âVery delicious,â said one of the students. “I love apricots.”
âThank you,â the professor said. Youth should be corrected gently. “Plums,” he whispered. âWe had a big harvest this year. It all depends on the weather. “
âIt all depends on the weather,â said one of the researchers.
– Indeed, said the professor. “You might well say that. “
There was a short silence. The professor began. “I might as well start,” he said.
One of the students licked his fingers after finishing a plum. Another surreptitiously looked at her phone. She was expecting a text from her boyfriend. She suspected that he had stopped loving her. The lecturer in abnormal psychology wiped his lips with a handkerchief. She wanted another plum, but wasn’t sure she should ask for one. She decided not to do it.
The professor grabbed his notes. “I thought we could look at the most extraordinary case today,” he said. “I just saw the patient and will see him again, but thought a few preliminary observations might be of interest.”
They looked at him hopefully.
“The patient is a young man in his twenties,” said the professor. âI’ll call him Bruce. He was referred to me by a colleague at the Royal Infirmary who asked him if he would mind having a psychiatric examination after coming forward with a non-psychiatric complaint. He stopped himself. âHe had been struck by lightning.
The lecturer in abnormal psychology let out an involuntary laugh. “I would definitely complain if I was struck by lightning.”
One of the medical students smiles. âShocking,â he said.
The professor looked at him with slight disapproval. âLet’s not laugh at our patient’s woes,â he said.
The student looked sorry and blushed. He had simply followed the remark made by the lecturer in abnormal psychology. She had made the original joke, but it was he who was blamed. They were hierarchies for you, right? It was.
“Bruce was quite ready to see me,” the professor continued. âPhysically, he escaped largely intact. A small area of ââvery shallow burns – and a rib fracture or two where he landed on the road. He was apparently thrown some distance into the air by the impact of lightning.
“Amazing,” said the psychiatric registrar. “You’d thinkâ¦ how many volts are in a lightning bolt?” Over 230, I imagine.
âAs it turns out,â said the professor, âI researched this before I saw it. The figure is surprising. It’s millions of volts, apparently. Millions. And yet I have read that ninety percent of those who are struck survive. Yes, I was surprised by this, considering that we are talking about so many volts, but you are out of luck if you succumb.
âBad luck if you get hit in the first place, sure enough,â the psychiatric registrar said. “What are the chances of being hit?” It must be quite unlikely. Has anyone here been struck by lightning? See? Anybody.”
âActually,â said the professor, âI watched that too. There are wild variations in the estimate of the odds. I have seen one in three hundred thousand being mentioned. But the British Medical Journal has me. assured that it was rather one in ten million. The Office of National Statistics, however, says that it is about one in a million each year. This means that about sixty people are struck by lightning each year in the Kingdom. -United.
There was a short silence as this information was digested. It was not a comfortable thought. It could happen. It wasn’t that unlikely.
“But the point,” the professor continued, “is that this young man was actually struck by lightning on Dundas Street.”
One of the medical students thought, I am not going. Not me.
âHe was walking down the street when it happened and he was taken by ambulance to the Royal. Like I said, there was little physical damage. But then, when I saw it, I realized there was a much more interesting dimension to the case. Simply put, love at first sight led to what can amount to a big personality change. “
The lecturer in abnormal psychology frowned. She didn’t like it when people waved the term personality indiscriminately, and she had particular opinions on any reference to personality cash. What exactly did that mean?
The professor caught her attention. “Alright, Alice,” he said. “I know your point of view on this, but put it this way: there has been a significant, if not complete change, not only in affect but in attitude. Will you accept it? “
âAs far as he goes, yes. Corn â¦”
The professor raised his hand. âBe with me. A notable feature of this case is that the patient seemed to have a good understanding of his own behavior. There was considerable self-awareness. He took the trouble to tell me about his faults. He used terms like narcissism and selfishness and painted a rather uncomfortable picture of what he had been before this experience.
The main conference in Abnormal Psychology did not seem impressed. âIt’s not that rare, of course,â she said. âPeople often refer to what they see as a past self in derogatory terms. This happens when they have conversion experience, for example. Talk to a born-again Christian about what he looked like before, and you might achieve a startling degree of self-abasement. Or to a reformed drinker. This does not mean that there has been a fundamental shift in the deeply rooted traits. It can mean that there has been a conscious reassessment and a strategic decision to suppress certain impulses, certain behaviors if you will. It’s not the same as the so-called personality change. The underlying impulses may still be there.
The professor looked out the window. He felt slightly irritated. It was his seminar. she had eaten his plums. What if you couldn’t talk about personality change in a case like this, then what could you say about it? Nothing, really.
He looked away from the window. “I understand your point of caution,” he said. âBut let’s put that aside for now and look at what happened here. It’s not about theoretical positioning on taxonomy or etiology, or anything like that. He glanced disapprovingly at the lecturer in abnormal psychology. âThis is the experience of a real young man to whom something very unusual has happened. Let’s look at this for a moment or two.
Â© Alexander McCall Smith, 2021. A Pledge of Pegs (Scotland Street 14) is available now. Love in the Time of Bertie (Scotland Street 15) will be published by Polygon in a hardcover version in November 2021.