At first glance they seemed like all the rest. All the rest, that is, in a psychiatric emergency room. I make my meager living in one of Nashville's busiest mental health thoroughfares. The white collars who sign my bi-monthly checks call me an assessment specialist, a fancy name for a crisis counselor. They give me a badge with my mug shot, tell me to admit all paying customers, and pray that I stay in touch with reality along the way. Sometimes I wonder which side of the assessment desk I belong on.
On any given day, I have the twelve-hour pleasure of discussing the game of life with the homeless and the hopeless both young and old, rich and poor, including physically and sexually tramautized kids, women, men, and, sad to say, the newest members of the abuse club -- the elderly.From street-hustling hookers selling their souls for one more hit off that crack pipe to uptown alcoholics craving another shot to sustain their lives; from Alzherimer's patients lost in some fog of a life to overdose victims way down on life to schizophrenics who see things in a different light, the psychiatric soul train never ceases to chug its way along the bruised and battered halls of Faith General, Nashville's oldest hospital.
I don't mean to sound calloused. It's just that day after depressing day I hear their stories when, in reality, I only need about five minutes to determine whether or not they warrant admission to one of our six psychiatric units. Most, however, want to ramble on, and they do until I gingerly cut them off. Speed is critical in my job as an assessment specialist. If I spend too much time with one case, the ER backs up and everyone becomes testy, especially the docs and nurses who don't like dealing with psychiatric patients. I don't blame them. I don't like dealing with psychiatric patients who have medical problems.
I still have a heart for those who genuinely want and need help. I just know how to keep my emotions at bay and do my job with the precision and aloofness of a brain surgeon. I do care, but I don't. It's an art form: rapid-fire manipulation of multiple systems to quickly get them treatment while making each one feel cared for. I tell the rookie staff it's the closest we'll ever get to Hollywood.
And so it was with John and Maggie Dalton. They weren't the first elderly couple I had assessed and subsequently admitted (one or the other) to our geriatric psychiatric unit. I'm uncomfortable dealing with that population. Too much medical and way too close to home and a myriad of memories about Mom and Pop. Escorting couples down that unpredictable geri-psych hallway was a task I often found a way to avoid.
It was past my clock-out time, when I should have been home sipping bourbon and self-stimulating the night away with my TV buttons, that I saw Maggie Dalton stroke John's haggard face. That picture ripped right through my Hollywood persona to the core of my soul. In that instant, I saw Mom stroking Pop's deceased face and fighting back tears, that little-girl-lost look in her hazel eyes a replica of Maggie's eyes that night.
It was a line I'd vowed never to cross again -- unconditional love of another human being.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite What does it feel like to be in constant contact with the pain and misery of others, to touch the brokenness and fragility of another human being — the strangers, the homeless people brought straight from the gutters of life, the ones glued to their addictions, the elderly — people who are hopeless, floating through life without any direction? In fact, what does the life of a psychiatrist look like? Joe Michael Pritchard recounts his routine and experiences with psychiatric patients in the Faith General, Nashville hospital. And the Greatest of These is a journey of hope, faith, and love, but most of all, a journey towards ultimate inner freedom. In this beautiful book, Joe Michael Pritchard describes the transforming power of service, a power that led him down a road he’d vowed never to walk again, the path towards “unconditional love.” Just in the first part of the book, he describes a moving scene that left an indelible mark on him: “It was past my clock-out time, when I should have been home sipping bourbon and self-stimulating the night away with my TV buttons that I saw Maggie Dalton stroke John's haggard face. That picture ripped right through my Hollywood persona to the core of my soul. In that instant, I saw Mom stroking Pop's deceased face and fighting back tears, that little-girl-lost look in her hazel eyes a replica of Maggie's eyes that night. It was a line I'd vowed never to cross again -- unconditional love of another human being.” This book will unveil the face of suffering humanity to many readers, but it exalts humanity in a very beautiful way. I enjoyed how the author allowed himself to be touched by the sufferings of others. This book rings powerfully with the truth that the wounds in the lives of others can become a path through which we journey towards a life of meaning. Written in very beautiful language and a compassionate voice, And the Greatest of These will inspire readers to embrace the challenge of finding meaning in love and service. I couldn’t help thinking about From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier, and the writings of Henri Nouwen. It’s a beautiful story of how service can transform our work into an experience of freedom and joy. This is my book of the year.