I don’t know when I met Dr. Ghaly. Those years were peculiarly distorted by drugs, and I can’t remember. Dr. Ghaly does not know because around 2004 his office was flooded and all my old records were destroyed. It is rather pleasing to think that we have no history, only a present, but we probably met around 1990.
Dr. Ghaly’s name had been mentioned to me several times, but I had avoided seeing him. I, after all, was a writer and a 14th generation American: how could a foreign-born psychiatrist possibly understand me? That is what I thought—really, truly, in my arrogant ignorance, that is what I thought, so I don’t know why I went to him. Desperation, probably.
I had been in the care of psychiatrists for about twenty years, and I had been so manhandled, mismanaged, insulted and degraded that I was unable to face a new psychiatrist with any kind of equanimity. One psychiatrist—whom I had trusted for seven years—had poisoned me with unmonitored lithium, which resulted in chronic renal failure. My most recent psychiatrist, each time I saw him, would read a tattered list of ten questions then check off my answers and hand me a prescription in less than ten minutes. He was facing multiple law suits. So how could I face another psychiatrist? But I had to; I suffered terribly from chronic depression and needed antidepressants.
Dr. Ghaly’s office was on the seventh floor of what had been, when it was built many decades ago, the tallest building in Syracuse, New York. The door sported an enormous ornate carved wooden frame that was all out of proportion to the other frames on the hallway. Over the door, in equally enormous gold letters, were the names of Doctors Nasri and Hoda Ghaly. The office consisted of a suite of many small rooms, all of which were overcrowded.
The time spent in the waiting room must surely have been lengthy. The time spent waiting in Dr. Ghaly’s office as he traveled around various treatment rooms must also have been lengthy. Certainly, it was long enough to consider the nature of the man as manifest by the objects in his office. His little office was crowded with pictures, paintings, poems, toys, stuffed animals and other items that were gifts from the hearts of patients. This was no sterile, barren, scientific cell; this was the office of a man who was loved. Nevertheless, I was so terrified of meeting a new psychiatrist that I had acute diarrhea.
Dr. Ghaly turned out to be a short, powerfully built man wearing brown slacks and a brown-and-white patterned short-sleeved shirt. His thick fingers displayed a gold signet ring; around his wrist was a heavy gold ID bracelet and a gold chain circled his neck. He had a broad face that stretched up into a bald pate. He smiled with an easy cheerfulness, as if—unlike many of his medical colleagues—his face was familiar with its smile muscles.
Surrounded by knickknacks and bric-a-brac, I sat by Dr. Ghaly’s desk, quivering in a lightly stuffed black leather armchair. The desk was piled high with charts, papers, books, telephone messages, journals and prescription pads. He folded his arms, which were muscular and covered with thick black hair, rested them on the desk and leaned toward me. He began to ask me questions in a manner that was almost lazy. I answered with monosyllables. Psychiatrists had taught me that I was not to take up their time. Dr. Ghaly sat, relaxed, and waited for me to talk. I didn’t. After a time, he picked up a pad and wrote a prescription. I grabbed it and ran.
What I knew was that I had survived the first encounter unharmed, which is exactly what Dr. Ghaly wanted me to know: I was safe with him. He wouldn’t hurt me.
The Doctors Ghaly and their family live in a modest ranch house in a quiet area of the city just beyond Syracuse University. The house is at the foot of a steep hill and has a driveway that descends into a turn-around. They awoke one Sunday morning to the shocking discovery of an entirely flooded first floor. There had been a fire which completely destroyed the house up the hill from them. As the firemen poured water on the flames, it ran down the hill and flooded the Ghaly’s home. Dr. Ghaly met the crisis with equanimity, simply noting that the losses were covered by insurance. They had come a long way from the home that was a mile from the nearest water.
One of the improvements that the Ghaly’s made to their home was the installation of a swimming pool. For Dr. Hoda’s health? No. For Dr. Ghaly’s relaxation? No. The pool was put in to keep the children home. Their friends would be drawn to them, and Mama and Papa Ghaly would know where their children were and who their friends were. It is always about family.
This is the first house the Ghaly’s have owned—it was purchased around the time of his residency—and it will be the only one. They will not upgrade to the suburbs and live in a million-dollar house in an enclave of doctors and lawyers. Dr. Ghaly has no need of either status or luxury. He has a perfectly good, comfortable home, and he hates to move. Home is permanent. (To be continued)
For the antithesis to Dr. Ghaly, see St. Joseph’s Hospital: About Carol (Part III) http://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/st-joseph%e2%80%99s-hospital-about-carol-part-iii/