Dr. E. Isfahani
Director of Sanjabi Psychiatric Hospital
16 Khordad 1378
To hell with you and your shit of a name, Dr. Isfahani. You know what it is in Isfahan that we call ‘Doctor’?
You have kept me here since Thursday. Not this past Thursday which led to today which is Sunday. But Thursday, 23rd of Azar, 1379 of the solar calendar which would be the 3rd of Jamadi-al Awal, 1420 of the lunar clandar. Besides, to hell with you and all Arabs. I mentioned the date the way I did, only for clarity’s sake.
By the way, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those who look down their nose at any thing Arab, and are in awe of everything Farangi, Western. As if the former has fucked up our culture and the latter hasn’t. No! I despise the West as much as I do the other.
This is what happens when a country is like a zoo. You are the director of a psychiatric hospital but I heard you are an orthopedic surgeon. Which means you have studied neither management, nor psychiatry. Nothing will change in this god-forsaken country as long as the likes of you are around. Or as the saying goes, ‘no stone stands on top of another’.
Many a time have I intended to express my concerns to you in person. But every time you pass through the hallway like a gust of wind, and your unbuttoned lab coat --not very elegant I must say—flies in the air like Napoleon’s cape. As if someone is chasing you. I see you dash into your office, sit at your desk, go through the mountain of papers on your desk, turning your head nervously from one side to the other. You should have been named Sanjabi (meaning: of or pertaining to a squirrel), and the hospital Isfahani, instead.
You call yourself a doctor but don’t give a flying fig about what your patients go through. This mortal life and money has blinded you. You don’t have the faintest idea who has been here for how long, whether it’s time to have them discharged, whether they are on the right medication, on the right time, and the right dose for that matter. And so on and so forth.
You have no idea what I went through the very first day you brought me here. I remember vividly. It was Thursday and a drizzle was in the air. Now here in Tehran, which is ever drier than Isfahan, it rarely rains. But it was raining on the very day I was being taken to the so-called hospital. Hospital my ass! Did I have a stomach flu, or did I need to remove my tonsils at the tender age of fifty? Anyway, let’s not even go there.
What struck me upon arrival was that this hospital of yours is a loony bin, an absolute chaos. Granted, the people here are mentally ill but they may very well have other illnesses too. For instance, a patient who is pissing his pants all the time and killing us with the odor as a result may be suffering from a bladder malfunction, don’t you think? I shouldn’t be telling you all this. You should know better. Once a mental, always a mental, is what you think. You leave the poor souls to their own devices thinking they’re only crazy, and incapable of getting cancer or ulcer or what not. Or else you wouldn’t serve food on this horrendous plastic tableware. You think it’s kosher to serve hot soup in a thin plastic bowl which, let me tell you, tastes more like melted plastic than soup, to a seriously depressed patient because he simply cannot get cancer. Is this fair? I shall address all these issues in greater depth in a formal letter of complaint.
On that rainy Thursday when I set foot on this nuthouse that was truly a house of nuts in every sense of the word, I became sad. I, the undepressed, got depressed. I felt trapped. Helpless. And the rain made it even sadder, like the movies. I was about to cry. But I was foolish enough to think you could help, so I didn’t resist, and officially became an in-patient. But everyone knew that was not necessary. True, I had acted real crazy and lost my control but it wasn’t like I was crazy, pissing my pants and stuff.
I admit I was stressed out at work. And even more so at home. You may know that my wife has arthritis. I came home dead-tired only to see her in pain, in tears sometimes. I rubbed her hands, especially the right hand with an essential oil, hoping in vain to ease the pain. I don’t have a heart of stone, you know. It pained me to see her in pain. You, however, run around like a squirrel in your hospital with all these wounded people slipping right by you. You don’t look like you lose sleep over their pain. But I do. You know why? Because you and I are of a different essence. I see you are not pleased with the word ‘wounded’. But I say wounded, unreservedly, dear Doctor, because these people have a wounded heart. This is the ward for patients with torn and bleeding hearts.
And here I am, still, even though I have fully recovered. A second suitor has asked my daughter’s hand in marriage, and I was not even there to say yes or no. What would people say? My family told their family that I was in the hospital. And guess what the sucker said? ‘Let’s pay Mr. Shamestan a visit this Thursday night.’ What if Shamestan was dead, you son of a bitch? The nerve young people have these days. Which reminds me again of an old saying. There is this tramp banned from entering the village but asks for directions to the village chief’s so he can head straight out there. Now here comes this upstart who not only has the audacity to propose to my daughter but is playing wiseman all of a sudden. Thou shalt visit the patients. Thou shalt pay respect to the elderly. Give me a fucking break!
What was I saying? Oh, yes. I became sad immediately after I entered this madhouse on that gloomy Thursday night.
The hospital was dirty and stinky. Mr. Safi, may he rest in peace, (his face conjures up before my eyes as I’m writing these words), was cleaning the floors with one of those wet whatchamacallits that was even more stinky than Ismaili’s urine. Every little sound echoed in the hallway as if on purpose, to scare you.
May all the deceased rest in peace. When my late father –who was obese, and as you rightly guessed, morbidly so—limped his way through the school hallway to pick up my report card, I heard the same mortifying echoes as I do in this madhouse of yours. Except back then I rarely knew anyone here. I rarely know anyone now. People come and go. And they’re not in the best of their mood, you know. So one hardly gets into a conversation, a meaningful conversation that is. You see in the movies that patients in madhouses form circles of their own, and fight against injustices and so on. That’s bullshit! There is no such thing. At least not in this madhouse. Here sadness and melancholy prevails.
Once I arrived, a nurse whom I never saw again greeted me, and talked mostly to my wife. She took my pulse. Touched my forehead with the palm of her hand, to check my temperature I suppose. I was so heavily sedated that I couldn’t say or do anything. Then a refined looking doctor with his glasses sliding down his nose and an unshakable air of confidence asked me questions. I answered them all with great care and precision only to find out that he is a freshly-minted student. That he looked like a full-on doctor with that ridiculous spiky goatee of his was because all of a sudden, in his advancing years --for lack of a better term-- he decided to go back to school. I don’t mean to be facetious but I would be ashamed in his place. But then again, he is way more honorable than an orthopedic surgeon who runs a mental hospital.
I spent the first couple of days in the acute care unit on the second floor. ‘Acute’ seems a bit of an exaggeration to me, but let’s not dwell on that. True, I lost my temper and dumped a pitcher-full of ice-cold water on my boss’s computer. And then threw the pitcher itself at him which hit his knee. I confess it was a shameful act and I am truly sorry. But would you keep someone at the mental hospital for six months just for that? Honestly! People beat the hell out of their wives and kids and no one lifts a finger at them. But I hardly bruised this cocksucker’s knee and hell breaks loose. Okay, I did bruise it, are you happy now?
You say I have digressed from the path of wisdom. How about the poor souls who have been slaving for this son of a bitch for ten years, have never been paid on time and fully, are sick of his face sporting that nasty beard, and don’t dare call him anything less than Mr. Engineer? They are sane and I’m insane!
My apologies for the interruption. My wife just called. She rightly pointed out that I have been here at the hospital for a year and six months. She wanted me to correct this in my letter. So I stand corrected.
One loses track of time in the circumstances. Away from family, on all kinds of medication --diarrheal, anti-diarrheal, nauseating, anti-nauseating, you name it, surrounded by foul smells and bullshitting people, doctors madder than patients, awful-tasting and unhealthy food. One is better off forgetting. The saddest part is that the day they brought me here it was raining and the lighting inside was so gloomy. I sat on a chair, drained but my brain was up and running. I saw the grocer from the neighborhood carrying his epileptic son over his arms running frantically from one end of the hallway to the other, his wife running after him like a chicken with her head cut off. Not that I was embarrassed that they saw me, because they didn’t. I’m telling you the story so you know what a sad place this world is. There’s nothing wrong when you get depressed, you know. What’s wrong is that people jumping happily up and down in this sad shithole of a world.
‘It ends here,’ Ali said handing the piece of paper to me.
He pressed the already finished cigarette against the bench and tossed it on the ground.
It was past sunset. Midway through the letter, we heard the call to prayer from the hospital loudspeakers.
‘He’s kind of funny,’ I said.
It was toward the end of my shift. I had to write a report. I was about to leave when Ali said, ‘Wait. The story doesn’t end here. Sit.’
I did. ‘What kind of a person do you think he is?’ he asked.
He lit another cigarette.
‘I have no diagnosis,’ I said. ‘Did you say you found it on Saraykhoda’s desk?’
Of the twelve of us psychiatry residents, eleven could go pick daisies because Ali could singlehandedly run the show. Lucky were those who had him as the group leader. They could just sit back and relax. This morning he was at the department head’s office to discuss the case of a patient who was admitted to the hospital two months ago. From among the mess on his desk, Saraykhoda hands him in the file that by mistake contained this letter. When asked what this letter was all about and why it ended abruptly, Saraykhoda was caught off-guard. He wanted to take the letter back from Ali. And Ali would have given it back only he had left it in his car. He would return it tomorrow, he said to him.
He wanted to know what the patient was diagnosed with and why he was so angry.
‘Don’t get mixed up in this. It has to do with the coroner’s office and Fakhteh Hospital,’ he said.
Ali was shocked to hear the term ‘coroner’s office’. Saraykhoda who looked a little more awkward than usual in his usual lettuce-green jacket said that the patient had committed murder.
‘Who has he killed?’ Ali asked.
‘What the fuck do I know?’ Saraykhoda almost yelled, his glasses falling off on the heaps of paper on the desk.
A translation from Persian by Lida Nosrati.