Over the years, since the early 1990s, I’ve been treated for depression. Initially adjustment disorder, and lately, major depression. Perhaps I’m just getting older, and the “black dog” heavier. Then, I ponder all the changes I’ve encountered and wonder if they haven’t played a part. It may surprise you, but I’m thinking primarily of setting right now, and how much the therapeutic scene has morphed over those same years. I should point out that I’ve been under the care of one physician throughout — a man I maintain a great deal of respect for. A man who saved my mother’s life one Sunday morning when no one else was available. A man who has saved my life, too.
That said, let’s get back to furniture. Initially, the doctor and I sat facing each other, he at his red oak desk and me in an easy chair alongside. A beautiful starburst quilt hung on the opposite wall. Sunlight dappled the room, streaming through a multi-paned window in front of his desk, the window often cranked open to admit a slight breeze.
Several years later, in another building, his office had become a fortress. Walls bare, except for a life-size poster of a World War I doughboy on the attack glaring out across a rock maple desk he sat behind, like a poilu on the Maginot Line. Far off to one side, a small, closed window muffled the constant whooshing sound of heavy traffic on a nearby city street. Appointments now lasted one half-hour, as opposed to the original forty-five minutes with an option to run over five or ten minutes if necessary.
Fast forward a few more years to a building he constructed, and the office is more hospitable with plush green carpet and an unoccupied aquarium bubbling in the corner. There’s a window, but it can’t be opened because of the HVAC. The most unusual feature is a row of ceramic pigs on the leading edge of his desk. Very often, his chair is empty. I’m interviewed by a capable, pleasant psychiatric physician assistant. The doctor listens through the intercom on occasion, and once in a great while I get ten minutes face time with him. There are many more patients now. Many who require his services more immediately than I do. When we do see each other, he’s cordial and it’s mutual, though I worry about him and periodically try to tell him so, in vain as near as I can tell.
Lest you think I’m blaming my illness on decor, I’m not. It’s probably endogenous. To one degree or another, I’ll have to live with it. But I can’t help missing my friend, the therapeutic ally I gained so long ago. Time and circumstance have taken this excellent doctor away from me — ironically, because I’m “better” now. And I do fret about future psychiatric patients. Perhaps my children or grandchildren. I tell myself it’s okay, that the healing milieu I benefited so greatly from has simply been parsed, reshuffled, redistributed, and reformed if we can call it that. I only hope we can. I’m not sure I ever will. Some bright tropical fish flitting about the aquarium would do wonders.
Rob Burnside is a retired firefighter and paramedic.