26 June 2008

Miraculous cure of a catatonic Ukrainian

This story happened in Ukraine during the Soviet times and has two protagonists:

  • Jewish Professor of psychiatry, a diminutive man widely known for his knowledge, professionalism, ornery character and a compassion toward his patients.
  • Ukrainian Patient who got into a totally catatonic state for more than an year, without any cure in sight. Fed via a tube and slowly wasting away in a Soviet psychiatric hospital.
The doctor responsible for the Patient was totally despaired. Every known drug and every known therapy failed. Relatives visited the patient from time to time, talked to him to no avail, and, after shedding some tears, left without receiving any response. There was no hope.

And then our Professor came into the picture. He even made a bet with his colleague on success of his way of treatment. You see, he counted on the power of suggestion. Hearing and vision of the Patient were not impaired - he heard and saw everything, but apparently didn't respond to it, living deep inside his shell. Professor also counted on the ingrained discipline of an army veteran - Patient served in the army for a very long time.

The only thing to do was to prepare Patient for the appearance of a person whose voice would penetrate Patient's soul to the maximum imaginable depth. To this end, twenty or more times a day nurses, doctors and even some volunteer patients told Patient about a legendary Professor and his wizardly powers. Yes, Professor will definitely come, it is only that he is too busy at the moment, teared apart by the incessant demands of his other patients and other commitments. Of course, the whole brainwashing procedure was orchestrated by Professor, building up hope in the mind of the Patient. This centuries old remedy: belief-based cure - worked this time perfectly as well. With a small detail that is the reason for the story.

Well, after ten or so days of the brainwashing, Patient was told that tomorrow Professor will definitely stop by. And the patient started showing some signs of excitement that developed towards dawn into a fever of anticipation.

Come morning, about six doctors in white smocks burst into the room and promptly sorted themselves in a line which would have mollified even a drill sergeant. Patient started sweating and his eyes became almost clear. And then Professor - a small, white-haired and power-exuding figure - came into the room, approached Patient an barked: "Stand up!".

And Patient sat up in his bed and, with some assistance, stood up!

Then, jabbing his finger in the Patient's stomach (because of Professor's puny height), Professor barked again: "Do you know who I am?".

And, as if there were no year long stretch of catatonic state and muteness, the Ukrainian licked his dry lips and obediently answered:

"A kike."


This wonderful bitter-sweet story was translated (poorly, I am afraid) by me from a book Walks Around The Barracks : Autobiographical Novella by Igor Guberman, an outstanding poet/philosopher, an ex-Soviet dissident, a Jerusalemite, a mensch. I hope Igor doesn't mind this rip-off. Maybe it will be another tiny push to translation of this (and many other Igor's books) into English.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.