The story of Wendell Davidson had begun to spread and had been covered by several newspapers in the tri-state area, including the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger. Ruth Davidson had fumbled her way through several interviews with newspapermen over the days since his return. Her son had sat beside her, mute and unmoved, his condition unchanged. She fielded questions, and her son sat blankly beside her, no clear indications that he was either watching or listening, no sign of presence or consciousness or awareness.
To see her son so doggedly silent pushed Ruth into a state of depression. She shied away from social interaction and wandered languidly around her house during the day and nestled close to her husband at night. She avoided appointments that used to be an unvarying part of her regular social calendar: afternoon coffee with the neighbors, semi-weekly tennis with friends and a weekly book club. She instead preferred to sit at home and listen to the radio. She used her son as an excuse, saying she had to care for him, but she genuinely wanted to avoid contact with friends and acquaintances. However, due to this social isolation, she found herself even more voluble with her husband when he returned home at night, divulging to him the full contents of her thoughts and emotions on a nightly basis.
She received a phone call during one of these langorous days. A man with a subtly foreign accent greeted her and announced almost straight away, “I have called you because I believe I can help your son.” The bold pronouncement so surprised Ruth that she didn’t know how to reply. “I have read about your son’s story. I received your number from Mr. Fitzsimmons of the Long Islander. My name is Dr. Felix Lutz. I am a practicing psychiatrist with offices in Manhattan, and I want to help your son.”
“I would be grateful if you could do so, but I don’t know if…”
“You needn’t come to Manhattan,” Dr. Lutz interrupted her, “I will come to you. If you are busy I will make it convenient for you. And you needn’t worry about payment. I will waive my usual fee. Whatever doubts you have, I will resolve them. You see, I am curious to study your son. Please do not let my words mislead you. I do not see him as some laboratory animal. I do want to help him. But I believe he has much to teach us in the psychology profession. He can help me as much as I can help him. If I can succeed in treating your son we psychiatrists will gain much in our understanding of the human mind, and it will significantly improve our ability to help other patients. I trust that you understand that your son does need psychiatric help.”
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked with a heavy breath.
“I hesitate to offer diagnosis without having met your son,” Dr. Lutz said, “The accounts that I have read suggest neurotic depression or catatonic schizophrenia, perhaps even dissociation. I was tempted to diagnose it as apallic syndrome, but I don’t think that’s right. But really I need to see him, especially since what I’ve read suggests that there are features of his condition that don’t fit neatly within these diagnoses. So are you willing to let me offer my services?”
There was a long silence as Dr. Lutz waited for her response. “I can’t tell you either which way right now,” she said, “I have to ask my husband. But thank you for your offer. It’s awfully kind of you.”
“Call me back as soon as you decide and we can begin treatment immediately,” he said.
Ruth talked to her husband that evening over dinner. “I received a call from Dr. Felix Lutz,” she said, “He’s a psychiatrist. He says he can help Wendell.”
Wendell sat at the table with a plate in front of him. He carefully and slowly pierced the bits of pork chops and broccoli that sat on the plate in front of him and guided them into his mouth. Ruth had already cut the food for him, since he otherwise, for whatever reason (stubbornness? confusion? ignorance), wouldn’t eat it.
Frank watched his son’s deliberate and careful motions as he ate. “How much does he charge?” Frank asked.
“He says he’ll do it for free,” Ruth said, “Our son is a unique case and he’s curious to study him.” She felt a perverse bit of pride as she said these things, as if this was something to brag about. “He might also be looking for some notoriety,” she added.
“Do you know anything about this Dr. Lutz?” Frank asked, “Is he a professional? Does he have credentials? Are we sure we can trust him with our son?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “I’ll ask. I’ll call up Mr. Fitzsimmons, the reporter. He apparently knows him.”
“If you think we can trust him, I say we give it a try,” Frank said, “Perhaps this head shrinker has some tricks up is sleeve. I’m entirely stumped.”