THAT NIGHT’S TOAST – SADHIKA KAPOOR

Lớp – Trường: Grade 8 – The International School of Vietnam

The faint, dim morning light has yet to bring someone new. I can feel it in the smooth breeze, the chirps of the robins exploring my self-planted flower beds or the roaring sound of a vehicle approaching my clinic.

I stand patiently on the foggy streets with my light crocs planted on the wet, ignored road. My expectations are high, I sincerely hope they are juicy, something to pamper me and my cravings in this isolated district. And there he comes, Mr. Kim on his motorcycle which surprisingly growls louder than ever before. He hurries towards me, and without even dropping his Vietnamese ‘xin chào’, throws the bag in my direction and whispers, “They are coming my lady!”. I smile sympathetically, and wave a reluctant goodbye. Poor Mr Kim, he has always been terrified of my patients ever since his own daughter attacked him before passing away three years ago.

With a gentle gesture, I lead them inside to my office, maintaining my distance. They seat themselves and I commission Lee to get them water and refreshments. I am afraid of breaking the silence, experienced I may be, I am not yet sure as to how the daughter will react when she is already on the verge of breaking down. In these cases, it is best to let the family begin, and so I rest my impulses and focus on compiling the admission forms. The woman says, “Hello, I called you a few days ago that I will be bringing my daughter here.”. I nod, finding it safe to speak, I reply, “Yes, Mrs. Chan? OK, the admission will take some time. I request your daughter to please wait outside.”. The girl stares at me like a cat on a hot tin roof but then turns languid, and finally, eyeing her mother, leaves the room after an extended delay.

I bring up the topic in a hurry. It is better to be over with this question as quickly as possible, “What is her Phobia?”.

“Anthro…Anthropophobia, her therapist tells us.”, comes the short reply.

“Fear of people…ok…I see… Please fill in these three forms before we proceed any further.”.

The two adults scamper for pens and take a page each as they soon start discussing. I take my leave and continue to examine the patient.

“Lee, here are the strawberries, put them aside for a moment.”, I command Lee, who currently stands in a corner of the waiting hall, her eyes mapping the girl. I enter with confident steps but a confused gait, ‘How shall I go about her?’. I wait for Lee to return, just in case the situation gets out of hand, tracing the girl’s shadow in the dark waiting room.

“Hi!”, I begin with a forced smile. The girl fragilely waves her arm, which is covered in her full sleeved shirt. “Nice curly hair!”, I remark, staring at the loop de loops she has been naturally gifted with. The girl nods. I take a seat next to her and demand her name. “Grace”, she says, tight-lipped cowering away from me, getting redder and redder.

I lift my hand ever so slightly and place it on her shoulder. She is sweating till now, tolerating the fear, her hands start shaking. Immediately, she jerks away in a protective manner and I can very well see that she awaits a panic attack. I remove my palm, scolding myself inside, “Grace…ok…lets take some deep breaths…1…2…3…yeah, you’ll be alright. Lee, water…”. Grace trembles, her hand placed on her racing heart, she kneels on the floor, following my instructions with obedience.

The parents jerk open the office door to see us together, alarmed and embarrassed at the same time. “Lee, finish the paperwork for the Chan family.”, I request my assistant. She follows. “Mrs.Chan…It’s ok…happens…Grace will be alright.”, I thump Grace’s back with care and regret while still maintaining a safe distance. I shouldn’t have been too harsh.

The day has passed, the mid-day sun has arrived with its arms open, diffusing sunlight through my ‘Healing House’ Clinic. I started this clinic not a year ago with Lee. I had the intention of using my medical and advanced psychology degree, the fruit of 10 years of study, for the phobiatics (what I prefer to call my patients). These are indeed troubled people you see, with fears of their own, immersed in their own world. It is difficult to envision their pain and thus, I do my best to relieve them of this misery.

My dark black hair is tied in a bun, and I am sipping the strawberry tea that Lee prepared an hour ago. The morning was hectic, despite having numerous nurses, I insist on visiting all my patients twice a day. But it is this altruism and self-giving nature that I am the most proud of.

“Mmmh!”, I smack my lips as the sweet tea goes down my dry throat. Grace arrives at the scene. She is a usual phobiatic, on her first day, she goes carefully around, her eyes with a fresh supply of tears whenever she feels uncomfortable.

“Yes”, I smile, “Grace, my dear?”.

She whimpers, “There is a boy… making a mess in my room, help.” . I nod, anyways it is time you meet my dear phobiatics. I tell Grace to stay calm, her flushed face turns relaxed and she tries to slow down her breathing. I rush towards the East wing to meet Eric in a spasm of fear. He is shaking and leaning against the wall, his limbs vibrating uncontrollably, his mouth wide open in this paroxysm. “Sammy, he was here!” he sobs.

My heart melts to see his disheveled state, however I remain strict, “Eric, enough is enough. He is not here, he is nowhere. Get up!”. Eric eyes Grace with suspicion and tightly throws his arms around me. I am as stiff as a statue and then eventually embrace him like my own son.

This 13 year old suffers through Bogyphobia, the worst case I have ever come to see. It is the phobia of the bogeyman, as silly as it may sound, he believes that the devil is always on the scent for him. Phobias are real-life nightmares, a true menace to their owners. They are divided mainly into three categories : Specific (caused by a particular object), Social (caused due to an uncomfortable situation where the person fears public judgement) and Agoraphobia (fear of being unable to escape from a situation). Clinical research proves that most phobias are often a result of genetics or past traumatic events. Pitiful Eric has both the cases to worry about, I wouldn’t go further into the horrors of the story though I will let you know that he has been through a lot and too early.

Timidly, I lead Eric out of the room and take him, pretending to be mad, to his own quarters. He halts and narrates his story with fearful exclamations, “Sammy…I..I was on my bed…when…that thing…Sammy! He came out and ran behind me and then…this girl screamed…I…I.” I put my finger on his lips, “Shush!”.

The primary stage of phobia treatment is beta-blockers, pills which block the provocative effects of adrenaline like increased heart rate, or quivering voice or limbs. Eric’s phobia has gone above and beyond, which is why I have to unfortunately use my last hope, exposure therapy. The more I urge him to disbelief in his bogeyman fantasies, the more he is able to escape from the phobia trap.

“What if he comes again?”, he whispers, terrorized by the mere imagination of the event. I bend down and murmur, “Then you beat him up hard and tell him you have better things to do.”. His sudden smile is enough to give me the courage to deal with him. Gradually, I hope I will be able to save him from his undesirable fate. “Lee”, comes my commanding voice, “Switch off all the lights of the East wing, Eric will stay in the dark today!”. His beautiful smile turns into a heart-wrenching frown. He tugs at my skirt. I let go with a heavy heart.

My feet now take me to the North wing where a silent and timid Peter awaits me. He was diagnosed with Agoraphobia six years ago, the fear of particular situations where escape might be difficult. I gently clap my hands thrice, a signal to indicate my presence. He appears, hesitant yet ready for his expedition today.

Most people with Agoraphobia experience a trigger at some place and time, this trigger can be a traumatic event that may first unveil their real fear. Peter’s phobia was triggered at the Metro station, a few miles away, where he lost his petite sister in the midst of a hectic afternoon. The chatter of people, the whooshing sounds of the metros and loud announcements have been continuous causes for distress ever since for him.

For the past few months, he has been planning to spend limited time each day at the Metro Station to be better aware of his phobia. “Ready?” I ask. He nods and then smiles. “Peter, listen, just 10 minutes and Lee will be there.”. He nods again. “I want you to record your feelings in your notebook. I will not be able to come. When you return, we’ll talk about the experience. Do you have your headphones, escape route map, and a bottle of water?”. He nods the third time. “Sammy, thanks, I appreciate it!” he says coyly. I smile and direct him towards the exit, “Lee is in the office, go on.”.

The clock strikes 5 pm, 7 hours till midnight, sufficient time for me to enjoy dinner. With great excitement but caution, I briskly walk to the second room of the North wing. ‘She must be asleep.’ I think to myself. I am talking about no one but my very first patient, Julia. Her phobia is a little more complex to understand. She was diagnosed with Panphobia a year ago, the fear of everything and since then her life has been been a whirlwind of terror and confusion.There were nights when she would refuse to sleep, fearing that Lee might stab her and there were days when she would cower away from me and call me a witch. After spending a year together, her apprehensions have still not been eased. She was called a cursed child by her own parents who were killed in a natural disaster last year. Now she has no one but me, thus today I will start to bring an end to all her troubles, something I should have done weeks ago.

Until a few weeks ago, sedatives like benzodiazepines helped ease her anxiety. However, soon she grew to be addicted, medication turned into a drug that was slowly and slowly rotting her nervous system. With a firm mind, I had decided that today she would take her last dose of sedatives. I knock on her door, she wakes up with a shot and shrieks, which makes me lose the fearlessness. I shake a jar of sedatives and she nods. The fear has passed and she herself invites me inside. Before I can open the jar, it is snatched away. I sigh and take a deep breath, snatch it back and challenge her, “Follow me if you can!”.

She laughs wildly and leaps down from her bed. I smirk and race to the operation theatre with full speed and haste. As I turn, change direction, speed up or slow down, she follows me. Her panphobia takes charge of her at times as she pauses to catch up.

At last I reach the theatre, calling out “Hey!” to expose my location. Julia beams and enters the room, her greatest mistake. I let go of the jar and leave her to feast on the pills. She feels dizzy and sways from side to side. This is an important procedure, the sleeping pills have done their work. I catch her just in time to avoid the loud fall of her body. With great care, I place her on the bed and lock the theatre door to avoid disturbance if any at all.

As we come to the end of this rendezvous, I have a confession to make. The near opposite of phobias are compulsive disorders. Phobias deter the brain whereas compulsive disorders are motivators, motivators to fulfill desires. Within my phobiatics, I was more than just a doctor, I was also a patient, a patient in disguise. The patient who revealed herself every six months when her desire was at its peak and strawberries were not red enough. I make this confession, that a year ago, I had my first taste, taste of the red substance. I developed Renfield’s syndrome, the syndrome that forces me to push poison down my throat every six months, poison that runs through my victim’s veins. To give you a hint, if you are confused, my syndrome is better known as Clinical Vampirism…

______

Three hours have passed, the metallic taste remains in my mouth, my hands red, some drops darker than others. Some supply remains, I am careful not to draw too much blood from the girl’s frail body, her slow death should look natural. My soft tears now dilute the haemoglobin smeared on my face. To my dear Julia, I found connection through you, I found life through you, I found courage through you, I found blood through you. Like I said, I do my best to end my phobiatic’s misery. I fulfilled my promise and it will, I dare say, benefit both of us. This sacrifice you have made shall suffice me for the next half a year. Pray, pray that till then, little Eric leaves my doors, you know why.

I find strength to pull myself upwards and creak open the door.

There stands Lee. I freeze in shock and hastily wipe the blood off my chin.

“Sammy, what’s that blood doing?”, she pushes inside, “Sammy, why is Julia, ugh!” her eyes widen in disgust. I am trembling, panicking now that the truth has been exposed. “Ju..Ju…”, Am I fainting?

We both take a moment to settle and then laugh out loud together. This joke never gets old. Lee beams,”How was it? You second taste?”. I reciprocate the same smile “Not bad, not bad at all, teacher, not bad!”

“Now, don’t be selfish, pour me a glass of your fresh supply!”. And late night fades away as we honour that night’s toast.

Author’s note: This story is a mix of science and fiction. The phobia cases presented here bear no resemblance with any living person. Renfield’s syndrome is a true psychological condition however some of the representations in this piece of writing are entirely fictional.

Word Count: 2413 words

Sources –

1.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFtZUvf1K74

2.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobia

3.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ksC0Yl348o

4.https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/panic-attacks-and-panic-disorders.htm#:~:text=Causes%20of%20panic%20attacks%20and%20panic%20disorder&text=Severe%20stress%2C%20such%20as%20the,conditions%20and%20other%20physical%20causes.

5.https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/what-is-anthropophobia#:~:text=Anthropophobia%20can%20begin%20with%20a,hotline%20might%20start%20you%20off.

6.https://dualdiagnosis.org/substance-abuse-among-suffering-phobias/anthropophobia/

7.https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/what-is-anthropophobia#:~:text=Anthropophobia%20can%20begin%20with%20a,hotline%20might%20start%20you%20off.

8. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/symptoms/

9.https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355162#:~:text=Talking%20with%20a%20mental%20health,or%20situation%20that%20you%20fear.

10.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_vampirism#:~:text=Clinical%20vampirism%2C%20more%20commonly%20known,was%20contributed%20by%20Richard%20L.
11.https://optimistminds.com/bogyphobia/

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