That Other Guy
by Brian Clark
In a switch on the Jekyll and Hyde story, journalist Richard Callaghan transforms from an arrogant, insensitive and stingy man into an easygoing, kind and generous guy who likes to be called Ricky (a nickname that Richard detests). The answer to the mystery of the alternate personality will be found deep inside Richard’s brain, but not before Ricky turns his life upside down.
Table of Contents, chapters:|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
By the time of his appointment with the neurologist, Richard Callaghan had stopped groping for answers, had stopped denying the obvious.
He was Ricky. And Ricky was him.
Dr. Suresh Patel was tall and lanky, and looked to be about 40. He had coffee-colored skin and jet-black hair and goatee. He had a soft voice and spoke with a hybrid British-Indian accent.
Sitting at a small wooden desk, Patel took copious notes as he asked Richard question after question about his headaches. When had they started? How often did he get them? How long did they last? Where in his head did he feel the pain? What was the pain like? What time of day were they most common? Had the pattern or frequency changed? What were the triggers? Did he take anything for relief? Did it help?
Richard sat in a padded green chair in front of the desk, fidgeting with his hands as he answered the neurologist’s questions.
When Patel asked if there had been any other symptoms, Richard mentioned the dizzy spells and the memory gaps. The doctor paused briefly, and Richard noticed a slight elevation of his eyebrows. Then he asked more questions and scribbled more notes.
Next they moved to an examination room, where the doctor checked Richard’s temperature and blood pressure; listened to his heart; examined his head, eyes, nose, ears and neck; and evaluated his motor function, balance, reflexes, co-ordination, eyesight, hearing and sense of smell.
When the poking, prodding and palpating were over, they returned to the office and Patel resumed scribbling at his desk. Richard sat in the chair and waited. He liked Patel’s thoroughness. He also appreciated the framed Oxford medical certificate on his wall.
Richard drummed his fingers on the armrest and stared at posters decorating the office: a map of the brain, a diagram of the autonomic nervous system. After a moment, Patel looked up and gave him a gentle smile. Richard silenced his fingers and folded his hands in his lap.
“Um, Doctor, there is something else I should probably mention.”
That’s when he told him about Ricky. He told him about Ricky’s painting Alice’s porch (he was now certain that was her name). He told him about Ricky’s generous donation to the Helping Hands Food Bank. He told him about Ricky’s apparent post-deadline appearance in the newsroom. He told him about Ricky’s volunteer position at Good Samaritan House and about the long conversation with Bob.
The more he talked, the more Patel’s eyes widened with interest. It seemed that he had forgotten to take notes.
“So, Mr. Callaghan, what you’re saying is that you have no memory or direct knowledge of what you do as Ricky.”
“That’s right. None at all. Everything I’ve learned about him has been second-hand. And it seems pretty clear that...” He trailed off and pursed his lips.
“Go on, Mr. Callaghan, what seems clear?”
“Well, it seems pretty clear that... well... that Ricky is nicer than I am.” Richard laughed, and it felt cathartic. Patel smiled.
“Tell me, Doctor, is this what they call dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder?”
“Well, first of all, that’s a psychiatric disorder, and that’s not my field. And even if it were, I would hardly be prepared to offer a diagnosis based on a few minutes’ conversation.”
Richard nodded. “What about brain tumors? Are they your field, Doctor?”
Patel hesitated. “Well, yes, but why do you ask?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Headaches, dizzy spells, memory problems, behavioral changes. Don’t those symptoms point to a brain tumor?”
Patel smiled again. To Richard, it looked a little condescending this time.
“You’ve been consulting Dr. Google, have you?”
“I’ve been researching my symptoms on the Internet, yes.”
“Well, Mr. Callaghan, I will be ordering an MRI brain scan. Until I see the results, I’m not about to diagnose your condition.”
“Look, Dr. Patel, I’ve already accepted the fact that this is probably what I have. What I want to know is if you’ve ever heard of a case like this one, this kind of nicer alternate personality caused by a brain tumor.”
Patel sat back in his chair and stroked his goatee. “I can’t be as certain as you are about your condition. I’ll still wait for the MRI results, if you don’t mind. But in general, let me just say that I’ve ceased to be surprised by the impact that brain damage can have on behavior.
“Have you ever heard of Witzelsucht Syndrome? People with that condition constantly tell jokes and make bad puns. And you wouldn’t want them in the same room as someone with pathological laughter, another condition that can be caused by brain damage. Those people are subject to episodes of uncontrollable laughter, often for no particular reason.
“And what about Capgras Syndrome? Patients believe that loved ones have been replaced with exact duplicates. How about Alien Hand Delusion? People with this syndrome feel as if one of their hands has been possessed or is controlled by some alien force. The hand appears to act on its own. If one hand does up a zipper, the other one will immediately unzip it. Some of these people actually live in fear of their own hand. Then there’s Cotard Delusion. These people are convinced that they’re dead.”
Patel paused and tented his long fingers together in front of his face. “Medical literature is also full of cases of just plain horrible behavior, again apparently caused by brain damage. Do you recall the sniper who killed several people from a tower at a Texas university back in the 1960s? That fellow actually consulted a doctor sometime prior to the shootings because he felt overwhelmed by violent impulses he couldn’t explain. After police shot this man dead, an autopsy was performed, and a glioblastoma — a tumor — was found in his thalamus. And there’s another famous case of a brain tumor turning a man into a dangerous pedophile. The tumor was removed and that behavior ceased.”
“And what about my situation, Doctor?”
“Could a brain tumor create an alternate personality, one that is kinder, more generous? Well...” Patel threw his hands in the air. “Who knows? But again, would it surprise me? No. And I’ve probably said too much. Let’s wait for the MRI, OK?”
Richard nodded. “Of course. But this has really got me thinking, Doctor. You see, I’ve been thinking of Ricky as the alternate personality. I’ve been thinking of him as that other guy, even though he is really me, or a part of me. But what if Ricky is the real me, even if he did take years to emerge? That would make Richard that other guy.”
Copyright © 2021 by Brian Clark