01 Feb I Helped Cure Mrs. Wickers Schizophrenia
No other singular moment has served to open my eyes as much as watching Mrs. Wickers stumble into the room. Her body swaying back and forth, a body so torn up I had thought she crawled through broken glass to reach us. The collective silence of me and my colleagues as she begged us to make it stop, to undo what we had done.
That moment, and everything that followed it made me realize that science has no limits. It will relentlessly chase after anything it doesn’t fully understand. It doesn’t matter if something needs to be fixed or discovered. Science is a hungry and unforgiving animal. Science has seen many roads to hell paved by good intentions. Including the one me, and three other researchers walked down.
It was in college that I first noticed my mother’s mental state deteriorating. She would forget my name all the time. She would attempt to call me but end up with a handful of wrong numbers before realizing I was sitting right next to her. Worse of all was the visions she had. Her schizophrenia was a mild case but when her faculties started shutting down, it attacked.
She would claim there was a hoard of flies on the ceiling when we were outdoors and ask me who my friend was when it was just us. It was hard to watch, hard to experience. It got worse and worse until it all came to an end. A nurse informed me, in the most polite way she could, that my mother had become frantic and took her own life.
A day like that can change you and it changed me. It felt horrible and the more I looked into it the more I saw that I wasn’t isolated. Far too many people suffer from this plague. So after I had given myself time to grieve I went back to school and switched my major.
For years I applied everything that I could to learn what makes the brain tick and why sometimes the gears don’t align. I think it was my way of fighting back, throwing myself so hard into my work, keeping my mind as sharp as I could.
Late nights and caffeine pills became my bread and butter for a solid eight years, I needed my grades to be the shining example of perfection. When graduation came around I stood proudly on stage and looked out to a sea of smiling faces. I imagined my mother in the crowd, cheering louder than anyone.
It took more effort than expected but I eventually lucked into an internship of sorts, I was to help with a study. I, two other interns and the lead scientist were going to map out the brain activity associated with schizophrenia. That would be the easy part. Once we had done that, we were going to try and cure it.
After receiving my acceptance into the program everything moved so fast, we had a grant and we put it to use. We invited those diagnosed with schizophrenia to our very own facility that was little more than a warehouse. We would study their brainwaves, looking for abnormalities that would take place during hallucinations.
We looked for ways to differentiate between auditory and visual hallucinations as well as how they affected neighboring parts of the brain. It was fascinating and somber to watch the thing that took my mother sprawling across someone’s brain. It was a good thing I had already become so accustomed to running myself ragged because for the next two months that’s all I had time to do.
Dozens upon dozens of patients were recorded all with varying degrees of the disorder, looking through all the mappings Mrs. Wickers proved to be the most severe case. After all the data was painstakingly analyzed we started to brainstorm a way to not only treat the disorder but to cure it. For the sake of my reputation, I’m going to skip over a large number of details leading up to our answer to the cure.
I should also mention that Mrs. Wickers, is not her real name. Everything that happened after we developed the cure, should and will remain under lock and key. There’s also an argument to be made that Mrs. Wickers’ reaction to the drug could be an incredibly unusual incident. The details, however, should be discussed.
We decided the cure should be administered orally, so we went with a pill. A small and grainy white pill that would dissolve in the stomach over the course of 24 hours.
When I called Mrs. Wickers to ask her to come back in it was clear even then that she was experiencing nearly constant hallucinations. The poor woman was always scratching away at her skin convinced something was under it. Or she was backing away from what she would refer to as “Trees”. She described them as four-dimensional beings absorbing the three-dimensional space around them.
It was hard to get much more out of her than that, she didn’t want to talk about them so we didn’t keep pressing. When we told her we wanted to test a possible cure on her, she seemed mildly vexed by our assertion. After some discussion, she agreed to let us test it on her, with the assurance that it was safe and a healthy sum of pocket money for her.
All we had to do was give her the pill and observe her over twenty hours while recording her brain activity. The four of us took shifts, watching as the hours ticked by and the flares in her brain started to diminish.
Every so often the four of us would exchange a hopeful glance whenever Mrs. Wickers was able to sit still for more than a few minutes. Something she was unable to do when we first met her. I could almost feel my five o’clock shadow sprouting out of my face when my shift rolled around. Head resting in my hand I watched the imaging of her brain and the live feed of her room.
I must have missed it, maybe I dozed off for a moment but when I looked at the live feed I noticed all of the furniture had been moved around the room. There was a direct audio feed into the office, we wanted to hear if she was audibly referencing a hallucination. You’d think if a sixty year old schizophrenic was moving furniture around I would have heard it.
She was still though, just sitting on her newly relocated bed running her hand along the skin on her arm. I leaned forward and with my lips close to the microphone I pressed the ‘talk’ button and asked her if everything was alright. Her head turned slowly, it looked as if the camera feed was out of sync with her movements.
“They’re all gone.” That’s what she said to me. I almost didn’t recognize her voice, she said it so calmly where all our previous conversations had been choppy and distracted. I rose from my chair and asked her to repeat herself. When she did I was beside myself, I thought that we had done it, sure there were a few more hours to go but- we had done it.
I called the lead scientist and told her about the change in Mrs. Wickers behavior and the statement that was made. As instructed I called the other two interns who were only a block away sleeping in a motel. The smile from my face didn’t drop, but when it did, when my joy was eventually taken away from me it wasn’t gentle. It was ripped from me.
Waiting for the others to arrive I kept flicking my glance between the live feed and the imaging of her brain. The specks of light in her head that represented the illness started going out one by one. Then with my eye on the live feed, I noticed that Mrs. Wickers had become visibly disturbed again, she was shaking.
That didn’t match up though, her brain activity if anything, was lowering to normal levels and as I watched her I connected with her concern. One of the chairs was slowly moving across the floor, the movement was so smooth it almost went unnoticed but I saw it. She wasn’t touching it and I knew that room in and out, no draft could move that chair. We bought the heaviest furniture we could find to ensure the patients wouldn’t try to hurt themselves with them.
Once again my lips went up to the microphone and my voice chimed through Mrs. Wickers room. She jumped as words filled her room, I was asking her what she was seeing. She just replied that she couldn’t see them anymore. She couldn’t see the Trees. Then she asked me.
“If a tree falls in the forest-”
I was intently focused on the live feed of Mrs. Wickers who had lifted from her bed and was standing in the middle of the room. When the chair stopped moving her head lifted up to glance at the camera once more. Her lips parted and the office filled with the echos of her scream, I went to cover my ears but got distracted when the furniture in the room started lifting from the floor.
Quickly I exited the office and started making my way across the small warehouse towards the room we built, towards Mrs. Wickers. On the way to her room, I passed by the lead scientist who had just arrived alongside the other interns. By the time I passed them the screaming had already ceased and they voiced their concerns over my hurried paces.
Their footsteps echoed mine as I neared the room and swung the door open. The whispers behind me sang of confusion as we looked into the empty room. Mrs. Wickers was gone. All that remained was the furniture but it had all become so torn up and broken that the room was unrecognizable from what I had seen hours ago.
Pillows were ripped open and had their fluff seeping our, the wooden structures inside the hairs had become splintered and mangled. All four of us just looked around the room, trying to figure out how a sixty-year-old woman could have destroyed the room and slipped out.
Within the stillness of our perplexity, I heard a dripping at the entrance to the room. In unison, our attention shifted to it and we were privy to the whereabouts of Mrs. Wickers. She was leaning on the doorframe, her body mirroring the state of the room. Long and deep gashes ran up and down her arms. Through struggling breaths, I caught glimpses of missing teeth, plucked right from her mouth.
Slowly she stumbled forward and reached out to us, begging us to make it stop, begging us to let her see the Trees. The fingers on her outstretched hand, I watched as divots were created in the skin as if something wrapped around them and then, her fingers bent backward. The snapping sound they made, like years of built-up knuckle cracking played all at once, was enough to bring bile into my throat.
The pill we created were only meant to last twenty-four hours and Mrs. Wickers was on her twenty-third. There was nothing we could do, even completely flushing her fluid at that point would take longer than just letting the drug run its course.
I mentioned that we could sedate her. If anything we could knock her out and once she woke up the drug would be out of her system. As I attempted to reach the exit I saw the wooden doorframe bend and crack. You would have thought someone had taken a sledgehammer to it by the way the wood splintered and sent shards flying.
I and my colleges exchanged glances. This was a test, after all, an experiment. When I watched the lead scientist crack a smile, I understood. What we were really after this whole time. The woman in front of us, Mrs. Wickers, begged with everything she had. It was far too late, it was too late the moment that pill slipped into her mouth. She was never going to leave the facility.
Indentations that looked like a snake or the arms of an octopus appeared running up her arms and without any warning, they were destroyed. Her arm became nothing more than a mess of red and worthless flesh. The rest of her body soon followed suit, all contorting and shifting around into bizarre proportions. All while the liquid running through her pooled onto the floor.
Just for a moment, watching the mass of Mrs. Wickers’ body becoming smaller and smaller I understood what she had described to us. The way a four-dimensional thing might look as it suffocated the 3D space around it. That shape of what used to be Mrs. Wickers continued to be compressed by whatever she could see in her hallucinations. To us though, it was just her body disappearing into the void until there was nothing left.
None of us could move, or say much of anything. The only words I heard for the rest of the night was our leader telling us she would clean up. That and “Good work everyone”. The rest of the night, when my body allowed me to move again when I could think again. Was just as still as it was when we entered Mrs. Wickers room.
It felt like things were standing all around me wherever I went, all perfectly still. Like they were waiting for the day that I could finally see them. I don’t know what happened that night, what the cure did to that poor women but I have my theory.
Perception is important. The way we observe the world around us and sometimes science will take that to arrogant heights. Whatever attacked Mrs. Wickers, I worry that it was only able to do so because she was no longer watching it. She called them Trees.
If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
I think it does, just because you can’t see it, it’s still there. And if you are unable to see the tree falling. You’re might get crushed under it but you would need to know the tree was there in the first place right? Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the forest. I’m sorry, my thoughts are scrambled but I think that’s what happened to her.
She saw the trees, was able to watch them. Once we took away her ability to observe them, that’s when they were free to do what they wanted to her. I think those Trees, are all around us and the only reason they can’t hurt us. As I said, no other moment has opened my eyes as much as that moment with Mrs. Wickers did.
My eyes are open wide enough too see it, to see what she was talking about. How could watching a human body compress into a little ball only to disappear completely, all the while ringing out her insides onto the linoleum floor, how could that not mess me up? Whether it was passed down from my mother or brought on by stress. I have developed an illness.
I can see the forest for the trees.