Dear Patient,

The first time we met, you were skin and bones draped in black, shuffling in while gripping your styrofoam cup for dear life. You glanced up at us for one fleeting moment before returning your gaze to the floor. They teach us to start every interview by taking in what people look like, piece by piece. You were hollowed-out cheeks and slumped shoulders, as if your body was trying to fold into itself until you simply disappeared. Over the past months in psychiatry, I’ve seen my fair share of hopelessness, but I’d never seen the life drained out of anyone’s eyes quite as much as I did in yours.

You are a sex offender. Before, the only impression I had from those two words was a vague idea of shifty-eyed, clearly creepy men that Chris Hansen called out on weeknight TV. You walked in looking like someone who would smile and nod while passing me at the store, with family members who still support you as a testament to your usual character. There is no doubt you made a terrible decision that will follow you and your victim everywhere either of you go. You knew that, since the permanency of those repercussions drove you to an attempt on your own life. I felt incredibly sorry for you as you sat in front of me, and as a hopeful future pediatrician, I wondered what was wrong with me. You are a sex offender, but you regret it. Is that — should that be — good enough?

You quietly admitted you wished someone would just run up to you on the street and end it all. Worn tissues lay between your wringing hands, a collection that kept growing every few minutes. You told us, for the past week, you had no hope left whatsoever. Those words hung heavy in our silence, like little weights we now had to figure out how to rack onto our conscience. The hum of the heating unit was the only sound in the room, almost comforting in its constancy as I struggled back and forth with how to place you in my mind.

I realize I am lucky enough to have never experienced anything your story involves, and I have no children of my own to factor in either. I am privileged to be able to feel sorry for you, and even that may change as time goes on. There is no medicine to erase what you’ve done, but at the end of the day, you are just another person with depression that needs to be treated. You may not have done The Right Thing, but we take an oath to do The Right Thing. It doesn’t matter what I think so long as I can remember, first and foremost, you are still a human being asking for help.

Thank you for allowing me to learn from you.


Medical Student

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