Bob cancelled or postponed his appointments for Tuesday and took a trip to the country, specifically to the Two Maples Mental Health Center in New Jersey. He did not announce his arrival, but they were only too happy to provide an impromptu tour of the facility for the chairman of the Universal Relief Foundation.
He listened patiently to his guide, Dr. Hirlung, until they happened near room 333, at which point Bob, in a spontaneous fashion, said he'd like to talk one-on-one with a patient.
"How about this one?" he asked.
"Okay," said Dr. Hirlung, "but she is hardly a typical patient."
"What's wrong with her?"
"She is classified as autistic, but one of our doctors is convinced that she is schizophrenic. But she is not typical of either, as I said. Very unusual case. But she does provide one good example."
"Example of what?"
"Well, you might think that a prestigious private institution like this one does not depend on grants and foundations. Maybe you picture a slew of wealthy clients sending us their black sheep, so to speak. But here we have an example of a patient who provides us with no income."
"Why not?" asked Bob.
"She requires highly specialized care, but her parents could not begin to afford it. We took it upon ourselves..."
"Why is that?" asked Bob.
"Well, she was such an unusual case. We were fascinated. We were very curious about her condition."
"When did she come here?"
"About twenty years ago," said Dr. Hirlung.
"That long? And you're still fascinated? What progress have you made?"
"None at all. I suppose we've simply … become attached to her.
"And her family?"
"They have forgotten her."
"I want to talk to her," said Bob.
"She may not be responsive."
"Is she catatonic?"
"No, not at all. This is one of the puzzlements of her case. Unlike most autistics, her response to stimuli is perfectly normal. It's clear she can see and hear everything around her."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Well, it's like … she doesn't care. No matter what you say, she doesn't care."
"What's her name?" Bob asked innocently.
"Let me speak to her."
"Please do. Would you like us to wait outside?"
"I would like some time, Dr. Hirlung."
"Oh. Alright. Well, you can phone me when you're … done."
"She has a phone?"
"Just an internal line, for calling a nurse. She's never used it."
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