There was something weird going on. I could not quite put my finger on it. Things just did not add up. I told the attending what I thought.
“Was he really asleep?”
“Why did you feel that way? What did you observe?”
He steepled his fingers, elbows on the desk, staring intently at me over the tips. He waited patiently, expectantly for my answer, like Mace Windu the Jedi master.
Why is he asking me this?
I thought back to the shackled man in the orange jump suit who had sat in front of me. He was not answering my questions. Then, his head lolled to the side and a soft snore escaped his lips.
“The way his eyes were moving underneath his eyelids, his breathing.”
Back to the Jedi master, I watched his face for a clue.
Was I right?
“Good work.” He nodded slightly, a subtle tip of his nonexistent hat. “Why did you tell me that you felt he was faking it? You could have just said the interview was cut short because he fell asleep and left it at that. That would have been an easy way out.”
“So then why didn’t you try to ‘wake’ him up? Why did you leave him then?”
“Because he was signaling the interview was over. I didn’t think my pressing him was going to get me any further than I already was.”
“Trust your gut.” He spoke clearly, each syllable measured and distinctly enunciated. I could see that he relished this role of the guru, the sensei. “So then, if he is faking sleep, is he also faking mental illness? Is he really hearing those voices telling him to hurt people?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“It all paints a picture. Now you have to decide, do we keep him here or send him back to jail?”
Me? I have to decide? I’m the student for crying out loud! I don’t want to be the one to have to decide. But then…. this is what I signed up for. I won’t always get it right. I just have to do my best, right? The universe would sort everything out in the end.
“Send him back.”
He scribbled his signature on the paperwork and it was done.
I carried the weight of that with me for a few days. It was my first taste of what my decisions would mean for lives hanging in the balance.
Did I make the right call?
Later the attending told me that he had seen this fellow multiple times before and each time he presented with a different constellation of psychiatric complaints as an excuse for violent behavior. By then I had decided that forensic psychiatry was most definitely not for me…