A.L. was a 65-year-old man who came in complaining of having been assaulted. This was not any ordinary assault. It took place while sitting in our waiting room. But, wait. Let me start at the beginning.
For the last three years, A.L. had been assaulted many times by “private investigators.” They used a gas to render him unconscious, then inflicted trauma to his legs. Most of the time, the trauma was localized to his calves but, lately, they had moved above the knees. They didn’t actually land blows on him but would grind their palms into his flesh, causing localized pain and swelling. He said they did this to avoid leaving any bruises as evidence. When he woke, he always found new areas of swelling and tenderness, which he could identify by carefully feeling the flesh of his legs.
These assaults happened almost daily and sometimes up to four times per day. They could happen anywhere, including in the parking lot walking into the hospital. Often, he was alone, as when he was working in empty offices at night where he was trying to run his janitorial service. They could also happen when others were around, as in the ED waiting room. He was even assaulted while in bed with his girlfriend. When I asked him how it could be possible that someone could gas and assault him while he was sitting in our crowded waiting room, he said, “They are very sneaky. They have their methods.” The fact that no one else had ever seen this happen did nothing to cause him to doubt it took place.
He provided excruciating details about the techniques used to assault him. He meticulously described how they did all of this without leaving any evidence. He said they had, within the last month, changed to a different type of gas as they were afraid he might be getting immune to the effects of the gas previously used.
Since he was always unconscious when these attacks happened, I asked how he knew who was doing it and why they were doing so. He said he knew because he once “came to” just as they were leaving and he saw the bushes outside move as they rushed away.
When asked why someone would be doing this to him, he was evasive. It was clear he believed someone felt wronged by him and that these attacks were retribution for that wrong. He refused to elaborate on what that wrong might have been or who was having the private investigators assault him.
He said he had been to the police many times and they refused to take him seriously, which upset him. He also admitted he had been to our emergency department many times for the same thing and, again, had not felt supported in his struggles.
After talking to him for about twenty minutes, fascinated by the details and long course of his delusions, I asked him what he thought I could do for him in the emergency department. I had to ask this question several times before I got a specific answer because, rather than answer the question, he would just go back and repeat details of the assaults.
Finally, he said he wanted me to put casts on his legs so “they” couldn’t inflict any more injuries. He wanted help getting a single medical care provider who could see him each time he presented so that person could document, over time, the various injuries he suffered at the hands of his assailants.
He seemed to understand when I told him I would not be able to cast him. However, I could respond to his second requests by referring him to get a primary care provider.
Up until this time, our conversation was very calm and agreeable. That all changed when I finally told him he had paranoid delusions. That really set him off. He started to holler and swear at me, saying he was not delusional. He had evidence of everything he was telling me if someone would take him seriously and not just blow him off as everyone, up to that point, had done.
I finally had to pull out the line I use at times like this. “You know these things are true and I can’t convince you otherwise. But I also know they are not true and you can’t convince me they are. So, we will just have to leave it at that and it’s time for you to go.”
I told him his discharge papers would include directions for contacting a mental health provider and I encouraged him to do that. He left very unhappy. I had no hope he would follow my recommendation.
A few weeks later, I saw this same gentleman, again. He came in with exactly the same story and, of course, had made no effort to get any mental health assistance. I felt so sorry for him but there was, literally, nothing I could do to help him. Even listening to him didn’t help when he saw that he was not believed.
Check out this article to better understand fixed delusions. This describes my patient very well.