My friend is having electromagnets shot at her brain for a half hour a day. When I first heard of this treatment, I thought it was like those magnetic bracelets they want to sell you at the fair. But no, it’s an FDA approved (trademark) treatment for several mental health problems.
Because this is a five-days-a-week and seven weeks long thing, you get to know others getting treated, and their spouses or siblings or parents who have brought them. I’ve sat in plenty of therapists’ waiting rooms, and the feeling there is always tense. You’re always like, is that person REALLY crazy? Are they more messed up than me? Don’t make eye contact!
At the magnetic treatment clinic, we frequently chat. Everyone knows we are there to either have treatment for mental health problems (depression, maybe other things), or supporting someone who’s already run the gambit of every SSRI and all the therapy.
At this clinic, we can all trust each other. We all get it How long has your person been getting the treatment? Has it helped? Can it work? Yes, I say. I think it can. I think it has.
I chat with a husband about Hamilton and Jefferson. I chat with another husband whose wife hadn’t left the house in ten years.
There have been two very young women. One of them has a helper dog, and the dog’s family have warned everyone not to flirt with or pet the dog while the dog is working. It’s very difficult. It’s a very attractive dog.
The clinic has gone from terrifying (first visit) to comforting. We have a routine, all of us who take my friend. The techs know us. The glass jar full of candy. The off-brand cookies laid out for us. The felt autumn leaves that have been taped on at some point in our seven weeks. The Chiefs banner has gone up.
The styrofoam head (the tech told me her name, but I forget), used to show how the little cap the patients wear works. They shoot magnetic impulses at your head. Your eye may twitch. Your teeth may ache. They may need to move the magnet around a little if you get sore, though nothing is touching your head at all. The magnets are pulsing hard.
Now we are more worried about how it will feel to stop treatment.
Last week, I was sitting in my usual spot. I was plowing through another dense abstract text for grad school, gritting my teeth and wishing I had oxen. I glanced down when I thought I saw a movement. It was a movement. It was a big carpenter ant making his way across the floor.
I went back to reading about how nation states and democracy and colonialism affected the spread of secondary education around the world.
“What is it?” the receptionist said.
“It’s just an ant. If it was something worse, like a roach, I would have said something, but it’s just an ant.”
He walked over and leaned down. “Is that an ant? It’s big!”
I currently have the tiniest of ants trying to settle in the corner of my living room, lured by snacks I occasionally eat there. They are so tiny I haven’t bothered to do anything more than squash them with a piece of paper. Or even my finger. Which is gross.
In the house I grew up in, every spring we had the big carpenter ants, like the one in the clinic. Big black gobs of body.
“I’ll take care of it,” the receptionist said, going to get a kleenex or something.
“No! I’ll take him outside,” said the other woman in the waiting room. I hadn’t seen her before.
“Well, okay. If you want to.”
She picked up a business card from his desk and tried to set it in the ant’s way. The ant wasn’t having that. Then it was on the card, and it quickly walked off again. “I love insects. I know it’s weird.”
“Here, use this,” I said, offering her the big 8×10 envelope I had put my school paperwork in.
“Thanks,” she said. She crouched down with the orangey brown envelope, got the ant on this larger life raft, and rushed out of the office to change the ant’s life forever. For all I know, the ant met his true love this way. He would never have met her if he had stayed all his life in the magnet clinic waiting room.
Or it ruined his life. He thought he had achieved enlightenment, turns out there are other worlds of suffering he had never imagined.
One of the songs my dad sang to us was “The Ants Go Marching.” His other songs were “Summertime,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” and “Won’t You Come and Climb the Mountain With Me?”
He would get a little scary with the ants marching song. That was his job, as a dad, to push our fears in front of us, where we could see them. My mom would scoop us up and cover us with her body until the ant departed.
The ants go marching one by one,
The ants go marching one by one
The ants go marching two by two,
the little one stops to tie his shoe,
and they all go marching
down (here his voice got scary)
to the Earth (still scary)
to get out of the rain
Bum bum bum.
We had matching red nightgowns with white lace trim, technically Christmas pajamas, because mine came with a cap that made me Mrs. Claus. We had matching bedspreads, which were pale rainbows. We had a large population of stuffed animals on shelves hung on the wall. We had a record player to listen to music, and a tape recorder to make our own radio shows.
I could never live in the south. The bolder racism and the insects. Nothing ever dies there.
The young woman came back. “Here you go,” she said, returning my envelope.
She set the business card, which hadn’t been big enough for the job, put it back on the receptionist’s desk.
“Let’s just throw this away, why don’t we,” he said.
My friend came out, finished.
More about transcranial magnetic stimulation.