Some years ago I was referred a 42-year-old woman who had become depressed after a hysterectomy for benign fibroids. Her name was Anna Corelli, and she was married and had four teenaged children. (The name of the patient has been disguised to ensure anonymity.) It was assumed that her depression was related to mourning for her lost womb and lost reproductive capacity. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It was the 1970s, the era of long hair and short skirts, of turning on and dropping out. My office was, at the time, on 96th Street just off Madison Avenue, widely referred to as the "mental block," for all the psychiatrists who had their offices there.
Mrs. Corelli entered my office embraced by a huge sable coat. She was intelligent, spoke with a refinement far beyond her limited schooling, and was moderately depressed. At the end of the session I outlined a treatment program of weekly sessions. She said it was "so expensive" and that she would have to speak to her husband, who made all decisions. I doubted poverty, because of the enormous diamond on her left ring finger.
The next session, she spoke more of her sheltered daily life. She and her family lived in Astoria, one of the few conservative enclaves in that otherwise licentious era. Her husband, Archangelo, a devoted father to their children, worked in construction. She hated worrying all the time, but, when it came to signing on for treatment, again she demurred.
From my perch overlooking 96th Street I had noticed that she would exit a huge Cadillac limousine before our session and re-enter it after.
I asked her about it. "Is that your car?"
"Yes, my husband drives with me, waits for me in the car, and then drives with me home."
"He stays there waiting the whole session for you?" I asked.
"He would never let me out of his sight."
I realized nothing would go forward without his leave, and so I asked, "Would it help if I explained things to Mr. Corelli directly?"
"Oh yes, it would. Would you do that?" she asked pleadingly.
I expected to see them both together for the next session, but when I buzzed them in Mrs. Corelli remained in the waiting room and Mr. Corelli came in alone. He stood at the doorway of my office and gave me a careful inspection: I had no beard, no open-to-the-waist shirt, no love beads. As a matter of fact, I was in my three-piece Brooks Brothers gray flannel suit and looked like a bank manager or maybe a mortician. Then he sat down. Good, I passed the first test.
"Okay if I smoke?" he asked me man to man. He took out a three-pack of cigars, took one, and offered me another. As he lit them both I noticed the distinctive cigar band, "H. Uppman. Havana."
"Wow!" I said, "The first real Cuban cigar I’ve smoked."
"The best," he replied. His next question surprised me. "What do you think of the Knicks’ chances this year?"
"Well with Dave and Willis and Clyde playing so well, we may just go all the way."
He smiled. Test number 2 passed.
"You’re a psychiatrist, right? Tell me, what do you think of the way all these high school and college kids dress nowadays?"
Now prepared for test 3 of my respectability quotient, I quickly responded, "I’m more concerned about all the bad drugs floating around. It’s terrible. Where are the parents?"
He nodded sympathetically, "You’re right."
"You and I wouldn’t have gotten where we are today if our parents looked the other way. Whoever thought of dropping out?" I stated vigorously.
"Could you imagine? The whole family is falling apart," he said. He thought for a moment and then added, "It’s tough raising kids these days."
"Tell me about it," I said, "I have two of my own."
We had not said a word about Mrs. Corelli or her treatment. He stood up saying, "I don’t want to waste more of your time. Anna needs help, and I’ll let you and her get at it." He shook my hand, went to the waiting room, and spoke to Anna. The treatment had begun.
Oh yes, by the way, she did very well.
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