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WELCOME TO MY COUNTRY/ Lauren Slater SUMMER, NINETY-FIVE DEGREES, the street where the residential unit for chronic schizophrenics sits, dead and silent in the heat. I try thinking Uke a schizophrenic already, before I have even interviewed for the job, attempting to enter what I beUeve wiU be a completely foreign place. I see that the leaves on the trees have gone brown and curled; the flowers are on fire; Ught glares and screeches in a shadowless world. I ring the beU to the front door and a fat sweating boy, his face a mash of pimples, answers. "I am here to see Dr. Siley," I say, glancing down at the newspaper clipping in my hand, where the job advertisement has sweated off in a Rorschach black. The pimply faced boy stares and stares at me. I can tell, from his fatness and sweat, that he is a patient. He reaches out and touches my neck. I flinch back from his hand. "What's wrong," he hisses at me, spittle foaming in the corners of his lips. "You don't like me, you don't like me, you don't Uke me?" He sings more than says it, and I don't know how to answer. I want to say, "Tm sorry." I want to say, "Don't you know it's not polite to touch someone before you know them?" I want to say, "You scare me," but instead I repeat, my voice tight, "Please, I'm here to see Dr. Siley. Could you get him for me?" The boy backs away. My very first contact with a patient has gone cold. "Dr. Siley," he wails, running down the cool hall of the institution. "Dr. Siley some new shrink is here. Watch out for her. She's an aUen. She has no bones in her neck." So begins my work with the chronic schizophrenic population. I am an alien to them and they to me. I am hired by the all-male residential unit to conduct group therapy for six of the patients once a week. I've taken courses in school on psychopathology, read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, but none of these things are enough to prepare me for the conundrums of working with these men. They appear to be the grotesques of this world, burdened by the most horrifying psychiatric iUness known to humankind. As Barsnard writes, "a diagnosis of schizophrenia is something like a death sentence." Anyone who agrees to work with the chronic schizophrenic agrees to take on a supposedly hopeless case. This is what you are taught, what the research says. This is what my first group indicates. The Missouri Review ยท 41 My first group. Six men, all of whose charts I've read prior to actuaUy meeting them. I watch as they file into the group room, saying their names one by one when I ask, and as they do I match up names and faces with the information I've gleaned from records. There is Thanh Hgyun, nicknamed Pepsi, a cocoa-colored Uttle Vietnamese who came to this country after the war, and who bows to invisible Buddhas aU day in the corridors; Larry Puopolo with a mangy beard, a green and Khaki combat helmet he puts on the pUlow next to him when he sleeps; Thomas Grossman, forty-two years old and dying of AIDS; Leroy Swanson, who once stood naked in Harvard Yard and recited poetry; Bobby FuUer, who beUeves the air is fuU of flying fruits and runs around the ward with cotton sticking out of his ears; and George DiBenedetto, aU three hundred sixty-six pounds of him, who claims that he receives constant blow jobs from such diverse females as the Queen of England and Chrissy, the Shih Tzu dog next door. George slogs into the group room, groans, lowers himself onto the floor and Ues there with his hairy belly bloating up. "I am," I say, my voice cracking from fear (for I have never done this kind of work before; all my other patients have been violent or sad or scared but not . . . not . . . this...


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pp. 41-58
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