Arthur Bettleheim is a man in pain.
Every moment is spent in unending, inexplicable agony. Every limb aches. Every nerve is on fire. Through pain-filled eyes he glimpses a hidden world of secret knowledge and monstrous shapes. The monsters stalk his days and haunt his nights, bringing him to the brink of madness. There is no escape. No respite.
Bettleheim consulted doctors and psychotherapists, witch doctors and quacks. He visited hospitals and sanatoriums. No one could help him.
Then he hears rumors of a man who can take away the pain.
For a price…
Here is a Brief Excerpt:
The painletter was a soft-spoken little man with grubby hands and the stench of whisky on his breath. He was not at all what I had been expecting. I had heard the rumors, of course, whispered softly in the sanatoriums and sickrooms of Europe, rumors of a man who could extract your pain like letting blood, and in my desperation I had even begun to believe, not entirely, but enough. It was not credulity that had brought me here, but need. I needed to believe. There were no other options left. I had tried them all. For years now, my life had been a litany of never-ending torments, of horrendous treatments and learned doctors, of monsters, and, I feared, of madness. It appeared now that in my desperation, at least, I was not alone.
The painletter ushered me into a small, cramped waiting room. I could find no trace of sympathy or concern about him. He seemed distracted, impatient, and almost eager. I appreciated that lack of sympathy. I had come to find pity abhorrent. It was nothing but a degradation, a humiliation born of self-congratulation. They were always so proud of their compassion, as if it alone could save me. I longed to spit in their smug faces, but I held my tongue. I always held my tongue. For his part, the painletter was practically rude in his brusqueness. I treasured that rudeness, basked in it. I hadn’t felt so human in an eternity.
The waiting room was windowless and narrow. There was a door on the other end, a handful of rickety chairs with faded upholstery, and an unexpectedly ornate wall clock. Everything else about this place was broken down and crumbling, from the wallpaper to the people, but the clock looked brand new. Perhaps it was a gift from a grateful patient.
There were four other patients already there, waiting their turn. I recognized most of them. There was Kindlmann, my former cubical neighbor from a shower bath in Dresden. Next to him sat a scrawny Spaniard I remembered from a sanatorium in the Alps, and hunched over across from him was an elderly Greek I had met at a mineral bath in Turkey. The only one I had never seen before was the woman, but she had the same haunted eyes and shrunken body as the rest of us.
“Bettleheim,” the Spaniard greeted. I mustered a wan smile in return and nodded to the others. I had forgotten his name.
These were my people, my fellow travelers, but as I peered into their feverish, haunted eyes, I felt no kinship. I had no room left in me for any suffering but my own. The journey from my hotel had been harrowing, a now familiar odyssey of torments, and my energy was all but spent.
I had walked from the hotel, several miles across the city through teeming thoroughfares and winding cobblestone streets. Flagging down a cab or boarding one of the newfangled trolley cars would have been faster, but being trapped in those enclosed spaces, subject to every jolt and jostle on the road, might have been the death of me.
Every stumbling step had sent burning, aching flames through my legs, but I could set my own pace. I could rest from time to time. Sometimes, though, a sudden pain would bring me up short, breathing heavily as the crowd was forced to part around me. Other times I was twisted around, my body tying itself into unnatural knots.
The daylight too was painfully bright. My eyes ached under the strain and my ears rang. Every voice, every creaking cart and trolley bell, vibrated inside my head, and struck me like a physical blow. I felt dizzy, adrift in a city that was not my own, and a world that was out of joint. I could feel people’s eyes on me, judging me. My shriveled humiliation on parade for all to see. I knew it was my imagination playing tricks, dredging up demons from my mind, but still I could not help my sense of persecution and shame.
My mind was proving as treacherous as my body. From the corner of my eye I saw shapes and monsters on the streets, leering at me, but when I turned to face them head on, I found they had vanished as if they had never been. I could never see them properly through a haze of light and agony, but they had become familiar companions, counterparts to my strange aches and sharp pains. I feared that I was going mad, driven to it at last in my final extremities. It would be natural for a man of my proclivities, a writer and dabbler in the occult, to hallucinate monsters and demons when faced with a mysterious pain.
More than that, my torments had begun with a dream, or perhaps in a dream—a dream of horror and agony. Afterwards, I felt as though all the suffering that followed had pursued me out into the waking world. It was an absurd notion and I am not an absurd man, but I could not shake the sense that the pain was not my own, that my limbs and nerves had been abducted and subverted by some outside ineffable force. I turned to absinthe for the sweet release of oblivion. When that failed I self-prescribed a number of opiates, but they only made the dreams worse, full of jagged edges. That was the start of my long and fruitless odyssey through the darker side of medicine.