Updated: Aug 15
Many of the psychiatrists who made up the Happenstance Psychiatry Department would consider their colleague Dr. Aaron Muscat somewhat offbeat. Dark in both complexion and mood, he held unconventional views about psychiatry and the way the human mind works. He cut a striking, if not strange, figure with a handlebar mustache and black hair that was both bouffant and tousled. He was tall, with matchstick-thin legs. His head, which was quite large, seemed to overpower his body.
As always, Tuesday intake meeting was at 8 AM. Dr. John Brotman arrived at 7:55 to find the conference room empty--except for one person who had beaten Brotman to it. Seated at the long conference table and poring over a medical journal was Dr. Muscat, his hair flopped forward like a shroud. "Oh, hello," Brotman said, surprised. "Good morning, Aaron." Muscat seemed to startle somewhat as he looked up. "Good morning, John." "You're here very early. What time did you arrive?" "Before six," Muscat said. "Wow, I'm impressed! What brought you in at that godawful hour?" "Couldn't sleep," Muscat said, with something of a shrug. "I've been up since four." "Anything bothering you?" Brotman asked cautiously. "Yes," Muscat said. "Lack of sleep." Brotman started to titter but realized Muscat wasn't smiling. An awkward silence followed, at least awkward for Brotman. Thankfully at this point, the rest of the department began straggling in. *** The head of Psychiatry, Jeffrey Binomial, divvied up the overnight consultation requests between the four psychiatrists. This morning, there were three consults--one from Happenstance Hospital’s ER, the second from the Jail Ward, and the third from the Neurosurgery Department step-down ward, where stable post-surgical patients spent time before they were ready to be discharged home. The consultation notes from the step-down unit said, “Young black male with cognitive disturbances post head trauma, please evaluate for possible schizophrenia/paranoid delusions vs organic brain disease, metabolic, delirium etc.” Most consultation requests to Psychiatry sounded like that: the consulters threw in everything but the kitchen sink because they had no idea what was going on. They were just covering all the bases. "Muscat," Binomial said, "I'd like you to take this one: Sounds interesing. Apparently, the young man suffered blunt trauma to the head before or during a fall into a deep well. He had a brain bleed, which our neurosurgeons successfully evacuated, and he's stable in that regard, but the patient, even prior to the surgical procedure, has been persistently disoriented to time--thinking the year now is 1980 and not 2022, and that he was born in 1960--and also disoriented to person in an odd way, believing he is white when ethnically he's unmistakably of Black African descent. Muscat nodded. "Thank you," was all he said. *** At the beside of the patient Marcus Price, Dr. Muscat set out to get to know more about him. Price, who was doing well after his neurosurgical operation, was calm and clearly intelligent. He was of average height and weight, with smooth, dark brown skin, short, curly hair, and a broad, noble nose. He related to Muscat that he had no recollection of events immediately before he woke up in the well, although his longterm memory was preserved. He also recalled everything after he regained consciousness. So, in effect, Price had a partial retrograde amnesia but no anterograde memory loss. Muscat carried out a physical and neurological exam and found no abnormalities. Price appeared neither delirious nor paranoid. The only pesky sticking point was this misidentification of the correct year. If Price had really been born in 1960, he should have been 62, which he clearly was not. On the other hand, if he were really twenty years old, as he claimed, he couldn’t have been born in 1960. It was a circular problem. "You grew up in this area, correct, Marcus?" Muscat asked, sitting with a relaxed pose. Price nodded. "Born right here in Happenstance Hospital--well, the old one, not this new-fangled building. My whole life, I've grown up on my father's farm--corn, wheat, apples, peaches--and when Dad retires and I take over from him, I'm going to make the farm even bigger." "Tell me something about the old hospital,” Muscat said. “Where was it located?" "Cactus Street and Orange Blossom Avenue. I asked one of the nurses here if that was where we are now, and she said no. She told me she never knew there was an old hospital, and she said the Cactus and Orange Blossom area is now called 'Lawyer's Lane' because of all the law practices in the area. And I told her, 'We didn't have that in my day,' and she looked at me funny and said, 'What you mean, my day? You younger than me! Oh, I get it--you're kidding around.' But I wasn’t, Doctor." Muscat took out his phone. "I want to show you something," he said. After a few seconds, he gave the phone to Price, who handled it as if it were made of fragile crystal and then studied the screen in fascination. "It's a map," he said, his voice full of wonder and excitement. "How do they get a map inside this thing? Is it like a small TV? I saw Detective Ferguson using one like this, but he was talking to it like it was a telephone." Muscat was stunned. If Price was acting, he deserved an Oscar for a thoroughly convincing performance. "You're not familiar with this device?" Muscat asked. "No," Price said, his eyes glued to the screen. "It's amazing. So, what happens if I touch it?" "You can move the image around and change the size too," Muscat said, leaning forward to demonstrate. "Wow," Price said softly. "When did they invent this? What is it?" "It's called a mobile phone," Muscat said, playing along. "It does a lot of different things, some of them of no redeeming value whatsoever, but that's another discussion. On this map, where would your Dad's farm be?" Muscat helped Price get oriented. "The farm is in this area," Price said, drawing an imaginary circle. "Okay," Muscat said. "Now, I will change the view." Price watched and gasped. "It's . . . it's like a photo now--like you're looking from above. How does it do that?" "Hard to explain," Muscat said, "but the bottom line is, everything in the area you say your dad's farm is--was--is now built up with residential homes and apartments. There's no longer a farm there." "Homes and apartments?" Price frowned at him. "No farm? I don't get it." He handed the phone back with some impatience. "How are you feeling emotionally, now, Marcus?" Muscat asked. "Tense, stretched tight," Price said, "like I'm about to snap. Is it because I banged my head that this is happening to me? But then, where are the memories of my childhood from? I remember picking apples, my dad playing baseball with me. I remember Mom's cooking and helping Dad fix Old Red." "Old Red?" "That's what we always called Dad's ratty Studebaker--the thing broke down more than it worked. Dad eventually had to scrap it. Broke his heart." “Studebaker," Muscat repeated slowly, returning to his phone. "Can you spell that, please?" Price did, and then Muscat showed his phone screen again. "Like that model?" Price nodded vigorously. "Yup, just like that. My Dad's true love." "Just out of curiosity," Muscat said, "what was wrong with the Studebaker?" He had asked this question for a reason. Price responded with a list of vehicular ailments and car parts that Muscat knew had been phased out long ago--items like, "the carburettor," and "condensers." A man as young as Price wouldn't ordinarily know about these things. Unless . . . "You must be an expert on cars," Muscat commented. "Not really," Price said. "Just my dad's." Muscat paused. "There was a question of your ethnicity, Marcus." "How do you mean? Like, my race?" "Right." "I'm white, and I don't know why people keep bringing the question up. Not that I would mind being black, but . . . well, I’m not." Studying his patient's frustrated expression, Muscat ran through a list of what could possibly be going on in Marcus Price's head.
A rare type of delusion.
Manufactured memories as a result of head trauma--the memories were false.
Mimicked memories due to brain injury, i.e. the brain structure had changed in a way that it was similar to another person’s brain. That would mean Price’s memories were real, but they belonged to someone else. This was where Muscat’s colleagues parted ways with him. They didn’t believe in the phenomenon Muscat had first described in a Psychology Today paper as Cerebromorphic Passive Memory Adoption (CPMA).
A factitious disorder, in other words, the patient was faking it all.
As if reading his mind, Price said, "Doctor, am I an unreal person in a real world, or is it the other way around?" "What do you think?" "I don't know." He slumped down in his hospital bed. "There's only one possible explanation, but it's also impossible." "What is that?" Price looked up at Muscat. "I believe I'm a time traveler, Doctor. I've come from 1980 to 2022." The doctor felt a thrill go through him as he saw a challenge ahead with this patient, a mystery to solve--and Muscat loved psychatric mysteries. What complex form of delusion did Marcus have, and what treatment would be best for him? Price's voice pierced Muscat's thoughts. "Doctor, do you think that could be? Time travel, I mean." “Why do you believe that about yourself, Marcus?” “How else would you explain what’s going on?”
Muscat privately admitted that the patient was probably right. "I don't want to be here," Price said, his voice rising. "I want to go back to when I came from. I can tell that Detective Ferguson suspects I killed the man in the well, which I definitely did not. I need to escape back to 1980, Dr. Muscat, and you have to help me. Please help me.” ~~~