Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Speaking to Dr Watson
After agreeing with her confessor she would ask medical though not psychiatric advice, Susan went to visit a Dr Watson living in Baker Street - in the room his father had rented along with Sherlock Holmes back in last century, after the Afghanistan War. They talked a bit to make sure they understood what the case was about, they ruled out common causes of hallucination like fever or drunkenness. Then she asked if she could have been hypnotised.
"If you were hypnotised by someone," said Dr Watson, "that means you would feel as if you awoke just the moment after getting into trance."
"Right. But would it explain living for years in a place, or even days, and then being sure from everyone else and everything else that it really was the next moment?"
"No. A minor epileptic seizure might do that."
"I am not epileptic. I have never woken up with saliva from my mouth lying on the floor."
"Oh, that is a major seizure. A minor seizure is not like that."
"And you think four persons would have the same epileptic seizures?"
"At the same moment, no. How do we know it was at the same moment?"
"We all got into the wardrobe when avoiding Mrs Macready."
"And you all came out of it ... besides four minor epileptic seizures all of them when entering a wardrobe. A bit thick."
"And it cannot be schizophrenia giving false memories? I mean that is what they wannted to treat Lucy and later me for?"
"Oh, no. Hallucinations from schizophrenia - I suppose that is what you mean by false memories - do occur more and more often, and during periods of emotional stress. You said that all the years you were on the run, you never 'were in Narnia' at all? Only remembered having been previously?"
"And that previously was during those two occasions: the wardrobe occasion in 1940, the railway station in 1941?"
"That's for me and Peter. Lucy and Edmund came back once more."
"You know that?"
"I read the essay Lucy wrote about some side issues when she, Ed and Eustace were telling the story to Peter, Professor Kirke and Polly."
"No, there is no known mental illness on record that would give such symptoms."
"Then I am sane?"
"And the others were too, unless we find it was over excitement to try to get to Narnia actively for the Narnian spook."
"Lucy didn't try. She only went along with the others, and she talked to father and mother on the train to Bristol, and then the train back."
"But if I really am not mentally ill, which I don't find all that likely anyway, that means something supernatural happened."
"Aren't scientists supposed to leave out the supernatural in all explanations?"
"No, only in standard theoretic explanations. And as far as the science is concerned. Medicine deals with bacteria. It doesn't take sides in the further debate whether angels and demons influence bacteria."
Susan looked a bit attentive.
"You see, if we want to do something about the divine and diabolic factors involved in either healing or someone getting ill, you do not go to a doctor. That is why doctors can very safely leave all that out. There are priests - of diverse priesthoods - dealing with that. But first doctors do what we can about bacteria."
"So you mean you do not exclude that devils can bring on sickness, say by favouring bacteria, or that angels and God himself can kill bacteria off with no desinfectants or antibiotics, you just leave that to another profession like a Catholic priest in case it is a Catholic patient."
"A Catholic priest or a Catholic pilgrimage with miraculous healings. We make sure all that can be made by our rationality of medicine is applied first, but once that is done we don't stop them from going to a pilgrimage to Lourdes."
"Are people healed there?"
"Doctors there are well paid and loose their jobs if admitting one miracle. Why would some of them lie about unexplained - scientifically that is, leaving theological explanations to the Church - and sometimes unexplainable healings, unless they had seen them?"
"Do you know what tubercular peritonitis is?"
"A bit, ma was a midwife. All through my childhood we might wake up for a telephone call even in the night and she would have to get and deliver a baby. Now, some cases of tubercular peritonitis are related to female genitalia. So, she has heard of it, since a relative of one she delivered a baby for died in it. She never described what it was very clearly, except that it would make us throw up if she did."
"I bet she was pretty right on that one." Dr Watson gave Susan an opened example of an old page of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, September 11, 1890. The article* was signed Leonard Wheeler, M.D. She read it and shuddered.
"So, both cases were operated, and yet both patients died?"
"Yes. Tissue was totally unrecognisable from what it should be. No chance of restoring a function by reorientation. No chance of merely removing a cause of sickness and be sure all would be well. But do you know what happened in Lourdes? A boy with this devilish disease had come to Lourdes and not been healed there. On the train he played with a girl who had been healed. Then he came back to his parents and told them: 'I am hungry.' I heard this when our friend J.R.R. Tolkien brought me to listen to a sermon on Lourdes, I know he wrote a letter to his son on the case.** Now, after reading that, what do you make of a phrase like 'I am hungry'?"
"A clear miracle. Ascitic fluid disappeared, stiff arteries restored to functional, holes filled and accretions removed from parietes, and those to restored from brittle ex-flesh to useful tissue. That would be a case where medicine cannot say anything except a miracle."
"Yes, a miracle. And that is another reason I cannot argue that you are mentally ill because you have seen a miraculous event. I need to go to the countryside for a few weeks, you may keep my room for as long as you need until I come back. Here are the kees, I will write the bishop and the medical association to have your psychiatrist from 1950 excluded from it. Have a good day, ma'am, I have a train to catch."
* Link to article is Vol. CXXIII, No. 11, p. 241:
** See Letters by Tolkien. Letter 99.