Practice Makes Profit
Give me back my baby.
A policeman in full uniform winced as he felt Paula’s foot reflex up into his groin. You fucking bastards. Paula’s slurred speech was flecked with her Brazilian accent, as she flung the words at the three police officers, two nurses and four social workers standing haphazardly by her bed. The eggshell-coloured walls of the delivery room reflected the shifting patterns of black stab vests and white tunics and Paula’s blood seeping from the edge of a bucket, which was spattered with pieces of her warm placenta. She tried to focus on the shapes moving around her, still dizzy and disoriented from a long labour.
A little bundle with a squinting face was taken out of the room by one of the nurses and two of the social workers followed in quick succession, relieved to be leaving the scene behind. One of the social workers moved a little closer to Paula’s bed, making sure not to get in the way of the two police officers pinning Paula down by her arms. Look, you know why this has happened. When you’ve calmed down, maybe we can talk about it, I can explain it again. Paula swung hard against the police officers. I know what you said, you bitch. You’re taking Lucas because you think I have some kind of mental problem. It’s bullshit! I didn’t make the diagnosis, Paula, Dr Humbolt did.
The waiting room was filled with women looking drawn and dazed. At first, Paula thought they were all on the same medication, perhaps for anti-natal depression which made her wonder for a moment whether she was in the right office at all. Miss Ribeiro? Yes. Could you fill out this form, please? Dr Humbolt will need it before he can see you. Paula sat down gently with the form. She was still a little delicate from Lucas’s birth two weeks ago. As she answered the questions on the paper in front of her, she found herself listening in on a conversation between two of the mothers in the waiting room. He said I could have my ‘Livia back two months ago, he even said he was going to give me a glowing report, but what he’s written, it’s awful. He said because I make to-do lists that I’m obsessive, whatever that means. It just helps me, you know? Oh, Julie. I’ve heard some of the staff here talking about him. Apparently he’s going through a divorce.
Miss Ribeiro? Dr Humbolt will see you now. Paula made her way down the corridor and knocked on the large wooden door. The plaque read “Dr Hubert Humbolt, MRCPsych”. The letters looked like an impassable jumble and she started to feel anxious. Come in, boomed a deep, bouncing voice from behind the door. As Paula made her way towards the desk in the consultation room, she noticed Dr Humbolt did not lift his gaze or himself out of his seat but instead was focusing lightly on some notes in front of him. She wondered if they were about Lucas and her. Please sit down. Paula reluctantly sat down on the chair in front of the mahogany desk, and suddenly noticed the green carpet under her feet. It was monogrammed with the initials HH. Miss Ribeiro, I don’t see you on our residents list. Did you want to stay with us for a while? No. No, I came here to speak to you about a report you wrote on me and about my Lucas, my baby. Dr Humbolt raised his head and studied Paula’s face. A current of impatience flickered through him. I’ve read your files, Miss Ribeiro and it states quite clearly that you were a victim of domestic violence and that you presented most obviously with symptoms related to your history of abuse, including uncontrolled bouts of anger and that this has affected your ability to manage your life and your ability to be a parent. However, if you are referred to this centre, as I recommended after seeing you prior to writing my report, and you make progress, it’s very possible that you could start to see Lucas.
Paula could feel herself getting hot, and angry. There is nothing wrong with me, she said, in as calm a voice as she could manage, as she rose from her chair. What can you possibly know about me after one twenty minute assessment? Miss Ribeiro, I’m amply qualified to make such observations and it’s outbursts like these which confirm my diagnosis, not that any confirmation is needed. Paula knew she was being needled, but her desperation got the better of her. If you don’t get social services to return my baby, I’m going to go to the press and tell them you’re a quack and that the whole system is running a scam. She blurted the words out, throwing Dr Humbolt a scornful look as she went on. Miss Ribeiro, I’m not the one having trouble forming relationships. You clearly have difficulty communicating, but we can help you. I have difficulty with relationships? I left Lucas’s father after he hit me, once. And what about you? Aren’t you getting a divorce?
Dr Humbolt’s face suddenly turned from cream to crimson. My personal life is none of your business. I think this meeting is finished. Oh, I don’t think so!
Dr Humbolt put his fingers in his ears and shut his eyes. La, la, la, la, la. I can’t hear you.