Madness and Glory: (7): The Annointed One

The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry. Part 7.

Posted May 09, 2019

This is historical fiction, the story of Dr. Phillipe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry.

Chapter 7

Pinel entered Lalladiere’s cell accompanied by Denis. Seeing the man lying motionless, he, like Pussin, also stood for several minutes watching silently. He had been told that Lalladiere had gotten up to use the slop bucket.

“I am Dr. Pinel, citizen Lalladiere, the physician in charge of the Bicêtre Asylum.”

No motion on the cot. The doctor waited.

“I have come to help you.”

Denis, staring nearby at the unresponsive Lalladiere, shook his head with an exasperated gesture.

“I know you are sick,” Pinel continued, “and you must be helped. I am here to find out what I can do.”

Silence. This, Pinel knew, was the kind of circumstance that led doctors at other hospitals to order physical punishment to teach such a patient to respond. The idea made him cringe, the young man lying before him was surely suffering. His dejected eyes in an otherwise expressionless face reminded Pinel of one of the first friends he made when he came to Paris, Gerard Le Blanc, a young lawyer who became insane and killed himself. He had cherished that man, but could do nothing to help him. The devastating and baffling course influenced Pinel greatly. That, and the challenge of treating mentally ill patients at the Belhomme Sanitarium, made him decide to devote himself to his current practice.

“You were, as I understand it,” Pinel said, “an assistant to the Minister Necker. A very important position.”

No response. Or did he see a flickering crease across Lalladiere’s forehead?

“You are surely an intelligent and highly knowledgeable person.”

Nothing visible. A long wait. Pinel, noting Lalladiere’s slightly curled motionless position, thought it must be connected with his having run away.

“You must have felt like a fugitive to run so far from here, to stay away so long. Are there people after you?”

Lalladiere stirred. Slowly, very slowly, he turned his head in the doctor’s direction, and said dully, “Salt. Salt. 645 and 36. Salt fields. They are going to kill me.”

Eyebrow arched, Pinel gazed at Denis, sharing his surprise and doubt. He returned to look to Lalladiere, determined to find out more.

“Who is it? Who wants to kill you?”

Despite the seeming beginning, a return to silence. Possibly, Pinel knew, he might end up learning nothing at all.

“Tell me, citizen,” he tried again, “who is that wants to kill you?” Both his persistence and voice tone were kindly and earnest, reflecting a devotion to know and understand. That, it seemed, had an effect.

“They are after me. All around. They will torture me and kill me.” With a rapid glance at Denis, Lalladiere turned around to face the doctor and raised himself onto an elbow.

“But why?” Pinel asked.

“But why?” Lalladiere flatly repeated.

Thrown off guard, Pinel fell silent. A few moments later, he resumed.

“Who are these vicious men? Those who want to torture and kill you?”

“They say I am corrupt. I do slimy, dirty things.” Shoulders hunched, head down, Lalladiere slowly shifted into a sitting posture. There was no expression in his voice, but his eyes regularly wavered back and forth.

“What things?”

“What things?” echoed Lalladiere again.

Pinel had encountered such bizarre repetition before, a classifiable symptom that always frustrated him.

“Tell me about these people who are after you. Are they aristocrats? Are they from the government?” Many people, Pinel knew, were being hunted during the upheaval and revolution. Perhaps, as sometimes happened, there might even be some truth to what the man was saying.

“They know I am the Anointed One.”

“What do you mean? What anointed one?

“I am here to lead the people back to power and righteousness.”

Pinel noted the marked contrast, a complete contradiction really, of Lalladiere’s earlier assertion about being corrupt and doing dirty things. He decided for the moment not to argue.

“So, you are arrived to forward righteousness. What’s wrong with that? Why should people be after you to kill you?”

“They do not want me to save the Revolution.”

“You are out to save the Revolution, eh? A worthy undertaking, but can you not leave that to Danton and the other leaders? How do you know you are the Anointed One?” Although Pinel did not intend his questions to be disturbing, Lalladiere responded with an agitated torrent of words:

“I am off in the races. I have always been in races because I cannot creep or crawl. The others watch, they wait, but they do not see what I do. And they better find out soon because there are a lot of telescopes around. They are pure, pure you see. That’s why they call me corrupt.”

Slimy hands. Filthy hands. We see you. You soil everything you touch.

Baffled, Pinel grasped for intelligibility.

“Corrupt? Anointed One? Which shall it be, citizen? You can not be both anointed and a corrupt one at the same time.”

Pinel could not then know nor even guess at the meanings of the word “corrupt” in Lalladiere’s life. Brought up in a house of constant vacillation and recrimination, the minimally expressed thoughts and feelings of one day contradicted in the next, accusations hurled day and night between parents, and constantly at him. Trained in worry, fear, and prohibition, Lalladiere escaped into a world of absolute good and bad. And he, because their words or actions told him so, was always bad, his wants and needs perverse and selfish. The wish for pleasure, succor, friendship outside the home was abomination and corruption. Most thoughts and actions were corrupt. From all appearances, he was a young boy like any other boy. But he knew he was unlike others, something in him, or about him, always was deficient. A deep and serious lack. He tried to play with other boys, running games, skittles, make-believe hunting and tracking in the streets, but he found very early that, even though strong and well developed from helping his father lift and cart stones, he couldn’t keep up, or they didn’t want him. In the end, it didn’t matter which it was, he was always left out. Only in school, where he could try to be completely good, did he excel. Fastidiously, he repeated the teacher’s dictation, the facts and homilies, did the classroom assignments with perfect exactness, and was outstanding on tests and examinations, especially those involving calculations and numbers. Unlike anyone he knew, numbers were reliable, they were his comfort and solace. But corruption, he believed, always hid in his thoughts and actions. Over and over, his mother did things that told him he must not look, hear, or feel. His father—he never could tell why—always condemned him. Real, or fabric of imagination, he was corrupt.

“You will see,” Lalladiere replied to Dr. Pinel, his conviction causing him to respond to the doctor’s challenge, “that they are planning to kill me. Murder outright. They have devised a plot to raise me up. Up. Up. High up. They will show the world who I am, then cut me off. My mother, they say, is a whore.” In the dreamlike answer to the doctor’s question, he again mixed in elements of the plot he had overheard.

“Who are these people? You can speak freely,” Pinel said, reassuringly. And, trying to bring Lalladiere to clearer answers, he added forthrightly, “We are trustworthy.”

Trustworthy? Lalladiere looked at Denis, the former pursuer. Two here against one. Trustworthiness of other human beings was not something to believe in. He should have had trust, been trusted, but he trusted no one now. There was danger here.

“The man,” Lalladiere said slowly, “was full of authority, he could have been a doctor.”

Doctors are powerful. They torture and kill.

Pinel took the statement as an answer to his question. But he did not realize that his reassurances had backfired. Lalladiere’s derogation and distrust had shifted onto him.

“A doctor? Who is this doctor? Are you talking about the doctor who treated you at the Hospice d’Humanité?”

“The doctor is very powerful. He heals their legs. They walk freely.”

“But this is helpful, is it not?” Pinel asked, misunderstanding. “If the doctor is healing their legs, how could he be trying to kill them. Or you?”

“He gets them to run away, be corrupted, caught, then beaten and killed.”

“I do not know of a doctor who gets people to run away and has them beaten,” Pinel said, unaware of the target of the veiled sardonic references. “But if you tell me about him, who he is, where he is located, I shall do what I can to stop such things. We have taken away chains on inmates here, and it is you who have run away. But we do not beat you, is that not so?”

“The posers,” Lalladiere responded, “they are not friends, they beat and twist the body and the mind.” He was agonized by Pinel’s fully unproved claim to being trustworthy, the same as given by all the others who had seduced him into hope of care and solace, said they were looking out for him, then ganged up and betrayed him.

Pinel, not sure whether Lalladiere was telling a real story or a fake one, continued to ask for the identity of the doctor. Getting no response, he noticed that Lalladiere’s face and body were even more tight and shrunken and recognized he was pushing in the wrong direction. He laughed softly to himself at his own ineptitude. Then, he shifted to another connection.

“When you ran away from here, you were quite a hero, were you not?” he said with authentic appreciation. “A man who mightily leaps over the roofs.”

The compliment, the break in tone, was briefly reassuring for Lalladiere. But it was too late.

You must not trust this doctor. Say nothing, the man is out to kill you. The voices had become stronger, more insistent.

As Lalladiere lapsed into complete silence, Pinel watched him for a long, seemingly unproductive time. Sitting there, he thought again of Gerard, his insane young lawyer friend, his feelings of helplessness as the man became increasingly unavailable to him. This man before him, like Gerard, like every human being, was full of promise. But there was nothing more he could do for him right then. He had taken off the chains, freed the man’s arms and legs, but his mind was still closed, imprisoned. He sighed, looked sadly now at Denis, and motioned for them to leave.