Episode 19 — Chapter 23
Dr. Cantril studied the file. A referral had been made to his office a couple of weeks before, but he had done little more than poke his head in the patient’s room. After all, until he could communicate with the patient, there really wasn’t much he could do. But yesterday, he had been informed that the patient had finally begun to speak.
Dr. Cantril walked down the fourth floor hallway and knocked lightly on the door, before entering.
“Mr. Cobb? Hello, I’m Dr. Cantril.”
In his mid-fifties, Sterling Edward Cantril, psychiatrist, was a man of large stature. Ascending to six feet four inches in height at three hundred pounds, he struck an imposing pose. He had a coiffured beard, mustache and hairpiece which covered the large bald spot on the top of his head. His high-pitched voice contrasted with his size, lessening the intimidation one felt at first glance. However, his voice and demeanor exuded little warmth, but rather conveyed an impression of detachment. Dr. Cantril had little capacity for getting close to patients; they were rather, a medium for experimenting with new modalities, which he hoped someday would lead to respect and recognition from his peers, though such an outcome seemed increasingly unlikely in recent years.
Dr. Cantril blamed it all on his tenure at Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome, where he’d worked for ten years until federal investigators shut the facility down amid rumors of suspicious patient deaths. Criminal indictments had followed, but Dr. Cantril had fortuitously escaped charges in exchange for covertly delivering thousands of confidential electronic patient files to the government, whose subpoenas had been blocked by the courts. It had been an extraordinary breach of professional ethics on his part, but his anonymous assistance had also secured him a position at Layton Regional.
There had been rumors of his participation in the scandal during his early years at Layton Regional, but now the taint rarely inconvenienced him, though he was certain it had caused him to be rebuffed in his bid to become a department head a couple of years before. Although Dr. Cantril had job security, his was a moribund position with no prospect of advancement or meaningful pay raise.
Having been indoctrinated in the rather bizarre case of Mr. Cobb, Dr. Cantril had misgivings as to how to proceed. Aware that severe trauma to the frontal lobe could lead to delusional behavior or even amnesia, he was profoundly skeptical that the Mr. Cobb truly suffered from a classic case of delusions of grandeur, as had been suggested. After all, there were many levels of grandiosity and they often dissembled into another disorder under close scrutiny.
Taking the chair next to the patient, Dr. Cantril had modest expectations. “I’m on staff with the hospital and Dr. Nazari suggested I come by to see you.” Dr. Cantril knew better than to be specific about his specialty too soon; many people didn’t react favorably to an unsolicited session with a shrink. Placing a clipboard on his lap, he managed with some difficulty, to cross his legs.
“Mr. Cobb, I would like to get better acquainted with you now that you’re able to speak.”
The patient merely stared back at Dr. Cantril without any noticeable reaction.
“Let’s go over your background.”
“Doctor, I need some answers first.” Mr. Cobb’s tone was testy and his voice hoarse and raspy, though discernable.
“I’m sure you do,” Dr. Cantril responded smugly. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind.”
“I’d sure as hell like to know what this highfalutin place is. I’ve been in hospitals before, but never seen anythin’ like it.”
“You’re in Layton Regional… in Atlanta, of course…”
Mr. Cobb interrupted, “I know, I know. That’s what I keep hearin’. But, what’s all this razmatazz? All these new-fangled boxes and… contraptions?”
“Mr. Cobb. It’s just an ordinary hospital…”
“I’ve never seen so many goldarned things with lights and numbers. Everythin’s outta kilter. And what are those doohickeys?” The patient’s hand pointed at the equipment near his bed.
“It’s diagnostic information to relay your vital signs: your blood pressure, pulse rate, etc.”
“And what, in tarnation, is that infernal thing up there?” The patient pointed at the television screen mounted on the wall.
Dr. Cantril lowered an eyebrow. “You’ve never seen a t.v.? I mean these are the latest digital screens. You’ve surely seen televisions?”
“No, dammit. What are those frizzly pictures on it? Ain’t never seen anything like that before.”
“I promise I will answer those questions. But first, I need to learn a little bit more about you.”
Mr. Cobb ignored the doctor’s words. “Why aren’t there any visitors? My wife? Teammates? Ed Lafitte? He was with me at the train station…”
“Slow down, Mr. Cobb. All in due time. First…”
“No, dammit! I ain’t gonna stay here a goldarn minute longer, if I don’t get some answers!” the patient said in a loud voice.
“Mr. Cobb. Please. Try to relax. You’ve been in a terrible accident. The doctors and nurses have been working tirelessly to help you recover. You suffered severe trauma to your frontal lobe—that’s located at the top of your forehead.” Dr. Cantril pointed at his. “It’s the part of the brain that controls rational thought and, if injured, can result in cognitive dissonance…”
“What are you babbling about? You know who I am, dammit it! I’m Ty Cobb. Everyone in the country knows me.”
Dr. Cantril’s interest suddenly piqued. Maybe the patient did have a legitimate case of grandiosity after all. The doctor scribbled Classic Symptoms of Grandiosity at the top of his pad, drew a line underneath the heading and wrote below: 1. Assumes identity of famous person; 2. Exaggerated sense of importance.
“I understand, Mr. Cobb. But I need you to answer a few background questions first, so I can better help you. Just a few questions. It won’t take long. What’s your date of birth?”
The patient let out a sigh of exasperated resignation. “The eighteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and eighty-six.”
Dr. Cantril had been told that the man claimed to be the Ty Cobb, the baseball great, but hearing the year eighteen-hundred-eighty-six from his own mouth, without any deceptive tic at all, startled him.
Do not react, Dr. Cantril admonished himself, but inwardly his modest expectations were beginning to rise.
“What was the last day you remember before your accident?”
Mr. Cobb reflected. “It was Friday night, late… No, it must have been Saturday morning… early…”
“What month and year was it?”
The patient gave the doctor a queer look. “I’m not some crackpot, doctor.”
“Of course not. I just need to see how well your mind is functioning.”
Mr. Cobb appeared deep in thought for a moment. “November.”
“Nineteen hundred and eleven, of course.”
The answer sent a shiver up Dr. Cantril’s spine. Grandiosity patients uniformly adapted to the present day circumstances, whether they selected an ancient or modern identity. However, Mr. Cobb was naturally commenting that his present year was more than a century ago, as if he were still living in the past— that element was unprecedented in his experience and research.
Could this be a legitimate case of a delusion disorder combined with time displacement? That would be a historic! Dr. Cantril’s mind began to race as he imagined what such a case could mean to him professionally. It could transform his career!
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he quickly scolded himself. We have a long ways to go before we start appearing on talk shows.
“Mr. Cobb. Who is the current President of the United States?’
“Why are you asking such a ridiculous question?”
“Well, as I told you earlier, you sustained a serious injury to the frontal lobe of your brain. Sometimes, it can cause patients to have difficulty remembering things… gaps in their memory. I’m just testing your brain; these are routine questions we ask anyone who has suffered a serious head injury.”
There was something about the doctor’s manner that made the patient suspicious. The fear of having been committed to a sanatorium surfaced again. He had to find out.
“Is this a special hospital for certain types of people, doctor?”
“What do you mean… special people?” Dr. Cantril’s tone went up half an octave.
“You know, people that ain’t right in the head?”
Dr. Cantril did his best to convey his warmest smile. “You mean, a psychiatric ward?”
“I mean a ‘looney bin.’”
Dr. Cantril laughed. “No, no, no. Not at all.” Not yet, at least. “This is a hospital to help people recover from injury or illness.”
“Promise me, doctor. Because, I want nothing to do with any place like that.”
“You have nothing to worry about, Mr. Cobb,” Dr. Cantril parroted with facility the lie he’d given many times before to other suspecting patients. He added another entry to the grandiosity symptoms: 3. Paranoia.
“Now please, can you name the current President of the United States?”
“William Howard Taft, of course.”
Dr. Cantril wrote the name down and placed an asterisk next to it. He would check that out.
“And, what do you do for a living, Mr. Cobb?”
The patient shook his head. “You really don’t know who I am? You don’t follow baseball, do you, doctor?”
“Never been a fan.”
“I reckon most folks here in Georgia know me. I play centerfield for the Detroit Tigers.”
Dr. Cantril made another entry: 4. Patient believes everyone knows who he is.
“I have heard of him… of you. Tell me the names of your teammates. Just checking to see how well your memory is working.”
“Wahoo Sam… Sam Crawford. Ownie Jones… Jim Delahanty, Big George Mullin, Doc Lafitte, Charlie O’Leary, Oscar Stanage, George Moriarty, ” The patient continued rattling off names. “Is that enough names yet, doctor?”
“That should suffice.” Dr. Cantril wrote them down as fast as he could. That would be simple to verify.
The interview continued another thirty minutes, as Dr. Cantril inquired about Mr. Cobb’s family life, residence, relatives, and finally did his best to explain the infernal device on the wall.
When he returned to his office, Dr. Cantril felt more alive than he had in years. The first thing he did was look up images of Ty Cobb on the internet. He had been told that the patient had insisted on having his face reconstructed in the image of the Ty Cobb, but still, the resemblance was startling. Even with swelling and bruising, it was evident that Dr. Hale had done an extraordinary job capturing Ty Cobb’s likeness. Dr. Cantril smiled to himself. That would only make the case far more interesting and create much more publicity.
This might be the one! he allowed himself to ponder. All the planets are lining up.
It took five seconds to verify Cobb’s birthdate on web. He next accessed the names of Cobb’s 1911 teammates by simply typing in “1911 Detroit Tigers roster.” The names Mr. Cobb had given him were all there, including the nicknames. That was impressive, he had to admit. And, Taft had been President in 1911.
It’s looking better every second.
Though his personal experience with grandiosity patients was limited, Dr. Cantril was aware that most of them had sketchy and often inaccurate historical recall. The fact that Mr. Cobb had proven to be historically accurate with his comments would undoubtedly cause this case stand out from the others.
Dr. Cantril looked at his sheet of paper and shook his head. His penmanship was sloppy, hurried and hard to decipher; it would provide a poor impression for anyone reviewing his notes in the future. He tore the sheet of paper from the pad and created, from the scribblings, a much more legible version. Years from now, those yellowed pages might be mounted under glass, a treasured relic for future psychologists to examine and ponder—his notes couldn’t look messy; they had to look impeccable. And, from this point forward all sessions would be filmed.
Dr. Cantril reflected on his patient’s condition. The causal link was clearly evident, since grandiose delusions were nearly always related to lesions of the frontal lobe. But, Ty Cobb? What had caused this patient to appropriate Cobb’s identity in lieu of more notable and popular characters? Perhaps geography played a role; after all, Cobb hailed from Georgia and was still revered as a demi-god throughout most of the state.
Aware that three factors were necessary for a diagnosis of grandiosity, Dr. Cantril noted that Mr. Cobb clearly had the first two: maintaining the delusion with absolute conviction and the obvious impossibility that the delusion could be true. But, the third prong still needed to be addressed during a future session–that would be the key. Would Mr. Cobb’s delusion still persist once he was presented irrefutable proof to the contrary?