By A. Hosack, & K. Hecht, P. Berman
Claire was falling fast, she could feel the crash coming. The ground was getting closer. She would hit the tree tops, and these would kill her. Would that be for the best- finally, relief from her pain? Yet, Davy needed her- she couldn’t die, she had to hold on. She looked up at Dr. Berman who was just sitting there quietly, watching her.
Was this therapy? Was this supposed to help her? Why did she feel like she wasn’t falling any more when she saw Dr. Berman quietly waiting for her?
“Claire, can you tell me what’s going through your mind? (1-minute silence) You looked terrified again. (2-minute silence). What we are doing right now isn’t helping you. Do you have any idea what might work?”
“If I was home,” Claire whispered, “I would watch my fish swim in its bowl until I calmed down.”
“Close your eyes and imagine you are home.” Claire squeezed her eyes shut. “Try to relax your eye lids so you can see your fish bowl up a head in your imagination. You are walking slowly towards it through the house, happy to know you are almost there. Ah, you have reached it. Describe what you are doing.”
“I am kneeling down on the floor, so the fish will be at my eye level. (1-minute silence) Claire begins to smile. My beautiful gold fish is just swimming around and around. It seems to be looking out at me now, hungry. Can I feed it?”
“Of course, it is your fish. You are the one who knows what it needs.”
“I sprinkle just a little at the top of the bowl. My fish will eat till the food is all gone even if I give it too much to eat. Mrs. Carson taught me how to give it just the right amount. It is so cute to see how it opens its mouth and seems to suck the food in. One piece gone, another, another, my fish has eaten it all and seems content now to just swim around and around.”
“How does it swim?”
“It moves its fins back and forth, so easily, so graceful; I want to learn how to swim someday.” (2-minute silence)
“Claire, as you watch your fish swim around the bowl, do you think you could tell me what is going through your mind?” (2-minute silence)
What should I say? I don’t know what to say! (sweat is pouring down Claire’s face)
“Sometimes people think they can only talk about the worst things in the world when they come in here.” (two minutes of silence) “It is up to you, but maybe instead you should tell me something that is going well for you right now?”
“I had a session at school where I cleaned someone’s teeth. He told me I did a good job, that it didn’t hurt at all.”
“That’s great Claire. Did he tell you anything else?”
“He is a custodian of a department store and he doesn’t have any dental insurance. He had begun to lose some of his teeth. He had known about our school clinic, but he didn’t want to be an experiment for someone like me.”
“It sounds like he was afraid a student hygienist might hurt him?” Dr. Berman said.
“Yes, but he figured pain was better than losing more teeth, so he finally came in.” (1-minute pause) “He asked the receptionist on the way out if he could schedule another cleaning with me in a few months!” Claire was rubbing her legs with her hands.
“That’s quite a compliment, but you are rubbing your legs like you aren’t sure?” (2-minute silence) “He went from being afraid to come to wanting more appointments. All because of how well you did. Why aren’t you smiling?”
“Anyone in school could have done what I did.”
“Did everyone get the same feedback as you?”
“No.” (1-minute silence) Some of the patients got up and left before the exam was over. A few times a teacher had to take over and finish an exam.”
“But, you did everything yourself.” Claire is beginning to smile. “That means something good about you, Claire. Your patient said you didn’t hurt him. That means something good about you. Your patient wants to see you again. Can you let yourself feel good about this?”
“I don’t know?” (1-minute silence) Suddenly, the smile is gone, and tears have started to pour down Claire’s face. Dr. Berman hands her the tissue box.
“Claire, what is happening?”
“I can’t feel good about anything. I just can’t. If I tell you why, can you promise it will make all the pain go away?”
“No, I can’t. But, I can promise to listen carefully to what you tell me. I can promise to help you gain a greater understanding of what has happened to you.”
Claire has begun to clutch her belly and looks terrified. “I am so afraid to be here talking to you but so afraid to leave.” (1-minute of silence)
“I see the fear in your face. I am here with you. Remember, Mr. Carson is also sitting in the waiting room for you. You have both of us with you.”
“I think I need to go,” Claire has gotten up.
“I will be here for you next week if you want to come back? (Claire nods and tears up). If you need to talk before next week you can call me. Otherwise, spend some time every day, watching your fish and thinking about what is important for us to talk about.”
“I can do that,” Claire said softly as she leaves the room.