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We do not have to be mental health professionals to identify the traits of the possible sociopaths among us - PA Speers
One last look around the room, all was clear. The defibrillator was wailing at its highest pitch, ready to discharge. I took in the scene. All eyes were on me, Doctor X.
My destiny and purpose had found me after all. I knew this was, perhaps, to be my last hurrah, my last bow. I was aging. My heart needed less excitement. I had been called out of my cabin to make a difference. And here I was at the Captain’s bedside. The defibrillator was screeching, my ears hurt.
“Clear,” Mae sang. I pushed the discharge button. A loud metallic whack rattled through the medical center. Then a few moments of silence while all waited for the heart rhythm to be displayed on the monitor.
Then, “Is it the same rhythm?” Buddy was nervous, leaning forward to see the display screen. “Yes, it is Buddy.” I looked once more at the rapid, regular blips of atrial flutter. “Protocol is to double the joules” “Double the joules to 200, Mae.” The dose of energy is measured in joules.
Mae softly sang some lines from I Drove all Night as she calmly adjusted the machine’s settings. The gaggle of senior officers watching us didn’t say a word, and they looked worried.
Returning readers will remember Mae as the nurse who liked to sing while on duty. Well, actually she sang all the time. She had at one time been a finalist in a singing contest in the Phillipines and now had this compulsion to let everybody know how good she was by singing, spontaneously breaking into song without warning. She had asked me who my favorite singer was and that’s why we listened to Lauper tunes.
I also frequently sailed with Kaniella, a tall, beautiful Belorussian who meowed and barked, rarely talking, sometimes for days. She was a great nurse. Truly she would bark and meow instead of speaking. And disturbingly I seemed to understand what she was saying. Now, back to saving the Captain’s life.
Mae let me know we were ready. “Charged, Doctor.” She spoke in her outside, singing voice, over the drone and clatter of the medical center and the rising whine of the defibrillator. Another dramatic “Clear” and I pushed the red discharge button. The machine rattled and “whacked” once again. We waited while the heart recovered. The captain was healthy in general, just a little high blood pressure, so there was every reason to expect the procedure would work.
Then and it did work. A lone, regular beep broke the silence. A look at the monitor told me the heart was beating normally. I turned to the group of 15 or so senior officers, all with eyes fixed on me, all quiet. “Gentlemen,” I began. “The captain is fixed.”
A loud “Hooray” followed and each and every officer walked by me, shaking my hand, smiling, relieved. The most important, okay arguably, person on the ship had been brought from the brink. Kaniella barked excitedly. And of course, as a doctor you’re only as good as your nurses, I made sure all were recognized. And Buddy smiled. A few minutes later just a few officers remained. The staff captain came to my desk, thanked me one more time. He was the acting Captain of the boat now since we had incapacitated our original captain with sedation.
Then I noticed one other person was in the medical center, an ensign. There are always 12 or so ensigns on a boat. It’s one of their training rotations with the academy in Milan. They finished talking and the staff captain left. The ensign sat in a chair next to the captain and began to watch his chest rising and falling. He was monitoring the captain’s breathing. Then I got it, he would watch the captain all night. And so he was still there when I came back to the medical center the next day. It was morning and the medical center was bustling, getting ready for the day.
“Doctor, please.” It was the captain. He was gesturing for me to come to him. He grabbed my forearm as he spoke, looking at me, sincerely. “You save my life.” Then looking down, losing eye contact, “I am sorry you will be leaving my boat a week early. Word had come from the mainland. No need for a doctor with possible heart problems to be in charge of the health of two thousand crew and three thousand guests. Don’t call them passengers. The captain would be leaving also, to fly to Milan, Italy for his appointment with a cardiologist who would evaluate and treat him.
We finished our goodbyes and I went to my cabin to pack. This was the end of this adventure and I had certainly met more than enough destiny and challenges with the captain’s case and the patient with his myocardial infarction earlier. I was well-known on the ship as the man who saved the captain, and all of the crew greeted me with smiles and clapping. I was important, needed, and an achiever. I had fame and notoriety? I wondered if this could be the elusive destiny I sought. For some reason I didn’t feel as though it was.
Months later I would be telling this story to a good friend of mine who happened to be an ordained minister, counselor and author specializing in theology. I told him I felt I was missing something, something important. I hadn’t really found what I was looking for.
I asked him to define Happiness. “It’s more than fame, wealth, and the admiration of others.” We were sipping our coffees at one of the outside tables of our favorite coffee shop, enjoying the balmy warm weather of coastal Texas. “It’s a byproduct of doing things for others. The operational word when you talk about happiness is gratitude. Not the gratitude others have for the things you did to improve their lives but the gratitude you have for their giving you the opportunity to help them. Whether it be planned or not.”
He made sense. The concept stuck with me, continues to. From now on when my patients and their families thank me for taking care of them I’ll be sure to thank them for trusting me to be their doctor. I would especially have to thank the captain for trusting me to manage his case. But now, time to pack and disembark.
A few hours later I was settling my financial account with the pursor and handing my I.D. badge and room key over to security at the ramp where all traffic to and from the boat is monitored. I had tipped the coffee crew, the bartender, and my cabin steward appropriately. It’s what you do when you’re an officer.
Time for my final ceremonial handshake with Raji, the security guard who was collecting room keys, really cards. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor, Raji. Save travels.” “Best of luck to you Doctor. I hope to sail with you again. And thanks for encouraging me.” When I met Raji I noticed he seemed quite a bright and intelligent young man. I had, as I do sometimes encouraged him to apply for a middle management position that would have him sending more money back to his wife and five children in New Dehli. He had been accepted and would be going to the management training facility in Miami. I would often do that, it made me feel good to encourage crew to better themselves and the gratitude I received from the crew was priceless.
Down the ramp, I hoped not for the last time. Mostly I wanted to get home to Dallas and rest. I imagined how quiet my home would be. I am a bachelor and live alone, nobody else. No pets. It’s quite a change in environments, from a compact group of 3500 people to me being alone in my house.
There is a Starbucks right across the street from the piers in Galveston and I hadn’t had the real thing in weeks. First stop. Just as I started to sip my world class brew my cell phone rang. It was Tonika, my step-daughter from my ex-wife’s previous marriage. Now married and in her thirties she lived with her own family in southern Texas.
I was fond of her and spoke with her often. She called me Dad and we had always had a good relationship. Her real Dad had disappeared years ago. We had both survived life with her mother for a few turbulent and contentious years. My ex-wife, Sonya, was a diagnosed sociopath and she had gotten worse over time by lying, stealing, and doing all the things sociopaths do including going to jail. Our years with Tonika’s mother were a nightmare. When Sonya was young and had her looks and a quick mind, she was stunningly beautiful and could charm any one on the planet to follow her will.
The connection on my phone was a poor one, crackling and hissing. But I heard Tonika as she spoke louder. “Sonya’s dying, Dad.” I was stunned, I couldn’t talk. These were words I thought I would never hear. My ex-wife, sociopath, who had caused so much pain for me, my children, and my family was to die before I did. I was six years older and had always thought she would go to my funeral first. But Soyna had abused her body and her mind in every way possible and if Tonika was right I was to go to her funeral, instead.
But first I had to be sure I understood. “What, say again. The connection is bad.” “She has uterine cancer. No one was supposed to know. They diagnosed her last year. It was hopeless from the start. She hasn’t had a Pap smear in years.”
My heart was racing, my breaths came quickly. “She told me not to call you, but I decided to anyway. She could go at any time, Dad.” Her voice was stressed. “The nurse was here today.” She paused. I could tell she was on the verge of tears. “I have to help her to the bathroom because she runs out of breath and has to rest.” Tonika, who had somehow maintained a relationship with her mother over the years had moved her in with her.
After our divorce Soyna had insisted on keeping our two children and Tonika with her. The County had supported her despite reams of psychiatric and criminal documents describing her as a habitual offender. I had wasted so much of my time and money to save my children. Then, one day, Sonya just called me and told me I could have them if I paid off their child support in advance. I had my two children and Tonika stayed with her mother.
Soyna had gradually disappeared from our lives, sometimes calling and then all we knew about her was from mutual friends and sometimes family members like Tonika. She disappeared for all those years and now she’s back in our lives. Tonika told me her chemotherapy had failed and that her mother had about three months of life left at the most. Her medical team had placed her in home hospice. “Ask her if she’ll let me see her, would you and call me back. When will you know?” “I’m at the house now, I’ll call you in a few minutes.” She hung up.
Tonika lived in a small, rural Texas town near the Mexico border, Allen. There were only a few sporadic flights from Galveston to Allen. So I decided to rent a car. The phone rang, it was Tonika. “She says she’ll see you if you come to visit.” Seems Soyna was taking mega doses of pain killers and would often hallucinate and scream for hours. I wanted to make sure she was expecting me and would see me before I made the drive.
Tonika was crying now. She had never had a normal, let alone healthy, relationship with her mother, often telling me how much she hated her for giving her such a dysfunction childhood. Nonetheless she had taken her mother in to help care for her in her last days.
A rare rain storm had swept across southern Texas, dampening the roads. It was early in the evening and I had an eight hour drive ahead of me, during which I would have time to reconcile my feelings. I would soon live in a world without Sonya, PS, post-Sonya.
I called Sonya. “Hello!” Yes, that was it, the voice I dreaded to hear. The voice that had caused such turmoil and pain. My stomach twisted. “It’s me, Sonya. Can I come see you? I’ll be there by morning.” “Sure. I’ll see you.” Then after a few moments. “Who are you?” We’ll say I was “Jim.” “Jim who, I don’t know any Jim.” “I was your husband for two years, Sonya.” Pause, then, “Oh, that Jim. Yes I had a husband named Jim once.”
Another few seconds, then, “Where are you?” “I’m in Galveston, Sonya, I’ll be there in the morning.” I asked her how she was feeling. “Sonya, are you having much pain?” “Yes, I’m in pain all the time. I have to take more and more pills, more than they say. And I can only walk a few feet till I have to stop and get my breath. I hurt everywhere, my back, my chest, all of my bones.”
She sounded so frail, so weak, so old, so harmless. My eyes moistened, my throat tightened, I could think of nothing to say. What on earth was going on with me? Was I feeling sorry for her? My ex-wife, whom I had hated so much, for so long was suffering and I was feeling her pain.
May, 1977, Los Angeles Airport Sheraton
It was my first child’s christening party. About 30 of my in-laws were there as were a handful of my friends from work. Sonya and I were dancing. It was one of the few happy moments we were to have together. One of the few.
“She’s so beautiful, thank you, Sonya, for giving me such a beautiful daughter.” Sonya had never looked so good. She had thinned down in just a few weeks and had her figure back. She was wearing a tight black dress and black low heeled shoes. She was impeccably made up and dressed.
We had a live band and they were playing Tonight’s the Night. Everything was perfect. What more could a man ask for. I had a beautiful wife and child. She had a way of making people love her, as many sociopaths do. The warning signs were there, but when you’re in love you don’t notice such things. I held her closer, more tightly. It was one of the happiest times of my life. It was just we two dancing while the others watched, smiling. She spoke, matching my dance step, not missing a beat, “Love, did I tell you I wrote a check for the new furniture I wanted?”
I checked into a motel after getting a fast food dinner, cleaned up and went to bed, not knowing what to expect in the morning. I checked in with Tonika one last time before turning in. “Dad,” she began, “Why do you want to see her? She made your life so miserable for all those years.” “I’m not sure I know why I want to see her.”“I thought you hated her.” She persisted. “I do and I don’t, Tonika. I do and I don’t.” My throat tightened up. Tonika spoke through tears, “Alright, I’ll see you at the house in the morning about 9 AM. She hung up.
And we met as planned at her house. I asked if she were feeling better. “I do a little bit. It’s hard watching her suffer, watching her die. Thanks for coming, Dad.” She was a good daughter to me and this was very hard for her. I waited in the house’s living room while Tonika went into her mother’s bedroom. I could hear them talking. “No, I don’t want to see him. What right does he have to come snooping into my life.” “But he drove all night to see you, you said you’d see him.” “I did not, he’s lying.”
I spoke from the living room. “Sonya, I just want to say ‘hello’ then I’ll leave.” Her voice raised in anger. “You’re lying!” Oh so familiar. Tonika came out and suggested we wait an hour. Her mother was heavily sedated and confused. She called an hour later and I went back to house. Tonika led me into the room which had been darkened . They had put up darkening shades so Sonya could sleep during the day. I looked at the woman who had been my beautiful bride. She was wasted from her cancer and the look on her face betrayed the pain she was suffering.
Most sociopaths, I’ve been told since then, tend to blanch in their maliciousness, offending less as they age and lose their good looks. They’re always “different” with strange habits, but they stop committing crimes.
“I’m sorry you have to see me like this. They say I’m dying.” She whispered, hoarsely. I looked around the room, cluttered with equipment and pills. The past rushed into my thoughts. It had been a terrible, brief marriage, and the years that followed were painful for everyone, especially my children. Hundreds of incidents, calls to the social workers, to the police, false police reports and lots of money in attorney’s fees. And counselors for everyone.
The only thing I could think to say was, “Sonya, if you could have just controlled yourself and stopped lying and stealing, can you imagine what a fine life we could have had together.” “Yes,” she looked at me, I can. I’m sorry.” I knew she really wasn’t sorry. Then I asked her, “Do you think you ever really loved me?” She said, “What do you mean?” That was the last thing I remember her saying that day. I left after about 20 minutes. Having seen her for the last time.
I don’t think she ever knew what I meant when I asked if she thought she had ever loved me. Her kind don’t experience love for others, only love for themselves. She had probably never loved anyone but herself.
The question I’ve had for myself since then is whether or not I should forgive her. She was born with her particular personality disorder, never asked for it and she was cursed with it her entire life, usually making herself miserable as well as others. But she had done so much harm and brought so much pain into the lives of innocent people. Someone had actually told me they wanted to go to the funeral so that they could be sure Sonya was dead. She had that way of bringing out the worst in people.
A couple of weeks later I was talking to my minister-psychologist friend over coffee again. I was curious to understand the emotions that had played out during my few hours in south Texas at Tonika’s house. “Have to tell you watching anyone cry or get choked up about Sonya dying was the last thing I thought I’d ever see.” My friend has his “listener face” on again. I was curious as to why Tonika had cried and why I felt sympathy toward her, why I seemed to agonize with her.
“Probably because part of you still loved her,” he began. Love is complex, but it involves a certain amount of imprinting.” He waited while I thought. Then, “Probably you and Tonika had hoped some day to reconcile your issues with Sonya, now that opportunity was gone forever. And it sounds like you loved Sonya very much at one time, you bonded, she didn’t but you did. There’s imprinting, on the brain. “That means if you lose her you lose part of yourself, that hurts, losing most things hurts.”
I’ll have to think about this for a while. Those psychologists are always thinking. I took special note. But in the meantime I need to get back to my home in Dallas and rest up for my next adventure into The Private Sea Journal of Doctor X.
Submitted 24th day of January, 2015
Ship’s Physician Log of Doctor X
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