(Part five of this series is here: Everyone is Your Teacher: Out of the Mouths of Babes Comes Great Wisdom - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 5)
Before the door opened to D-41 I expected to see the same thing I saw at D-40; a bunch of people minding their own business and not really paying attention to the new patients. I wasn't as nervous as before because, as the doctors and nurses had told me, it was readily apparent that there were no dangerous or violent people in these wards at all. Everyone was crazy but they were gentle crazy and wouldn't hurt a fly. The dangerous and violent ones were kept separate.
"Welcome young friend!"
I stood before the door of D-41 and, when they opened it, I could see at least twenty or so other patients looking straight at me. D-41 was twice the space of of D-40 and my doctors told me that there were 60 patients there. In the back, of the people standing there looking at us, I thought I saw a very tall young man who didn't look Japanese, but I wasn't sure as I didn't have my glasses (didn't need them I thought).
I was quite (and pleasantly) surprised to see that he was, indeed, another foreigner. What a joy! Even though I could speak Japanese, sometimes it is pleasant ( and restful to your mind) to be able to speak to others in your native tongue. Being foreigners in a foreign land he too seemed happy to have me, another foreigner, in D-41. He quickly came to greet me and shook my hand. His name was Rusulan and he was a young Russian man.
When I first saw him, I guessed him to be in his late twenties or, perhaps early thirties. But as we began to talk and I got a good up close look at him it became more and more apparent to me that this wasn't a guy who had fallen out of a job or a marriage due to addiction problems, this was only a boy! The more we talked, the more I began to think I was conversing with a person of high school age. Up close, Rusulan didn't look a day over 18-years-old, if that. He never told me his exact age but his story is unforgettable.
Rusulan had sandy blond hair and a rugged chin. He was a handsome young man and looked to be like the kind of guy you'd see in an advertisement for back-packing or camping equipment or even cigarettes. Though his face had some wrinkles, his skin had a youthful vigor to it. This is what confused me as to his age. Almost everyone who was in drug rehab in D-40 and D-41 seemed to be well over 30, though many of the mental patients were very young. Though it seemed as though Rusulan was well liked by all the other patients and staff, he seemed to me to be completely out of place here.
Rusulan also had a very curious star shaped scar right in the middle of his forehead. After his very first greeting to me Rusulan asked me to sit down and talk so he could explain what was going on at D-41. He seemed perfectly normal (well, at first, they all do) so, after putting my stuff in my room, I sat with him to talk. We sat at a table and I could get a good look at his very glassy eyes. He looked off into the distance and pointed to the star on his forehead and said,
"See that? See that star shaped scar? That proves that I am the 'Chosen One.'" It was a statement that begged no response from me. Rusulan made it without fanfare nor exclamation.
"Right!" I nodded my head in agreement. Rusulan's eye movement and blinking were very slow and dulled. I figured the doctors must have had him under some pretty heavy sedation. Rusulan nearly slurred his words and his movements made him look like he was slightly drunk.
I've heard that Russians like to drink....
By the way, patients in the hospital, depending on their circumstances, of course, are almost always under some sort of sedation. The protocol demands that the doctors heavily sedate people in order to prevent them from having flashbacks. Flashbacks can cause brain damage. Depending on how heavy and serious and the length of addiction, the patient's who are in extreme risk of flashbacks will be given the strongest sedation for the longest period of time. I have no idea how long Rusulan was in this situation.
Rusulan continued to talk about the scar on his forehead. "That scar's been there since before I was born. I am the Chosen One," he added. I nodded and got a chance for a closer look at the scar. But upon closer inspection, it didn't look to be a natural scar at all. It was star-shaped for sure, but it looked like it was carved into his head by a knife... I began to suspect that Rusulan had carved it into his own forehead and that might have been just one episode and another reason why he was at Matsuzawa hospital in the first place. I can't be sure, of course, but that star-shaped scar sure looked to me like a self-inflicted wound!
He continued on the significance of the star, "Metallica has even written a song about me because of this star on my forehead. Have you ever heard of Metallica?" He asked.
"Yes," I replied. "I've worked as a professional in radio and the music business for many years..." I tried to talk but Rusulan cut me off. I wanted to brag that I worked in radio & the music business, but Rusulan would not allow it. Of course not! Why would the second coming of Christ care whether or not this new dumb addition to D-41 had ever worked in the music business or not? Rusulan went on,
"Metallica wrote the song, 'Master of Puppets' about me. Do you know the song?"
"Yes. I answered." I was surprised. Was Rusulan saying that he knows the guys in Metallica? I guess anything is possible. I was confused. I asked, "What? Wait! You know the guys in Metallica?"
"We know of each other." Rusulan said as he gazed off into the distance.
"So, you guys have met in person? They know your family or what?" I was skeptical.
Rusulan announced, "They know me. That's why they wrote the song for me. Do you know the lyrics to 'Master of Puppets'? That's totally about me and who I am."
"No. Actually, I don't know the lyrics." Funny, but I was embarrassed to have to admit that. It just goes to show how shallow and thin-skinned I am. Here I was trying to brag to "teenage Jesus" that I worked as a professional at a radio station and it frustrated me that he seemed like he didn't care or didn't believe me! Then he asks if I know the lyrics to a famous song but I don't. Doh!.. Some "professional DJ" eh? I felt so worthless....
Rusulan began to recite the lyrics of 'Master of Puppets' from memory;
"Come crawling faster,
Obey your master,
Your life burns faster,
Obey your master,
Master of puppets,
I'm pulling your strings,Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams...
"See?" Rusulan triumphantly claimed. That is proof that this was all written about me, you know that?" He pointed all around the room. "See these people? See all these doctors and nurses? They all do my bidding."
"I.... see...." I answered.
Of course I couldn't understand the reasoning but what's the point of arguing with the guy? He was completely and totally delusional. It seemed obvious to me that this was an idea that he had been creating and believing for many years and he liked it. Talking with me for ten minutes wasn't going to change any of that!
Rusulan went on like this for twenty or thirty minutes. It was difficult to talk to him, it seemed he liked it best for someone to just listen to him so, after trying to get a few words in edgewise, or changing the subject, I gave up. Talking to Rusulan was like talking to a drunk in a bar; he is having is own conversation and wants you to join in but don't change the subject. He's got something important to tell you and he zones in and out so there's not too much point to saying too awfully much. I began to grow weary of this and asked Rusulan if he didn't mind excusing me so I could go and have a short lay down in my room. He said okay and we agreed to meet later.
I figured that poor Rusulan was in the hospital for some sort of psychosis. I would find out later that it was nothing of the sort. Nevertheless it soon became apparent that Rusulan was going to be one of my best friends in D-41 and prove to be one of the most interesting characters in my entire stay at Matsuzawa hospital... Unfortunately.
Later on, after taking a nap, I saw Rusulan and he was quite eager to continue with our prior conversation. I wasn't particularly. Rusulan was quite pleased that he had thought he found another patient with whom he could converse with about the ins and outs of the wit and wisdom of the heavy metal band Metallica. I gathered from our conversations that he must have sat alone in his room listening to those albums, over and over, hundreds of times, by himself. Even though I knew little of the band, I had heard their songs a few times. Even with that, though, I was still head and shoulders above the competition in a Metallica trivia quiz held in a mental hospital ward filled with mostly 30 ~ 50-year-old Japanese guys whose knowledge of western music was most probably limited to the Beatles and Glenn Miller' Jazz music (as that is what was played on Red Lobster TV commercials at the time in Japan).
Rusulan kept insisting on discussing how Metallica lyrics were written about the star scar on his forehead and this was proof positive that he was the chosen one. I think these conversations went on for a day and a half when I finally grew tired of them and decided that I should help the guy out. I knew that telling him that he was full of BS or crazy wasn't a good idea as he might get mad at me and stop talking to me... I mean, in a room full of crazy and detached lonely people, even semi-coherent conversation and spending the time with someone is better than none. I knew I had to be coy about telling him his ideas were nuts. I had an idea.
"Rusulan?" I said,
"So, this star on your forehead, this proves that you are the Chosen One, right?"
"Right!" He answered.
"Great. So now, follow me on this one, Rusulan, because I have a great idea!!! I don't know why I didn't think of it before!"
Rusulan got all excited and crouched closer to me. "What is it? What is your great idea? Tell me!" He said.
"Rusulan, I figured a way that we can get out of here today! Right now!" I looked around to act like I was checking if anyone was watching us.
Rusulan was now just about jumping out of his chair with excitement! "How? Tell me how!" He begged.
"Well, the Chosen One is, you know, the son of God, right?"
"Yeah! Right!" He eagerly agreed.
"Well, then, Rusulan, have you ever figured out that, since you are the son of God and all, that you can do stuff like turn yourself invisible and walk through walls and probably go backward and forward in time?"
Right there I expected that he'd slap me on the back and say something like, "Aw c'mon! You're pulling my leg!" But he didn't. He seemed like he was listening intently and considering everything I was saying. He greatly surprised me when he said,
"Yeah.... Yeah.... You're right!"
"Uh, oh!" I thought. I didn't expect that. Now I had gotten myself into a mess. Now I was feeding his delusions. Oh what a low life sh*t I was! I decided that the best thing to do was to continue with my plan and that was to let him see by himself that he wasn't the Chosen One. I continued,
"So, what you do, Rusulan, is... You close your eyes and just like that that TV show "Bewitched" you wiggle your nose and think of someplace else and we'll be outta here!"
My heart sank when he eagerly agreed, "Yeah!" and then he closed his eyes. A few seconds later he opened his eyes up and I acted like I did too and, Shazam! We were still in D-41.
"It didn't work!" he said.
Right then, suddenly I couldn't tell if he was pulling my leg or not! I suspected that he was. I said, "I knew it! I had my hopes all up that we could get out of here and then this!... Nope! Sorry, Rusulan, you aren't the Chosen One.... And I had my hopes up too!" Rusulan began to stare blankly again out towards the distance. I felt sorry for him.
"Don't worry about it Rusulan. You'll get out of here soon. Why are you in here, anyway?"
Rusulan knew the game was up and knew that I didn't believe any of that Chosen One or Metallica nonsense anymore. Why did he tell people that? I don't know, poor guy. Maybe he said those things because of insecurities. Like I said, he was very young and I think, by far, the youngest person there. Maybe he was making these sorts of stories because the others in the ward frightened him? That would be an understandable reaction. Like I said there were very many patients who looked pretty scary. Perhaps he felt that this lie was a sort of self-preservation; a defense mechanism to protect himself, the youngest one of all, and (before I arrived) the only foreigner surrounded in a room full of frightening Japanese adults, from being bullied or treated badly?
Perhaps he learned to have these sorts fears from experiences as the only foreigner at Japanese school. I don't know. If my idea that this concoction that Rusulan had dreamed up as his being the Chosen One was a defense mechanism to scare people away, then that, to me, would seem to indicate that Rusulan was actually probably the most savvy and one of the sanest of the bunch in D-41.
Rusulan stopped playing games with me after that and told me the truth. He also asked why I was there and I told him. Like I said, when you meet people at Matsuzawa hospital, you never know why they are in there so it is difficult to strike up a conversation with someone because you never know what you're going to get. Kind of like talking to strangers on the outside world, really.
Rusulan then told me his story. It was a pretty sad one. He said his mother had forced him into Matsuzawa hospital as a kid and this wasn't his first time there. I believe this fact proves that poor Rusulan was a minor of, perhaps, 17 or 18 years of age! He told me that he stopped going to school when he was 14. I have heard stories about how some Russian people like to drink, but Rusulan's story confirmed that completely.
Rusulan on his daily walk to school
Rusulan told me that he used to eat cornflakes for breakfast and, instead of pouring milk on the flakes, he'd pour vodka and eat that. He said he wouldn't go to school because by the time breakfast was over, he'd be sprawled out on the floor. This went of for a few years before his mother decided to do something about it. No sense in trying to nip a problem in the bud, right?
Over the first week or so, I never saw Rusulan's mom visit him. I asked him where she was and he told me that she was no longer in Japan. Now, that's alarming! Because, you see, as a minor, he can't get out unless someone signs to be his guarantor and promises to provide him with a place to stay and food, clothes, etc. And just any old-body can't be a guarantor; in this case, they'd have to be relatives or something. Until his mom came back, and Rusulan seemed to not know when that would be, he wasn't going anywhere. He didn't seem to be especially upset about it. But if it were me, and my mom left me there in that place and didn't come to visit, and then left the country, I'd be a tad bit more than upset.
As I said, Rusulan and I became very good friends. For the first weeks in D-41 he never had any visitors but I always made sure that he was first to get some of the chocolate that my wife would bring to me.
My wife's frequent visits (and my only connection to sanity) were beginning to become a problem. The doctors had told us that they wanted to cut down the visits because the other patient's rarely had visitors so it was actually bad for me that my wife would visit so often. They also complained that my wife was "too beautiful" and asked that she not "dress up so much." I thought, "Right! Tell that to a Tokyo City Girl before she wants to go outside."
Photo of my wife from about that time
It seems that the other patients were beginning to grumble and complain and the doctor's feared that I'd start getting bullied or there'd be some sort of jealous retribution. Even Rusulan had confided in me that he deeply wished someone would come and visit and spend time with him. Poor guys. Porr Rusulan. It all reminded me of something I once heard on a Sunday morning religious rock radio program once, "The most insecure people are usually confined to the highest security prisons." It was the never ending story of the hunger of the human spirit. I felt sorry for everyone, especially Rusulan. He was just a teenager. I tried to be his best friend too.
One day, a Saturday morning, Rusulan was in great spirits for he announced to me that had a guest coming. I was quite happy and surprised to hear this news too! It was the first visitor that, to my knowledge, he had the entire time I was there. Of course, he was ecstatic about it too. I asked him who it was but he wouldn't tell me. He wanted to show me. He wanted to make sure that I met his guest and told me to wait near the exit door. I did.
The rules at the hospital were strict about visitations. The doctors had deemed that they thought Rusulan was "safe" to walk the hospital grounds with a visitor and not try to escape. Of course, in a government run mental institution (it's besides the point that drug and AA meetings and patients go there too), it isn't good if people are leaving the grounds without doctor's permission... That could be misconstrued, in some circles, as "an daring escape from a mental institution" which would make for sensational TV and frighten a lot of neighbors but be most akin to an extra homeless person wandering around the streets for the night. (Some patients could leave the hospitals grounds alone; some with an escort or visitor; some could not leave under any circumstances - I will discuss those later).
It wasn't my visitation time so I could not walk close to the exit door. Just inside the door, much like a "loading and unloading area" at an airport, there was an area lined off with yellow paint in the ward's own version of a sort of "No admittance" zone. You weren't supposed to stand in there if you weren't going out. There I stood, just outside off the line, as Rusulan was called because his visitor had arrived.
"Just wait there, Mike!" Rusulan eagerly called back to me. He smiled as wide as he possibly could. I felt happy to be his closest friend there and kind of like his family so I could share in his happiness. The door then opened and there stood a beautiful and tall Japanese high school girl. She was so petite and she looked like a goddess out of a Japanese comic book...She was like an "anime beautiful high school girl!" She was very pretty and she smiled. She had long hair and long legs. Rusulan said something to her and she looked at me, smiled broadly and bowed. I bowed back and waved back at her.
She must have really liked Rusulan because since Matsuzawa hospital is an institution for people with mental disorders, and it just so happens that the drug addicts and alcoholics are throw all into the same place, that still doesn't negate the fact that the hospital grounds are still a pretty scary place to walk around in for most people. The patients can be pretty scary looking, even though they are completely harmless. So it takes a lot of courage, and probably lots of love too, for some high school girl to go on the hospital grounds by herself to go visit her boyfriend. Nevertheless, she was there and Rusulan was on top of the world as he took her hand and they walked away with the door closing behind their back.
"Oh! I envied him!" I thought!
And with that I went back to doing whatever it was to pass the time. Later we ate dinner and, uneventfully, as always, I went to bed exactly at "lights out" at 8 pm. I slept quite well.
As I mentioned before, word travels fast in the hospital and, at "lights on" at 6 am the next morning, I was so surprised to find out that the hospital was totally and completely abuzz with the news! Rusulan was a hero! Rusulan's girlfriend had helped him to engineer a daring escape in broad daylight from the hospital! His girlfriend was a modern day Bonnie and he was a modern day Clyde! Oh that little criminal-minded minx! I would have never guessed in a million years that the sweet high school girl that I saw the day before standing in the doorway was such a schemer! To our great cheer, excitement and wonderment, Rusulan became a hero, swashbuckler and lady killer in one fell swoop! He was an inspiration to every patient in D-41. He was our own James Dean!
"Wow! That's so cool!" I thought. So did everyone else.
In my bed I laughed and threw my arms in the air in victory, "Go! Rusulan!" I shouted! "Go! Rusulan! Go!"
(The next segment in this series is here: Nowhere to Run to Nowhere to Hide - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 7)