A FAMILY AFFAIR
20 August 2003
I didn't get to WeightWatchers today. This is medical week for me. Tomorrow is my physical
therapy appointment, Friday is a diabetes class, and this morning I had to go to the lab
for blood tests. By the time I left the lab, the WeightWatchers meeting was half over and
I was still on the other side of town, so I just decided to skip it. Next week will be my
last meeting until at least the end of October.
Instead, I went to PEET's Coffee, because we are nearly out of coffee beans. We drink
French Roast pretty much exclusively, unless we have none in the house. PEET's has the
best French Roast I've ever had and so we've been buying it since the very first location
opened up in Berkeley in 1966.
They always offer you a free cup of coffee if you spend a bazillion dollars, as we do. I
rarely accept because they brew it too strong for my tastes. But since I've been keeping
this Fotolog documenting all of the things
I eat, I keep looking for new ways to display meals, other than just shooting plates on
the top of my kitchen table. I thought it would be interesting to shoot a cup of coffee
with the coffee shop in the background.
got the coffee and then decided that the photo would look better with a blueberry muffin
along with it, so added that (since I wasn't going to be weighed anyway!). Then I sat
there with my coffee and my muffin and noticed that on the bench next to me, someone had
left the morning's newspaper. I picked up a piece of it and did a double take.
It was a full page, continued on the inside, article, with lots of photos, on one of my
former bosses. Another black period of my life. The OTHER psychiatrist.
I want to be perfectly clear that the man I refer to as "the psychiatrist" is a
wonderful man to work for. We've worked together for over 20 years (possibly 25-30 years).
We've never had a bad spell. Never. I have bent over backwards for him, sometimes taking
rush jobs that his wife delivered in her
bathrobe at midnight, and I produced the finished product for him by 7 in the morning. By
the same token, there have been a couple of times in my life when I was feeling pretty
desperate and he saw me for free therapy for a session or two. He has no idea how much I
charge and just unhesitatingly (and promptly) pays the bill (with checks that can be
cashed immediately, unlike some others I've worked for). Once I mistakenly billed him
twice in the same month and he paid me twice and when I returned the second check, with my
apologies, he said that if I hadn't returned the check he never would have noticed. We
have perfect trust between us. I do love that man, though he's the world's stereotypical
But the guy in the newspaper is the OTHER psychiatrist. There is some similarity between
the two. Both are forensic psychiatrists by profession and musicians by avocation. The
newspaper article was about this guy's music. I sat there, drinking my Sumatra blend and
crumbling the blueberry muffin on the table and I let my mind wander back to that
disasterous 8 months that I worked as his transcriptionist.
I had begun doing his transcription while working for a typing service, but he decided
that he had enough of it that it would be good to have someone in-house, and I was ready
for a full time job.
It was a small office and the staff consisted of his wife, who was the office manager, his
daughter, and myself. I was the only non-family...and there was ethnic diversity; I was the odd person out.
I'd like to think that some of the problems which arose were cultural in addition to
Age-wise, I was just about in the middle between Mamma and Daughter. Mamma was older than
I by XX years and Daughter was younger than I by the same number of years. I got along
well with both of them which was good up until family problems started to develop.
The family problems came in the person of Daughter-in-Law-to-be. Daughter and fiancee
didn't get along. There was lots of friction. Mother was trying to make nice with her
soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Daughter and I would spend lots of time discussing the
situation. I was a good, sympathetic listener. Then Mother and I would spend lots of time
discussing the situation. I was again a good, sympathetic listener.
In time, Daughter realized that fiancee was not going to go away and, after a period
where tension in the office was high because nobody was speaking to anybody else, in the interest of family harmony, she agreed
to make peace, try to be friends with fiancee and make up to Mamma.
That meant they had a common bond: me. I had tsk-tsk'd with Daughter about her dislike of
fiancee and her anger with Mamma. I had tsk-tsk'd with Mamma about how unreasonable
Daughter was being. That made me the bad guy because I'd been negative against both of
them, or so it seemed to them.
There were other complications. I had developed a close friendship with Son, who was going
to the university. I did his typing after hours, helping him write papers. He and I had a
nice joking, teasing-each-other friendship. When the engagement was announced there was a
party to which I was invited. At the party, I made the unforgiveable sin of assuming that
our easy camaraderie extended into this social setting as well. Big, big mistake.
The next morning he came into the office, told me I had embarrassed him terribly. He never
spoke to me again, despite my abject apologies for whatever he felt I had done that was
out of line. (This is where I think the cultural thing came in.)
Then fiancee came to work in the office and she hated me. We'd never actually even
had a conversation, but she fairly snarled whenever she had to have interactions with me.
It was very ugly.
The interesting thing about the atmosphere that developed was the effect on me (and it
kind of relates to how I've reacted to taking Dr. G's transcription back on again). The
Other Psychiatrist at that time primarily did evaluations for Workers Comprehension cases,
examining the psychological effects of job stress. There were times when I'd shake my head
in astonishment at the tales these patients would tell, about insomnia, panic attacks,
migraines, labile emotions (crying all the time), etc, etc. In many cases, the original
situation that resulted in the Workers' Compensation claim seemed fairly minor to have
resulted in this complicated constellation of symptoms. I wondered how many of them were
BUT, within two weeks of fiancee's joining the staff of the office I found that I was
starting to experience just about every one of the symptoms that I'd read about. Mamma
began examining all of my work with a fine tooth comb. If I left the office at 4:57 and
put on my time sheet that I left at 5 p.m., she would scold me the next morning
("Your time sheet says 5 p.m., but I looked at the clock when you left--it was only
4:57." --you may think I'm exaggerating, but that was an actual conversation!)
Nothing I did was every quite right. Everything was criticized. When I attempted to
explain to the Other Psychiatrist he brushed it off. It was a staff problem and he didn't
get involved with staff problems.
Within a month--if it lasted that long--I was a blithering idiot. I was a self-fulfilling
prophesy. My work suffered because I could no longer concentrate on it. I was so worried
about making mistakes that I made more of them. Nobody in the office would talk to me. I
stopped sleeping. I had headaches. I had to get out of there.
Then one day the Other Psychiatrist came into my cubicle and said "I don't have
enough work for you. You'll have to leave." That was it. No thank you. No
"I'm sorry." No goodbye. No nothing. I packed up my stuff and left
immediately. Nobody in the office said a word when I walked out the door.
I returned to the typing service (where I continued to do his transcription for at least
It was a horrible, horrible, horrible experience. Things were so uncomfortable
that years later, when I was managing a gyn office, Mamma came in for an appointment.
When she saw me working there, she switched to a different ob/gyn office.
One of the reasons I decided to leave Dr. G's employ instead of
trying to find a substitute so I could return to the job was that I was beginning to see
the same symptoms in myself as I had during my period with the Other Psychiatrist.
It's a different kind of pressure, but the emotional response was starting to
It's kind of like childbirth--the longer you are away from it, the
less painful it begins to seem. But my experience this week, with the transcription, has
brought it all back to me. I know that if I were to continue working for Dr. G, I'd soon
become the blithering idiot that I was while working for the Other Psychiatrist.
I deserve better than that.