Remembering all my old cases, it should be hard to pick the strangest. But there was this woman, back in the early 1950s - it seems I can't get her out of my head. She had those huge pleading gray eyes... like lakes in early morning mist.
Her husband had made the appointment. I hardly knew anything about the case, he had only said that his wife was behaving "strange" and "talking nonsense" and that it was "nothing physical". Then she walked into my office. Tall, slender, shy. Her clothes were not the height of fashion, but she looked beautiful in them. You know, beautiful in this "I don't care" way. Her hair was this nondescript color, somewhere between dark blond and light brown, with the first gray strands already appearing at the temples, although she was hardly any older than thirty. I checked her file - thirty-two, to be exact. Her name, her age. That was all I had. I rose to greet her.
She sat down on the opposite side of my desk, tiny brown purse in her lap, smiling hesitantly. "I have to admit I am a little bit confused. When my husband said he had scheduled an appointment with a specialist, I had expected a specialist in internal medicine, or maybe a cancerologist."
"So, you have cancer?" I looked at her. She seemed normal enough. But you can never tell with this kind of patients.
"Probably not. But, you know... I have got this feeling as if something was eating me from the inside."
Our conversation took its course. I quickly ruled out several standard problems. Yes, she had seen several physicians. No, they had not found any explanation for her discomfort. She answered my questions willingly, as polite and thorough as possible. In her agenda, she had written down several appointments she had kept during the last few months, and she also produced some neatly folded letters she had obtained from these physicians. "You must know, I expected you to be an expert in the - more physical field of medicine. This is why I brought the documents. However, if you want to, please take a look at them."
My colleagues had actually ruled out about every source of physical discomfort known to man. Which were not as many as today, given the circumstances. Medicine has come a long way since then. I browsed the reports, which basically said that the discomfort was in the patient's head. Well, she was my kind of girl, then.
There was another possibility. "Do you have children?"
She looked down, her shoulders slumped slightly. "No, unfortunately we do not. We have been... trying to conceive for almost two years. My specialist says there are no organic causes for my infertility, he advises us to - well, keep on trying." At this, she actually blushed a little. What a wonderful girl, I thought, her guy must be lucky to have her.
At the end of our session, she rose and shook my hand. Looking closer at her, I detected the first signs of nervousness. There was this squint to her eyes, and her gaze flickered around the room.
We scheduled a series of appointments, and she arrived punctual as a clockwork every time. Her outer appearance did not change, but within a short time I came to understand the "behaving strange" part of her husband's instructions. I could watch it becoming worse every time we met.
In the end, I thought it best for her to retire to a special facility for a couple of weeks, or maybe months, until she had regained her balance.
"A mental institution?" She was outraged and rose abruptly from her seat, where she had placed herself less than five minutes before. "I will have nothing of this. I am leaving. Have a nice day."
I had expected this behavior. Her husband was informed. He was waiting outside, together with two strong guys I had ordered over with an ambulance, to give her a safe ride to her new destination. It was a sad moment, seeing her fall apart like this. But a quick injection, and we could carry her outside.
"Really, there is nothing wrong with your wife", I assured the husband. "All she needs is some rest. Believe me, in a few weeks you will have her back, all shiny and new."
Well, things never turn out as you expect them to.
The woman died.
I received the call a few days later, while her gray eyes still floated through my imagination. Of course there was an autopsy, and they found the most disturbing thing. My friend Harry, director of the institution, who had been there, told me.
"You know, physically, there seemed nothing wrong with her. No bruises, no cuts, no wounds or scars. And the medication had taken care of her nervous behavior. I thought we'd discharge her less than a month from now. And suddenly, she is lying in her bed, all bloated and dead. And when we opened her..."
A moment of silence.
"What was it?" I asked.
On the other end of the line, I could hear him swallow. "Her intestines were literally crawling with maggots. Don't ask me how they came to be there."
I hung up without another word, returned to my desk and retrieved the bottle of Scotch.
Seemed as if something had been eating her after all.