors below, shrouding a less than breathtaking vista of the canteen. Zac, sitting opposite me, shuffles his feet, and twists a stray lock of ginger hair around his finger, as he stares out of the window. The wail of a distant siren breaks the silence.
“It seems we were fated to meet, yet again, Zac. Have you nothing to say for yourself? How about we start with what you’re thinking about...this moment? Nothing, or so it would seem. I can’t begin to help you if you continue shutting me out. It’s in your best interest you know. Talk to me, Zac...please! Come on... at least look at me. And what about the promise you made the last time you were in here? Tell me why, in heaven’s name, you stopped taking your medication, again? Why do you always stop taking your medication?”
Unfortunately, he was typical of the vast majority of my patients. If only they would stick to their drug regime, but they don’t. Invariably, every single one of them ended up back here – sooner or later.
Clearing his throat, he stands up; I’d not realised before how tall he was – six feet four, at least. His hair, rebelliously hangs down, curtaining his defiant, dark eyes – like a schoolboy, summoned to appear before the headmaster for playing truant.
He mumbles something I can’t make out.
“Sorry, Zac; didn’t quite catch that. You’ll have to speak up a bit.”
“Said...if you really want to know why I don’t take those fucking pills of yours, Doc...it’s because of ...well, Beethoven, I suppose. What’s it to you though? You, nor none of your lot, actually care. ”
“You’re wrong there, Zac. I do...Very much as it happens, but I’m afraid I don’t get the big picture. What do mean by ‘Beethoven’? How does he come into it? Is he one of your voices; does he talk to you – encourage you to do bad things? Is that how it works?”
“You don’t understand, not for one second, do you, Doc?”
“Perhaps I don’t. So come on then; it’s up to you to convince me. You can at least try.”
He sits down again and swivels round in his chair, before walking over to the window. The rising steam outside, blown in every direction by a squally wind, appears to mesmerise him, and a good five minutes pass, before, still with his back to me, he asks, quite out of the blue,
“You ever heard of ‘The Gentle Giant’, Doc? Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major...Opus 61, to be exact. The violin’s what I live for. My dad taught me to play; said I’d got ‘talent ‘beyond my years’. He’d performed with most of the top orchestras in the world...first violin at that. Died of a heart attack...only forty-five, he was – a couple of years ago now, but he left me his violin. It’s like it’s a part of him that’s still alive – if you know what I mean.
Can’t explain it, but as soon as I start to play, I’m on another planet...transported to another world where nothing and nobody exists, except me, and the music. That’s the reason I don’t keep taking those ‘happy-pills’ of yours. Sure, they stop the voices in my head, but they fuck me up, big style. Give me the shakes – something chronic; can’t even feed myself...hold a knife and fork, let alone a frigging fiddle!”
He buries his face in his hands, and quietly sobs, his large shoulders heaving, and I must admit, my heart went out to him. I guess I’d rather be considered unprofessional than emotionless, unlike some I was acquainted with.
Strange, how – even with the best of intentions, it seems to be in our nature, as human beings, to ‘judge a book by its cover’. I would never, in a million years, have taken Zac for a musician...let alone an obviously gifted violinist. Poor sod; in an ideal world, drugs wouldn’t have side-effects, especially, as in his case, the cure would appear to be worse than the ‘disease’.
“It puzzles me that you’ve never mentioned this on any of our previous meetings, Zac. For what reason, may I ask?”
“It’s quite obvious why, Doc, but in words of one syllable, because you’ve never fucking asked me before,” he answers – his breath condensing on the window-pane, masking his view, and for the first time, he turns to face me.
And he was dead right. I hadn’t. Every few months or so, he was readmitted after ‘freaking out’. This time it was some kind of pub brawl – supposedly threatened another guy, apparently a complete stranger, with a broken bottle. So, after a spell in here, I would send him packing with more pills, and insist, this time he mustn’t, on any account, stop taking them. Pissing in the wind though, and the awful truth of it, I’d always know I was..
“Now I’m not promising anything, but I will do my best to look into modifying your drugs, Zac, although I’m not optimistic. Meanwhile, whilst you’re with us, as you are more than aware, you will have no option but to take your medication on a regular basis...the shakes or not. Do I make myself clear? Oh, and if you behave yourself, I’ll try to get a recording of the Beethoven, and then you can, at least, listen to it. Next best thing, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Fuck you, Doc! And you can take those bloody pills and shove ‘em where the sun don’t shine!” he concludes – summing up the situation far more eloquently than I ever could.
I watch him retrace his steps back down the maze of corridors; door upon door, locking-shut behind him, and with each hollow thud, feeling more like a prison warden than a doctor.
So much for ‘care in the community’; fat lot of good it’s done Zac, and all the other Zacs out there. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is. I’m no social worker, nor politician. I’m only a doctor trying to do their job, but in this ‘blame culture’ of ours, it has to be somebody’s fault, and maybe it is mine. And yet, for argument’s sake, I shall put it all down to ‘The Gentle Giant’. It’s kind of easier that way. The buck has to stop somewhere. Doesn’t it?