Episode 20 — Chapter 24
Mildly intrigued, Savannah looked at the screen. It showed an ancient photograph of Ty Cobb side-by-side with a mobile phone photo taken at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The resemblance was striking. So, what’s the catch? Savannah wondered. She had learned from past views of MSN stories that the headlines usually promised far more than the underlying story delivered.
Savannah clicked onto the image and began reading the script.
Atlanta, Ga. Hit-and-run victim wakes up in a Georgian hospital claiming to be baseball great Ty Cobb. Patient sustained serious head trauma, extensive damage to face and other injuries. Patient insisted on having his face reconstructed in the likeness of Cobb. Patient claims that he plays centerfield for the Detroit Tigers.
Hospitalized at Layton Regional Hospital, Atlanta. Still recuperating from his injuries. No next of kin has been found for the victim. Patient exhibits bewilderment at modern devices and provides unusual recall of events in the early 1900’s.
As she stared at the story, an utterly ridiculous notion began to form in her mind.
Nurse Menendez left the room, gasping for breath. Mr. Cobb had so many questions, so much to say. He had been far more serene when his jaw was restrained. Now, he constantly peppered her with questions, most of which she couldn’t answer or simply had to ignore.
Nurse Menendez had witnessed Mr. Cobb’s rapid progress during the past couple of weeks. When he first tried speaking, Mr. Cobb’s voice had been gravelly and guttural, very difficult to understand. Now, she could understand him only too well, as a natural tone and timbre had supplanted the gruff and growling sounds. His face looked more normal each day too, as the puffiness and bruises faded, though the vague outlines of scarring remained. Mr. Cobb’s arm cast was gone and it wouldn’t be long before the leg cast was removed.
Nurse Menendez took Mr. Cobb to physical therapy daily, where therapists worked to strengthen his arms and free leg. A week after the facial construction surgery, the patient had begun ingesting liquid food, and was then transitioned to the standard hospital diet. His appetite was improving and his strength increasing daily.
Dr. Cantril came into Mr. Cobb’s room carrying a tripod and camera, along with his clipboard, making sure to enter when the patient was in the physical therapy unit. He set up the equipment and focused the camera on the precise spot where the patient would be sitting when he returned. Now, all Dr. Cantril had to do was press the record button.
Mr. Cobb returned to the room a short time later.
Dr. Cantril inconspicuously pushed the button of the camera and began filming.
“It’s my practice, Mr. Cobb, to video-record all my interviews after the initial one.” Actually, he almost never taped patient interviews. “I’m sure you have no objection.”
It was abundantly clear from Mr. Cobb’s blank expression that the request hadn’t registered.
“Let’s drill down to some of your last memories before the accident. What’s the last thing you recall?” Dr. Cantril asked.
Mr. Cobb closed his eyes briefly in reflection and then spoke. “There was a banquet after the play.”
“Play?” It was Dr. Cantril’s turn to emote a quizzical look. “What play did you see?”
“I didn’t see a play; I was an actor in the play!”
“You had a part?” Dr. Cantril’s expression exhibited surprise.
“I was the star of the show.”
Of course, I should have known. Dr. Cantril began writing: First, Mr. C is a famous athlete known by everyone. Second, he has the lead role in a play. Must be the center of attention for everything he does. Classic GD
“Do you remember the name of the play?’
“The College Widow.”
Dr. Cantril shook his head. “I’ve never heard of it. Where was the play performed?”
“At The Atlanta.” the patient responded in a matter-of-fact tone.
“What’s The Atlanta? I’m not familiar with it. Where is it?”
“It’s a theater on Exchange Place.”
“I don’t know any Exchange Place in Atlanta.”
The patient shook his head. “How can you not be familiar with Exchange Place? It’s right downtown on Decatur and Park Place.”
“And there’s a theater there?”
“Yes. Brand spankin’ new. Just opened a few months ago.”
“O.K. I’ll check it out.”
“The play was in all the local newspapers. You must have seen it! There was a big reception at the railway station when we arrived.”
“I don’t see many shows,” Dr. Cantril confessed. “So, you were the star of the play.” It would be interesting to see how much texture there was to this illusion.
“I’m Billy Bolton in the play… a football player.”
“So, let me get this straight. You’re a famous baseball player playing the role of a football player.” Dr. Cantril subtly shook his head at the nonsensical notion.
“So, tell me the story.”
The patient rambled on, describing a whimsical plot.
After he was done, Dr. Cantril endeavored to summarize the synopsis. “So the father is disappointed in his son going to college to study football instead of a practical profession. But, all is forgiven when the son beats the cross-town rival?”
“That’s pretty close. It’s a comedy,” the patient offered.
“So, do you know your lines.”
“Of course,” the patient responded.
“Well, give me a cameo performance. Can you deliver some of your lines?”
The patient shook his head. “Doctor, the last thing on my mind now is that damn play. I just want to get the hell out of here.”
Naturally. The delusion only has superficial layers.
“You still have a cast on your leg; it shouldn’t be much longer before it comes off,” Dr. Cantril responded.
After his last patient rounds for the day, Dr. Cantril couldn’t wait to return to his office computer and check out more of the details that Mr. Cobb had provided. He was stunned to discover that The College Widow had actually been performed in Atlanta in November, 1911 and that the Ty Cobb had even been in the starring role. While it was unusual to find such accuracy of historical detail in a patient with delusions of grandeur, Dr. Cantril reasoned that there were numerous books and internet articles about Cobb. Nevertheless, the accuracy delighted and excited him—it would only further serve to sensationalize the case all the more, much as the Bridey Murphy matter had done in the middle of the twentieth century.
Dr. Cantril theorized that the patient had taken a peculiar interest in Cobb before the accident. After all, Cobb was considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Plus, there were a lot of other factors which could have provided the underlying foundation for the delusion, especially here in Cobb County, Georgia, where even non-sports fans were often reminded about the legendary star.
Dr. Cantril had reined in his enthusiasm during the first two sessions, but now he allowed his mind to run free. He imagined psychiatrists reviewing his initial thoughts and impressions on the case, fifty or even a hundred years from now. He visualized them dissecting his work and choice of interventions—he had to do it right! There would be the inevitable interview with Psychiatry Today and subsequent article—probably a cover story. Speaking engagements would follow with guest appearances on radio and television shows. But, what Dr. Cantril really coveted was a book deal. That would ensure his name and fame lived on for generations to come.
Such were Dr. Cantril’s private thoughts; thoughts that he would never express to a living soul. In fact, he would be a reluctant party in sharing his case files and analysis; he would need to be serenaded and seduced before doing so and would voice strong objections when approached (just as he had with the federal authorities years ago), relenting only when the world demanded his work for the benefit of future generations. He would deign the public eye as far as anyone could tell, making sure to always project a humble, unassuming and self-deprecating veneer. No one would ever know how much he craved fame, fortune, respect and most of all, envy from his peers.