I don’t know why I chose this particular story to post first; I think it’s because it was the first one in my Filing System. It was a submission to a WritersDigest.com monthly contest. It wasn’t chosen as the winner or even a runner-up, most likely because they felt the need to be fair to all the beginning writers — the quality of this piece is overwhelming, after all. If I do say so myself.
Let me know what you think.
Put to Good Use
“Betsey, I’ll take my next appointment in about ten minutes,” I tell my receptionist through the intercom. I need a moment to reflect on the last session: a single male with dramatic anger issues stemming from abandonment and neglect as a youngster. The first of four kids, he was never accepted by his father, and his mother left him when he was barely a year old. Raised in a home where he lived hand-to-mouth, my patient was never included in the typical family rituals. The poor soul now finds himself always at odds with his surroundings, often physically abusing himself to the point that he has been hospitalized for banging his head against a wall and he gorges himself needlessly on anything and everything. I’ve recommended that he see a nutritionist and, since passive therapy isn’t working, a light drug regimen is in order as well.
Prescribing medication is the most difficult decision in my chosen profession; like it means I might have failed them in some way. Sometimes I long for the clarity I had in past professions, not the least of which was my stint as a dairy farm hand. The work wasn’t demanding in the physical sense by any means, nor was there need for many complicated decisions. I got up at oh-dark-thirty to head for the barn, where I met with the most tasking part of my day: setting the cows up for milking. With computer-operated vacuum milkers and automated distribution systems, getting the girls to stay still for ten minutes so I could hook them up was the most intricate thing I had to look forward to.
The day the ladies and I connected was the instant my life became what it is today. Up until ‘that moment’ as they call it, I had only barely been able to calm the bovines by patting them on the haunches or rubbing their foreheads when they became skittish. It settled them for the most part, but I could tell they were still uncomfortable. Then came the day I buttered up the smoothest, creamiest voice I could muster and simply said, “Ladies.” Like stalks of corn, each one stood straight and stopped fidgeting, waiting with bells on while I hooked them up. I didn’t think anything of it at first; I simply figured it was going to be a good day.
Not long after, they would head for the pasture without any more prodding from me than a simple, “C’mon, gals.” It didn’t take a genius to realize that we had something special. I was talking to the ladies and they were listening, which was more than I could say for my experience up to that point with their human counterparts. Soon, I found I was able to understand what was on their minds as well. I’m not saying that I could hear what they were thinking, because that’s such a physical act. I just understood. And the strangest part of all — not that communicating with a cow isn’t strange all by itself — was that the incident lacked any lightning strike. I’ve never clobbered my head and I have seen plenty of medical doctors who assure me there’s no fist-sized tumor trying to eat my brain. I was simply given a gift.
But when the gift was delivered to horses, chickens and goats, I knew I had to get off the farm. The round ups became too much, the conversations too overwhelming. I had to change my line of work if I was going to get a handle on my sanity. It’s for that very reason psychiatry and I found each other.
I recently learned that there’s a niche for my particular discipline. And I smile as I proudly glance at the degree clinging to my wall next to the picture of a manure-covered me in overalls. My arm is curled around the neck of my best friend in the world, my first patient and my oldest employee.
“Betsey,” I call out to her over the intercom, “please send in my next appointment.” My assistant escorts Roger and his family, a dysfunctional troupe of waddling ducks, into my office. Betsey then winks to me as she turns her spotted hide to pull the door closed with her tail.