I remember the Psychiatric Social Worker as being a wonderful lady, and I liked her a lot. Smart, curious, well-educated, and really easy on the eyes. Sometimes I wondered about her street smarts, though.
The night I’m thinking of, she was evaluating a big, burly, truck-driver-looking guy because he’d threatened to kill himself. She’d decided he meant it and needed to stay with us for a few days. Under state law, we have to give everybody a chance to sign themselves in, and she was going to do that… and if he refused, she’d have him committed against his will.
(We do it more often than we like. It sounds mean, but, really, it’s not. Most people in that position end up glad we did it.)
She was worried that he’d react violently when she offered him this apparent Hobson’s Choice, so she asked me to be close by. I stood just out of sight and listened. He didn’t react violently, but he did do something interesting.
He repeated, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”
She did her best to assure him that it was his choice, and he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.” Then he’d ask her what she thought he should do, and she’d repeat that she couldn’t choose for him, that it was his choice. And again he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”
This went on for, I’m guessing, FIVE STRAIGHT MINUTES. He couldn’t choose, she wouldn’t help. (She couldn’t help. I’m not blaming her for this. He was in a bind, he knew it; he wanted out of it, and she had no way of figuring out how to help without appearing to lead or coerce him. So she was in a bind too.)
I decided I’d stood there long enough, feeling sorry for them both. So I walked around the corner and “listened” for a couple of “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t” rounds. Then I said:
“Look, man… you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, right?”
“Yeah!” he said. Frustrated. Wanting help.
So I said, “Well, you might as well get it over with.”
He tilted his head, went inside for a second, nodded, grabbed the clipboard, and signed himself in.
The Social Worker was shocked, but didn’t say anything to me.
I’ll only point out to her, if she’s reading this, that I didn’t tell him which choice to make… I only suggested that he make one. Choosing to be committed would have been every bit as valid a response to my statement as signing himself in, and I would have found it every bit as respectable. The truth is, though, signing himself in was in line with his values and being committed was not, so he chose to sign.
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