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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


Dr Sigmund Downs, Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, awoke to the sound of rain striking his bedroom window. He gloomily rose and stared dolefully from his window to the street below where other sad and dejected figures were cheerlessly beginning their day. For a moment he pondered on jumping from the window to end it all, but cowardice restrained him.

He proceeded to breakfast and was met by a typical morose greeting from his wife. ‘You lived through the night, then? I expect you’ll wish you hadn’t by the end of the day - if you don’t die horribly today, that is.’

Sigmund sombrely and silently consumed his breakfast while he considered, with a heavy heart, the patient he would be seeing today.

That patient was Harry Brightman or ‘Happy Harry’ as the nurses at the psychiatric hospital where he was detained, despondently called him. Harry suffered from elevation - that distortion of thought and mood in which a patient perceives the world with optimism and joy.

Sigmund had made a special study of such cases. It was clear that human beings lived short, painful and tragic lives. If something in any endeavour could go wrong, it invariably did, and bad fortune was the norm. Most people, therefore, naturally maintained a state of mind that accurately correlated with reality. That is joyless, dispirited, sorrowful and melancholically pessimismistic. People experiencing elevation, by contrast, maintained a pathological joie de vivre.

Harry was a particularly difficult case. Sigmund recalled the transcript of a session with his previous therapist. Harry had pointed to birds in the blue, cloudless sky and claimed the sight made him feel glad to be alive. He had remarked on his pleasure at being in good health as it provided opportunity to joyfully help others.

Harry also had religious delusions. Everyone knew that after death a body simply rotted. If anyone could be bothered to arrange a funeral, worms might eat the body, but that was that. Harry was not certain, but he thought it possible that there might be something that could be called God. Even if that was not the case, however, he believed it worthwhile to strive for the highest ideals simply for the good of mankind.

This mood had affected his previous therapist who had now been off work with high spirits for six months. Sigmund began to experience joviality, just thinking about it.

The phone rang. It was the clinic. Harry had escaped. He had been sighted telling jokes to a crowd who had been sobbing at a bus stop. There had then been a report of him helping a dispirited old lady across a road and giving some money to a wretched beggar. Then he had vanished.

Sigmund was not surprised. The only patient he had planned to see today was now gone. Typical! What was the point of bothering?

Despairingly, Sigmund returned to bed.