Episode 21 — Chapter 25
‘Tis a shame, Savannah thought to herself. We’ll never know how old timers would fare against modern players. She had been engrossed in thought during the flight, imagining that the real Ty Cobb had been magically transported into the twenty-first century. How would he stack up in the modern game? I’m sure I’m not the first person to ponder that, she smiled to herself. Now, that would really be some story!
As the flight began its two-hour trek toward Atlanta, Savannah began second-guessing her impulse to fly there. It would likely prove to be a colossal waste of time. Obviously, the man claiming to be Ty Cobb was severely deluded. If the MSN photos were legitimate, the only similarity between the patient and Cobb would be in appearance.
Maybe there’s some humorous angle I can use to spice up the story, Savannah thought to herself. Nevertheless, the more she thought about it, the more foolish she felt about her excursion.
As the plane continued its journey, Savannah pondered the best way to approach the patient. If she wanted to get anywhere with Mr. Cobb, she would need to cater to his delusion. She began outlining areas of inquiry and specific questions to ask, if it ever got that far. By the time the plane touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson, she had filled several pages on her yellow pad.
I’ll be lucky to get even a single question answered by this whacko.
Dr. Cantril was anxious to begin his third session with the patient and confirm the third prong in the MacArthur-Maudsley Assessment. There was a lot at stake, not the least of which was the patient’s mental health. It was well documented that grandiose delusions often contributed to a patient’s well being and ability to cope and if the delusions were destroyed, then the patient became at risk for developing despondency or even a full scale depression along with suicidal ideations.
Nevertheless, Dr. Cantril concluded that he needed to take the risk now, before he became too heavily invested in Mr. Cobb. If the delusion crumbled in the face of contrary evidence, then the grandiosity diagnosis would be imperiled. In order to obtain a commitment order, Dr. Cantril had to establish that the delusion was intransigent. Internally, Dr. Cantril prayed that his challenge to the patient’s delusion would fail. Otherwise, there would be no article in Psychiatry Today, no appearance on talk shows and no book contract.
Dr. Cantril brought his briefcase to the session; he had previously made arrangements with the nursing staff to set up the tripod and camera.
The patient appeared deep in thought as Dr. Cantril entered.
“Good morning, Mr. Cobb. How are you feeling today?”
“Well enough, doctor. Can you tell me when my cast is coming off?” The patient pointed to his right leg.
“Let me take a look at your chart.” Dr. Cantril opened the rectangular metal case and accessed the electronic touch screen, revealing recent staff notes. The chart noted that the cast was scheduled to be removed in a couple of days. Dr. Cantril frowned; he needed to speed up the paperwork. Once Mr. Cobb was able to walk, there was a risk he could be released from the hospital or even leave on his own.
“Your cast will be coming off soon—just a few more days.”
“Good. I’m gettin’ antsy amblin’ about on crutches.”
“Mr. Cobb, I’d like to resume our dialogue from the previous session, to make sure you’re mind continues to function well, after the trauma to your head. We’ve already discussed your recollection of events just prior to your accident. I’d like to delve into some other areas with you. Have you ever flown in an airplane?”
“Of course not,” the patient responded forcefully. “Far too dangerous.”
“I assume you’ve been in automobiles—let’s call them horseless carriages.”
“They’re called automobiles, doctor. I own a couple of them.”
“Oh really,” Dr. Cantril was interested. “What make of cars?”
“They’re both Chalmers. I received one for winning the batting title in 1910 and another one last year.”
Dr. Cantril made a note. He had never heard of the Chalmers brand.
“Mr. Cobb. Come over to the window for a moment.”
Mr. Cobb grabbed his crutches and hobbled over to the window.
“Look at the view. Do you see the structure over there?” Dr. Cantril pointed at the parking garage.
“You see all those cars? I’m sure you’ve noticed them before. Must be a hundred of them or more. Before your accident, did you ever see automobiles like this?”
Mr. Cobb shook his head. “No. I’ve never seen cars like this. So strange, the shapes, sizes and colors. Where I come from, they’re all black.”
“Do you see the buildings we call high rises in the distance? You have traveled far and wide in the United States, right?”
“I have,” the patient responded.
“Have you ever seen buildings like this in any city you’ve ever visited?”
“It would take a pretty overwhelming subterfuge to create all these cars and buildings just to trick you, wouldn’t it?”
Mr. Cobb nodded.
“So where you are today is vastly different from the world you claim to have lived in before the accident?”
“I don’t know what jiggery-pockery you’re trying to pull…”
“Well, as I have told you before, you suffered severe damage to your frontal lobe. That’s the area of the brain which, if injured, can cause hallucinations, amnesia, schizophrenia. There’s a psychiatric disorder we refer to as delusions of grandeur. Have you ever heard of that?”
“No, I haven’t,” Mr. Cobb said with irritation.
“That’s where a person believes himself to be some great person—maybe a former President of the United States, a great doctor, a great athlete…”
“I’m not crazy, doctor.”
“No, no, no. Of course not. I’m not suggesting you are.”
Dr. Cantril opened his briefcase. He brought out a bag the size of a fist and placed it on the table. “Go ahead, pick it up.”
The patient picked it up. “It feels like coins.”
“That’s right. Go ahead, take some out.”
Mr. Cobb stuck his hand in the bag and pulled out some coins.
“You know how coins show the date they were minted, right. Check out the dates on these coins.”
The patient looked. 2007, 2019, 1997, 1988, 2013, 2020, 2006.
“This is impossible.” Mr. Cobb placed his hand on his forehead.
“I brought some other things, too. Today’s newspaper. Look at the date and the photographs. Is this the way your newspapers looked in 1911?”
Mr. Cobb looked at the clean printing, the colors, the clear photographs, and then read the date. He felt disoriented and his face expressed disbelief.
“I picked up some magazines from our waiting room. Look at the dates.”
The patient looked at one magazine after another. His head began to feel light.
“Just relax,” Dr. Cantril responded. “I know I’m showing you evidence that must be very disconcerting and hard to accept, but I need to see if any of this might cause your conscious or subconscious mind to come forth with your true identity. Don’t you see, you couldn’t possibly be a man born in 1886. Ty Cobb, the great baseball player, has been dead for more than half a century.”
The patient put his hands to his eyes and began rubbing them. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. “Doctor, I can see what you’re showing me, but it doesn’t change who I am. I know who I am.”
Dr. Cantril opened his laptop. “Let me show you something else. In 1911, motion pictures were just in their infancy. There was no sound for another ten or twenty years. The motion pictures from your day were all in black and white. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“Now, I’m going to insert what we call a d.v.d. into this machine and I will show what movies look like today.”
Dr. Cantril inserted the disc and Gone With the Wind began playing. “This is a famous movie that was made back in 1939. For you, that’s just twenty-eight years into your future. It’s in color, as you can see. It tells a story that takes place during the War Between the States. I can stop the movie anytime I want, go back, go forward. It’s a long movie; it lasts about four hours.”
“How do you do that?” Mr. Cobb pushed the laptop away. “I can see what you’re showing me, but none of it makes any sense. Did you hypnotize me?”
“No, I haven’t hypnotized you. But I think I know what may have happened. Before the accident, you may have been a huge baseball fan. Maybe you even fantasized about being one of the all-time great baseball players. Perhaps you became obsessed with one player in particular. After all, if you’re from Georgia, Ty Cobb would be a natural choice. Many consider him the greatest player of all time. You may have even resembled him. You may have studied him, read the books and biographies about Ty Cobb—there are many. You may have daydreamed about being Ty Cobb… imagined performing some of his exploits or achievements on the playing field. It’s not unusual. People do that all the time.”
Cobb looked down and began shaking his head.
“You may even be a descendant of Cobb, for all I know. Then you suffer this severe injury to perhaps the most important part of your brain. Your injured brain has somehow seized upon this fascination with Ty Cobb and you have, quite literally, adopted his identity and become him.”
The patient shook his head. “That’s utter nonsense. I know who I am. Nothing you can say could possibly convince me otherwise.”
“It’s completely natural for you to feel the way you do. The brain is a powerful organ. Many others who have sustained the same type of injury, or developed lesions on their frontal lobe, have also experienced delusions of grandeur—that is, believing themselves to be someone famous or important.”
“It’s no delusion, doctor. Tell me, the Ty Cobb you’re referring to… did he die in 1911?”
“No, he lived for many years after 1911.”
“So, why don’t I have any memories after 1911, if it’s all a delusion? Can you explain that?”
“Well, there are reasons for that. Your subconscious is aware of your true age and has to confine your memories of Mr. Cobb to those he would have had up to this stage in his life. The brain has untapped powers that we’re only beginning to understand.”
“That makes no sense at all,” the patient responded.
“Well, let’s see if that’s really true. I can access your entire career and tell you your batting statistics for every season you played baseball. And the Ty Cobb most assuredly played baseball after 1911. So, you couldn’t possibly be the Ty Cobb born in 1886. You must see that?”
“Doctor. You are dead wrong. I can’t explain these coins and magazines, or anything else, but I swear to you that I am Ty Cobb.”
Now was the moment of truth.
“If that’s true, how do you account for the passage of more than a hundred years in time?”
“I don’t know.” Mr. Cobb began to feel pain in his forehead. “I’ve made some enemies in my life. Did someone put you up to do this charade, doctor?”
“Mr. Cobb. Can you possibly believe anyone would be able to create such a fantastic world just to deceive you?”
“Doctor, I can’t explain it, but something must be causing me to hallucinate. This place… this world… cannot be real!”
“Mr. Cobb. Does it make sense that someone would cause you to suffer a near fatal accident, only to revive you in some bizarre fantasy world and go to such elaborate means to try to convince you? Use your own logic.”
Mr. Cobb put his hands to his head. The throbbing became more severe.
Dr. Cantril began writing on his notepad:
In the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, patient still refuses to accept his displacement in time and believes that there is a conspiracy to deceive him. The third prong has been satisfied!
“That’s enough for today. Get some rest, Mr. Cobb.”
Dr. Cantril left the room jubilant. There was no question as to the patient’s diagnosis now. Soon, very soon, it would be time to commence treatment.