The Demons Within
15: Competency

Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg

You have enemies?

Good, that means you’ve stood up for something,

sometime in your life.

Winston Churchill

“So, Mr. Walker, are you prepared for surgery? We have the doctors needed on call. It’ll only take a few days to reschedule. It would have been quicker if you’d said yes, initially.”

“Yeah,” Jane said, staring at her husband. “We’re dying to know.” She turned to her husband’s neurologist. “He wouldn’t tell us anything ahead of time.”

“I suspect I already know his decision,” Toni said, leaning back in her seat. “However, I’m looking forward to hearing it.”

“You could have warned me,” her mother chided. “It would have saved me worrying myself to death.”

“It doesn’t seem like there should be any question,” Dr. David Altinon remarked. “After all, it’s your life we’re discussing.”

“Not to prolong your anxiety,” Phil said, “but it was an easy choice. I’m not interested in living under the conditions you’re painting. Nor am I interested in a biopsy.”

Jane clutched his arm with both hands, but Toni displayed a bittersweet smile.

“You’re making a serious mistake. The chances of paralysis aren’t that extreme,” Dr. Punjab explained. “We won’t know until we open you up. If it’s likely we can’t do it, you’ll still be in the same position. Even if something does go wrong, at least you’ll live. Not doing anything, you’re guaranteed to die within the month.”

“As for the tumor, we’ll have a proton beam laser device on hand. While it’s normally used externally, we’re hoping by using it on any cancerous brain tissue, we can minimize how much we need to extract. Otherwise, traditional chemo would take too long to see improvements. You don’t have the time to waste. The longer you wait, the more brain tissue we’ll need to excise.”

“The complications aren’t the issue. I’ve got too much to accomplish to gamble on a risky surgery. I definitely can’t waste my potentially limited time being too sick to accomplish anything, nor coming out of surgery a babbling idiot. What’s more, I still don’t have confidence in your diagnoses, since it doesn’t correspond to what anyone has observed about me.”

“You mean the nonsensical performance art you do in the park where everyone gawks at you?” Rajai asked. “That’s not an accomplishment. It’s a sign of your compromised mental health!”

“In a case this advanced, dementia and delusions of grandeur are common,” David cautioned. “You can’t put too much confidence in your perceptions at this point.”

“The fact you think it’s about my dance demonstrates you don’t comprehend the issues involved.”

“Are you talking about that rubbish about your curing people? There’s not a shred of evidence your little performance achieves a thing. Your willingness to risk your life over something which is physically impossible is convincing proof your thinking is compromised.”

“I concur. You’ve got nothing to base claims of curing mental illnesses on. You’re clearly suffering from impaired mental capacities, further evidence you need the surgery immediately.”

“Hey, that’s my father you’re talking about,” Toni objected, shifting to the edge of her seat. “Dad, I think you’re making the right decision, on both counts. It’ll be painful to watch if they’re correct, but I’m proud of you for taking a difficult stand.”

“In that case, his condition appears genetic, since you’re as delusional as he is. Don’t equate conviction with evidence. There are plenty of madmen throughout history who convinced millions to throw their lives away for little more than a pipe dream.” Rajai turned to Jane, who’d been glancing between everyone, trying to make sense of the discussion.

“If you care about your husband, you need to convince him of the flaws in his thinking. If you can’t, you can arrange a competency hearing. No judge will allow someone to avoid this kind of emergency surgery just so they can stumble around in public to people’s embarrassed applause.”

“You know, I’ve about had it with your attitudes,” Toni declared, standing and flexing her fists.

“Tell me,” Rajai said, leaning forward to match her combative posturing. “How does someone untrained in medicine accomplish something which medication doesn’t?”

“You’ve got a point, there’s no way I can prove it to you. However, I know the procedure works. I’ve seen the proof in dozens of people whose lives I’ve changed.”

“You’re taking the word of schizophrenics over established medical standards? I’m sorry; you’re not convincing anyone other than your equally-delusional daughter.”

“It doesn’t matter why I’m making this decision, the fact is it’s my choice and my money. I’m not going to waste it on you cutting my brain apart. I’ve had a good life, and for once I can make a significant difference no one else can. Your operation, which has no guarantees, is likely to compromise my ability to help people. I’d rather go out on my feet, helping those the medical establishment is unable to assist.”

“You realize, if you keep promoting this hogwash, we can have you arrested for fraud. It’s only a short step from there to a court order compelling you to undergo the surgery.”

“My father is not insane,” Toni stated, leaning over Rajai’s desk. “His thinking is clear, and the evidence supporting him is obvious to anyone who’s witnessed what he’s accomplished.”

“This is complete nonsense!” David declared. “Can’t you tell when someone isn’t rational?”

“If that’s the case,” Rajai countered, “he can have the operation and publish his results, achieving fame while living a long life. Steven Hawking has led a full and productive life. I doubt you’ll be as limited. However, your father knows he can’t document anything. He’s selling everyone a bill of goods.”

“I’m sorry,” Jane said, releasing her husband’s arm and standing too. “I’ve seen the evidence of his work in the lives of the people he’s changed. We also know the causes of his supposedly erratic behaviors, and they’re not tumor related. While I’m not happy with his decision, I resent you’re hurling insults and threatening legal action. I think we’ve all heard enough. You obviously have an agenda, and are unwilling to listen to reason.”

“Alright,” Rajai said, leaning back and placing his hands behind his head. “I’m listening. Convince me. What kind of theory do you have to justify these outrageous claims?”

“You can’t be serious?” David countered.

“Let him have his say, he’ll make our case for us,” Rajai assured him.

“Alas,” Phil said, standing as well. “I’ve done no long term studies, nor have I worked out any duplicable techniques, but I’m making a difference. If I only last a few more weeks, I can still save dozens. Yet, I don’t believe your bleak estimates. I’m suffering no symptoms. My initial headache hasn’t reoccurred. Your dire warnings are vastly overblown. Even if they’re accurate, it doesn’t matter. This is my choice. I’m convinced it’s the right one.”

“As am I,” Toni said, stepping up to her father and kissing his cheek.

“I’m not sure it’s worth losing you over, but I accept your position. I’ll support you to the bitter end,” Jane said, clutching his arm. “We don’t need this quack.”

“If you’re not convinced of your prognosis, then why not submit to the biopsy,” David argued, “as it’ll prove your position? It seems like a simple choice to make.”

“Because I don’t trust either of you. Your attitudes about the issue are suspect. You’re both obviously angry about my message. What’s more, you’re already planning to conduct the surgery as soon as you take the biopsy. With so many specialists waiting in the wings, I doubt you’re willing to waste their time. You’ve got too much riding on this. Besides, I don’t trust what you’ll do with any biopsy results, regardless of what the resulting diagnosis is. After all, there’s no government restrictions limiting your abusing them for your own benefit, especially since I don’t trust either of you to sell me down the river out of spite.”

“I’m warning you,” Dr. Punjab stood, placing his fists on his spotless desk. “This problem isn’t going away. If you won’t do the sensible thing, we’ll see what a judge has to say about it.”

“Why is this so essential that I change my position?” Phil pressed. “You seem more upset about the claims of my healing the incurable, than you do over my illness. I suspect your anger over the issue is coloring your judgment. This almost sounds like an attempt to shut me up, which is exactly what I’m convinced it’ll do, which is also the reason I refuse to submit to the biopsy. I won’t allow you to search my head for future medical breakthroughs, since I don’t trust you to act honorably. So far, nothing you’ve done in this case is the least bit honorable. If you’re so insistent to sue me, I’ll help.” Phil extracted his wallet and removed a business card. “Talk to my lawyer. By the time you arrange a legal hearing, my having survived for months will have disproven your flawed prognosis.”

He turned, extending his arms for his immediate family. “Let’s go see if we can help someone, instead of stealing their money!”

“You’ll love this, Mom. It’s difficult to watch, but it’s astounding to witness the results firsthand.”

“I’ve been dying to see it for some time,” Jane agreed.

“You’ll be sorry you ignored me!” Dr. Punjab yelled, waving his fist as they walked out, not glancing back.

“I’m sure the hospital will have plenty to say on the topic as well,” Dr. Altinon added.

“I already regret I ever called. You’re both crooks,” Phil replied as they exited.

“Phil, here.”

“Yeah, Phil, this is Mathew Tate. I’ve got bad news. The hospital is suing you, claiming you’re incompetent to make your own medical decisions. It seems a frivolous lawsuit, given your ties to the community, but I wanted to give you a heads up.”

“That’s probably my fault,” Phil admitted. “My neurologist, oncologist and I got into it. They insisted I was about to die if I wouldn’t agree to a risky surgery. Seeing as I’m not eager to have my brain sliced up, or endure weeks of pointless chemo, how serious is this?”

“It’s hard to tell until I see what they have on you. I doubt the hospital would back a couple doctors with a grudge unless they can justify their actions. However, we should have some time to work out the details. These things typically take weeks to reach the hearing stage. When can you get in to review the situation?”

“I’m a little busy at the moment. How about early tomorrow morning?”

“That should be fine. As I said, we have time to prepare. However, the more I know about their position, the better equipped I am to defend you. In either case, you’ll want a second opinion to ensure this doctor knows what he’s talking about.”

“I’ll try to get some new recommendations from someone a bit ... friendlier. Personally, these guys are more than a bit aggressive about their treatment options. It’s like going to a mechanic who tells you ‘Either pay me to replace your engine, or I’ll call the police.’ Your first impulse is to run out the door with your hand over your wallet.”

“I can relate, yet I suspect it’s not so simple. If it is, it won’t get far. However, if there’s more to this, it could get ugly. After all, we’re not just discussing your health. We’re also defending your ability to operate your business, as well as make financial and legal decisions.”

“We’ll work through all the details tomorrow, but all he has is what’s appeared in the newspaper. He found a significant growth in my brain, but it hasn’t impacted my health. Even without much time left, there’s no reason I can’t make my own decisions, so I’m unsure what his argument is. I’m sure he doesn’t like being told no.”

“Let’s hope that’s all it is, but it might be problematic if it isn’t.”

“I’ll see you first thing tomorrow,” Phil said. “I’ll bring a bottle of scotch malt for your trouble.”

“Mathew Tate.”

“Mathew, it’s me, Phil.” He took a moment to catch his breath before continuing. “Sorry I couldn’t answer right away. I sort of had my hands full.”

“Geez, I hope you’re not working the parks again. I don’t know who you pissed off, but things are boiling. They scheduled an emergency competency hearing for tomorrow morning.”

“How the hell did they arrange that? Don’t these things take months?”

“Well, at least weeks, but normally, yes, which is why I think the fix is in. Chances are, one of them knows someone who slipped them into the judicial calendar at the right moment to find a sympathetic judge, which isn’t likely. I’m assuming the judge called them when it was his turn, just so he could approve their request.”

“Damn, this throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings.”

“As do additional videos of you acting out in public.”

“All right, I’ll try to get there in time.”

“See that you do. Otherwise you’re facing a contempt of court hearing, meaning you can be held indefinitely. Better to show up a free man when you plead your case.”

“Yeah, I can see I screwed the pooch when I told them off. Still, I can’t see how they managed to pull so many strings.”

“It’s simple; word around the courtroom is Dr. Punjab removed a tumor for the wife of a judge. As such, don’t expect a sympathetic hearing.” Mathew paused. “How much attention are you attracting this time? Are there any video cameras around?”

Phil turned, glancing around. “Do any of you see any—?”

“Cameras?” Ethan asked. “Duh! They’re all over. You can’t do anything this major without making people curious.”

“Sorry,” Phil informed Mathew, “but yeah, there are quite a few witnesses. We ... uh, cleared out the park.”

“What do you mean? You chased everyone out, or you emptied the park of homeless?”

“The second, but we did it indirectly. I cured everyone with issues there. Most of them are heading home. Those with nowhere to go I’m giving jobs in my company until they get back on their feet.”

“You know, you’ve got terrible timing. Get out of the park and keep out of the spotlight for the rest of the day.”

“Sorry, no can do. We’re going from one park to another. We also have several people scheduling things, so any homeless we miss can catch us at our next stops. We’re hoping to solve most of the city’s homeless problem by the end of the day.”

The sound of Mathew striking his forehead was audible through the phone. “And what, pray tell, do the police think of your little shenanigans?”

“They were skeptical, but now they’re helping, keeping the pedestrians back while directing the homeless from other areas towards us. It’s quite a production.”

“The Police Commissioner and Mayor came to observe what we’re doing,” Emma announced over Phil’s shoulder.

Mathew sighed. “Meaning it’ll be the lead in tomorrow’s papers.”

“It means we’ve got hundreds of witnesses who can verify what I’m accomplishing.”

“Witnesses without jobs, ties to the community or any position to testify in court,” Mathew reminded him. “This is a private evaluation by the judge. Except for family and possibly a few experts, it’s closed to everyone else.”

“Wonderful. Sounds like the first stop on a very short railroad.”

“Then I suggest you show up bright and early tomorrow. It’s your one chance to demonstrate you’re capable of making your own legal decisions.”

“I’m here,” Phil said as he met Mathew the next morning outside the assigned court room. “I brought my family, in addition to a few of the homeless I treated—”

“Their testimony is immaterial to the proceedings. They won’t be allowed to speak.”

Phil handed him a couple letters on official letterhead, shuffling awkwardly to switch hands while leaning on his leg. “I also have testimonials from Mayor Winford and the Police Commissioner. They said they’re willing to testify in court, but doubt their appearance will help.”

“It won’t.” Mathew steered him down the hall towards their courtroom. “Anyone can get such letters. There are plenty of crooks who’ve benefited politicians. All it takes is the right donation. Unfortunately, judges don’t take such intervention kindly. They see it as political interference. They’re likely to rule against you so it doesn’t appear they’re colluding to defraud the public. The mayor’s testimony will hurt more than it helps.”

“So there’s no way I can improve my standing?”

“This is a competency hearing. Just tell the truth, and try to sound like you know what’s going on. Please, don’t say anything antagonistic or provocative, like claims you can cure people without any medical testimony backing you up.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. I’m fighting my media persona rather than defending myself, as well as being hamstrung by the medical establishment’s inability to achieve anything themselves.” Phil turned, waving his friends off while motioning Jane and Toni forward.

“By the way, what’s wrong with your leg? Why don’t you have your usual cane?”

“It was the victim of my activities, yesterday. I managed to break several canes, and didn’t have any left.”

“Wait, you broke several metal canes simply by waving them in the air?”

“No. I was hardly, ‘waving them in the air’. Instead, they took a beating because they were colliding with physical objects with enough heft to damage a reinforced metal tube. Believe me, everything you’ve ever heard about the dragon scales, is true.”

“Please, don’t start on that again, since there’s no way I can legitimately argue it in court. It sounds nice on the radio, but unless you can document it via published documents, it doesn’t mean diddly.”

Since Toni and Jane were waiting, Mathew turned the charm on for them, though he hadn’t for his client. “It’s wonderful meeting you again, Jane, and it’s always a delight to run across you too, Toni. I wish it was under better circumstances. I know it’ll be tough, but you both need to refrain from speaking in court. The judge won’t listen, and it will only get you thrown out. Your entire role is to stand in for Phil, in case they decide against him. If the judge appoints you his executors, at least you’ll make an objective decision. That’s better than this butcher, who only wants to see what’s happening inside Phil’s skull.”

“Thanks for the encouragement. You’re making this into a walk through the park,” Toni said, giving him a skeptical look.

“Please,” Phil cautioned. “This is a difficult situation, and we’re likely to lose, however it works out. We’re simply trying to stack the odds in our favor, which involves knowing which side of the toast to butter.”

Mathew glanced at his watch. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” He guided them into the courtroom, escorting Phil to the defense table. There weren’t many people inside.

“Hear, hear. This court in now in session, the Honorable Thomas Kincaid presiding.”

“Read the charges,” Thomas instructed.

“This is a competency hearing to determine whether Phillip Walker is legally competent to make his own medical decisions.”

Thomas Kincaid leaned forward, resting his elbows on the bench. “Gentleman, is this really necessary? It seems this is something you should work out between yourselves. After all, you’re unlikely to get paid if the plaintiff is ordered to submit to an unwanted surgery. This can’t be a cheap operation. What’s more, the defendant has family present willing to make decisions if he’s found incompetent. So why bring this case before me?”

“Your honor,” the hospital’s attorney, William McCall, began. “The defendant is involved in an apparent confidence scheme, convincing those least able to understand his deceptions that he can cure whatever ails them.”

“Even if what you claim is true, someone capable of such deception is entirely competent. If you’re unhappy with his actions, you should bring criminal charges. You’re in the wrong court.”

“No, your honor, this case rests directly on his competency. The issue is his empathic connection and enthusiasm influences his victims—his family included. They’re unlikely to render an independent decision.”

“And you’re sure these ‘victims’ are unable to evaluate his claims on their own?”

“Yes, sir. They consist of various homeless, mentally-ill individuals easily confused, misled and manipulated.”

“If they were so easy to manipulate, their doctors wouldn’t have so much trouble getting them to take their medications,” Thomas countered. “Moving on, what evidence do you have to call his mental standing into question?”

“So far, this judge doesn’t seem to be favoring the hospital,” Phil whispered to his lawyer. “This might just work out for us.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched,” Mathew warned.

“To answer that, I call Mr. Walker’s neurologist, Dr. Punjab.”

“Before we get to that, your honor,” Mathew said, standing. “I’d like to petition the court for a temporary injunction until we can arrange for an alternate medical evaluation from someone without something to gain from the case. Feelings are running too hot for anyone to see either side, impartially.”

“Ordinarily, I’d entertain your motion,” Thomas said, “but this case was presented as a clear threat, not just potentially to the public, but also to the defendant himself. From what I understand, if we don’t act immediately, taking decisive action, we may never get a second chance. Therefore, I’ll allow the plaintiffs to make their case. If you disagree, you can always object to the testimony.”

“Except, my client is well aware of the potential threat to himself, and not only doubts the medical evaluation, but is also unconcerned with protecting himself. Shouldn’t we decide on whether his opinions have any merit before wasting the court’s time?”

“Once again, I’ll defer on that until I can hear the arguments. If he’s both in danger, and unable to make rational decisions, the Court won’t know until we’ve heard the arguments. Your motions are denied. Now sit down, and let’s start this trial instead of throwing pointless objections around.”

Grinning, Rajai stood, smoothing his suit and taking a deep breath before addressing the judge. “Your honor, after seeing the news reports about my client, I scheduled an immediate appointment and rushed the lab results because he represents a threat to himself and those near him. I’ve got a few videos to demonstrate his issues.”

“Those are items number one through five, your honor,” William informed the judge. “They’re ready to view.”

“You may proceed,” Thomas said.

William began the infamous video of Phil’s ‘episode’ in Philadelphia’s shopping district, pausing or slowing at select points as Rajai narrated. “While he appears normal in these security camera images, he becomes erratic, threatening himself and anyone nearby. Despite no specific trigger, he loses control of his coordination and his grasp on reality. Although he didn’t injure anyone, he inflicted significant damage to himself. He could have seriously injured several innocent bystanders.

Phil started to speak out, but Mathew held his arm, restraining him as Rajai continued.

“You’ll notice his behavior appears normal enough, but he flinches repeatedly, jerking unexpectedly. In short, his actions are almost epileptic in that he has little physical control over them. Slowing the video, I call your attention to his eyes. They’re all over the place. You can see he’s following something, but his focus shifts from one spot to another, despite there being nothing there.”

“Are you suggesting he’s delusional?” the judge asked.

“Not directly. He’s not tracking physical objects. Instead his mind is struggling for rational control. Each time, he concentrates on another imaginary target, he tries to make sense of the conflicting sensory information. He’s only semi-conscious of what’s occurring, but struggles to comprehend what he’s experiencing. He’s weaving fictional tales to explain his chaotic mix of real events and temporary delusions.”

“So you’re claiming he’s a danger to the public?”

“Absolutely. While he may appear rational now, he’s likely to lose motor and intellectual functions at any moment. His ... fantasies of ‘curing people’ appear to be his mind’s way of making sense of these encounters.”

“All right, I can conceive of how he might suffer from delusions, giving him a false sense of reality. But how does that impact his family’s ability to make rational decisions concerning his future?”

“Based on his collection of fantasies, he weaves the recollections into a coherent story around his fragmented memory. Because he’s so desperate to believe he’s sane, he convinces himself of his own mental constructs. He’s so committed to these false memories; his enthusiasm convinces everyone hoping for a magical intervention. Those dreaming of a cure want to believe, as does his family, who’re eager to save their patriarch.”

“And you’re basing your evaluation on a single video?”

“What you’re watching is a compilation of multiple films, but there are others.” Rajai proceeded through a variety of grainy footage of Phil combating unseen creatures in public, attributing mental defects to each inflection.

“In these later videos, his behaviors are no longer as chaotic. However his reactions are just as scattered, his eyes tracking one imaginary source after another. He’s more confident of his actions, having justified them in his own mind. It’s these confidences which convince those he treats. Not only does he offer impossible results, he delivers the promises with an absolute certainty—something no medical doctors can guarantee.”

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