I wanted to cry with him, but he wasn’t crying. It was senseless to cry for him because he didn’t appear sad. He was just very matter-of-fact after having spent over 4 decades in prison. Now at age 58 he could breathe air on the other side of the bars, cement and other barricades. He no longer had to ask permission to come and go. He no longer had a schedule imposed on him when to eat. He could dress in whatever fashion he could afford. The only limitations now were the societal norms and the expectations of the few family and friends who are still around and still alive and willing to welcome him home. These were fewer than he expected.
Both of his parents had died during his incarceration for murder. Yes, it was murder. He did not try to assert his innocence. I was sitting in a room a ]lone with a confessed, convicted and formally ivarcerated murder. I felt totally at ease. I would not have believed it possible 25 years ago to have this conversation face-to-face in a private clinical setting. He described the event to me as though it were happening in the moment. He was angry, grabbed the gun and shot his victim several times. This is not the usual medical history for most of the people we serve.
He did not hesitate to relate these facts. he was very clear. I usually ask routine questions about allergies to medications, previous surgeries, ongoing medical illnesses or family history of such illnesses. I have never thought to ask by the way have you killed anybody lately? I have learned over the years to never ask why they are or were incarcerated. If they want to they will tell you. He told me. It was relayed as easily as he told me about having his appendix removed. It’s just what happened he said. He had missed almost half a century for something that ‘just happened’. A lot had changed. He was just happy to be free. He did not want to miss anything else.
As I examined him I could see the scar from his surgery. As I listened to him I could hear the scars from his life. Both had healed. Both were still tender to examination. He did not wince. He did not cry. I know for certain that physical wounds do heal and are constantly remodeled throughout life. Wounds can get large scars even from what appears to be trivial trauma. A pimple can cause a hypertrophic scar or keloid. And yet a gunshot wound or stabbing may leave an unnoticeable small blemish. It may be the results of the instrument or the intent which caused the scar or the individual body genetically determined defense mechanisms. Multiple trauma to the same site can delay and prevent healing.
I could not begin to properly assess in the half hour we were together the depth or impact of the scars in his life. I still have my appendix and I’ve never murdered anyone. I have never been convicted of a crime. I have never been incarcerated. I have always had liberty to come and go as I please and when I violated societal norms and family expectations. It would be pretentious of me to try to display emotions commensurate with what I assume he was feeling. So, I just listened and examined. I did what I was called to do. Listen, examine and order the appropriate tests. After that I schedule him for the next office visit to discuss results of the tests and order any additional imaging studies deemed necessary.
It is important not to probe scars. It is important to discover only what is necessary. I have learned that there is a time for weeping. This was not that time. This was a time to rejoice with him in his newly found freedom and not relive his past 4 decades. This is a time for laughing and dancing.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to dance.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.