Getting Over It



I’ve returned to Vermont, but I’m not letting go of Yerevan. There’s something about this city, at once wide open to imagination, and rife with wicked problems. It’s responsibility, not disaffection, that drives the breakup–I’ve got to return to my post.  But I don’t want to get over Yerevan.

Case. 5 month old with recurrent intracranial hemorrhages–can you help us with this problem? The neurosurgeon opens up the CD for us. The hemorrhages are sub- and epi-dural, bilateral, of varying ages. The collections undoubtedly explain the child’s hypotonia, even as he looks alert, tuned in. Whatever the cause, there is no fix, other than tender loving care. The child’s brain will have to heal itself up. “Hypotonia is the least of this child’s problems” says the surgeon.

Why these hemorrhages? No known trauma or bleeding problems. But “non-accidental trauma,” as the euphemism goes, typically presents with the history “no trauma.” I suggest long bone films, an eye exam, for evidence of mistreatment. My colleague looks doubtful. “No, we don’t see this … because in Armenia, children are gold” she responds. They are gold everywhere, I think, even if parents, in non-accidental fits of physical rage, sometimes forget.

Brain injury in abused infants stems ultimately from an interaction that, while not accidental, has lost track of its intent. The caretakers’ anger blinds them to their responsibility to get over frustration, to not let a tempest in their brain’s limbic system shut down their restraining frontal lobes.  I’m sorry for the jailed parents who lost their moral compass in an emotional storm, and for their battered children.

Gohar Droshagiryan's Drawing for Like Water On Stone, animation of Dana's novel.

Gohar Droshagiryan’s Drawing for Like Water On Stone, animation of Dana’s novel.

Getting through such a storm, autonomically speaking, is a journey through some woolly peaks and valleys, and it’s a little different for each of us. You can divide us according to the alacrity with which our stress responses erupt with sweat, fear, and pounding heart, and how quickly they simmer down. If we quarrel, I may have thought things through (all right, you apologized, I accept …) before you’ve really settled down (but I’m still upset about it and we’ll both just have to deal with that until …“)? Reconciliation doesn’t happen all at once.

Case 3 year old boy, losing weight, and hakarak, aggressiva–increasingly contrary and aggressive. But his weight seems OK, and he won’t let go of the doctor’s chocolate snacks for the gait examination. Off to play therapy. Play, among other things, is a good way to learn how to go in and out of frustration in peace.

Neuro-responsibility. At what age do we lose that gold, that innocence that should assure us respect as children? And how can we verify the capacity for knowing intention that makes us responsible, culpable for our mistakes? In the 19th century, there was a trend for some poor mothers to plead temporary insanity when their babies were found murdered. And the juries were sympathetic.

Temporary insanity was a well-established legal defense in Europe–a gift of the psychologists to the lawyers you might say–when, in a Berlin street in 1922, an Armenian shot and killed Talaat Pasha, one of the primary architects of the Armenian genocide. The assassin was acquitted–temporary insanity. His defense lawyers made the case with photos and narratives of a horror whose legacy was still in its infancy. That trial brought Armenia as close as it ever came to a proper public disgracing of its frenzied murderers. The evidence gathered became a study guide for Raphael Lemkin, who later coined the term genocide.

Music. Aram, my oud teacher, has brought his duduk-playing friend Sevada so that I can purchase one of his duduks for Jeff, back home. A flute made from an apricot tree, and resonated by a bamboo reed, the duduk makes one of the most soulful sounds you can hear. Before we close the purchase, Aram and Seva play Hov Arek, Come Breeze, by Komitas, who is said to have been driven insane following his imprisonment in Istanbul in 1915. It pulls my heartstrings, this tune, and I pull back. I keep re-playing it, but I still haven’t gotten over it.


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