An interesting encounter
(Written in September 2014)
Working in a retreat house that is in close proximity to a large city has it benefits as well as challenges. People come here for spiritual rest and renewal and from time to time there are those who arrive who are looking for a safe place. For the former group, we are set up to help, for the latter, it can be a little more difficult.
Early last week I was on my way to the front office. It was just before 7 AM and I was trying to get something done before Lauds and Mass. When I got to the office entrance I heard the front door open and looked around the corner. A man was coming into the retreat house with a large dog. It looked like it had lab and perhaps a boxer in its bloodline. It was an older dog and the man I knew from his previous stays here.
I did not want a large dog in our retreat house and told the man (let's call him Ralph) that he could not bring the dog inside. He became agitated and loudly told me that the dog was dying and needed help. Apart from being perhaps 12 years old and a bit overweight, the dog seemed to be fine. So I repeated my request and he said “OK, OK!”, and walked out. As he was going out the door I asked if I could get the dog some water…..he said no it was fine!
I was a little concerned for Ralph, so I went back into the dining area, checked the coffee, and came back to see how he was doing. He was sitting by the front door, the dog lying near him apparently at peace. So I went out and talked with Ralph for a bit. He told me that what happened to him would be in the newspapers, someone tried to kill him and he thought the dog was dying because it was poisoned. He also told me that the police had a tracking device connected to his car and they knew where he was. He seemed out of touch with reality and I became concerned about him.
So I got some water for the dog and invited him inside so we could talk. I got him some coffee and we sat near the front door so he could observe his dog. For a while, his speech became more erratic and paranoid. Then he suddenly said, “well maybe the man was not trying to kill me”. It was then that I asked if he had someone I could call to try to get him some assistance. He gave me a number of a man who rented to him and who was also a friend. So I went outside and called him. Luckily his phone was on and I was able to converse with him.
He related to me that Ralph’s brother just died and that it brought him into the state he is in now. I then asked him if he was on any psychotropic meds and he told me that he was but had quit taking them since his brother died. The part about the man trying to kill him was not true, but he did have an altercation with a neighbor that he was having issues with that became virulent; so much so that he fled. Though his life was not threatened and he needed to come back home as soon as possible if he could drive himself. I was not sure that he could, he was so distraught.
I went back in and asked him why he quit taking his meds. It was then that he started to cry and took my hand in his and brought his forehead down to it. I really did not know how to respond, so I just put my other hand on the top of his head and silently prayed for this poor man in so much distress. After a short while, he sat up and told me about his brother, who was a marine, who had died of cancer and he was having trouble handling it.
So I just let him talk for a while. Afterward, I brought up how important it was for him to stay on his meds. I let him know that I was on the verge of calling for help soon after he arrived since he seemed to be psychotic and was worried about his safety. It was only when he told me that maybe his neighbor did not try to kill him that I pulled back from that decision. To my surprise, he listened and told me that yes he needed to stay on them. He did not want to go to a psychiatric hospital again. He told me that he could not drive and would I please call his friend to come and pick him up.
By the time his friend came, he seemed better. Since he was off his meds for about six weeks I asked Ralph’s friend to please call his psychiatrist and let him know how long he has been off his meds. The dose may need to be changed to a lesser strength for a while. He said he would. He was a good friend I could tell by the patient and compassionate way he talked to Ralph.
So they left and I hope things will be ok for him. Mental illness is such a bane on mankind and I know even with meds the suffering of being cut off from others can be intense. So I hope to see him again here on retreat and being ‘normal’ enough to be able to connect here on a different level with others here. So yes, anyone who works with the public can tell you it can get interesting as well as anxiety-provoking to deal with certain levels of society. I am glad Ralph came here and that is some little way I could help. It is not always so. Sometimes outside authorities have to be called in order to help and protect some of those who come here seeking refuge and help.-Br.MD