"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"She's been having hallucinations and thought she's possessed," the medical officer on the other end told me. "We are admitting her for observation - in case it is really endometritis - but we would appreciate it if you can come and review her. She seems distressed though. Afraid. Especially after we told her that she would be admitted."
18 year old Malay woman. Just given birth to her first child a few days ago. Judging from the brief blurb my O&G colleague gave me, it might mean postpartum psychosis. It was 10 PM and I was not thrilled considering that I had to chase my last postpartum psychosis patient down a long hallway to stop her from "rescuing" her baby from the nursery.
I quickly found the ward and the patient's bed and I saw that both the patient's husband and mother was helping her to settle down. I know I should never make snap judgements from simple once-overs but the girl I was suppose to see appeared a lot saner than I thought she would be. Her name, for the purpose of this article, is Ruya.
After introducing myself, I interviewed everyone and this was the story I was given: When Ruya was twelve, her grandmother witnessed her rising from her bed after she had fallen asleep. She then tried to leave her room when her frightened grandmother gave her an urgent shake, jolting her out of her blank, trance-like state. Ruya herself was surprised to find herself out of her bed and remembered none of her actions preceding her awakening. "It was like waking up from sleep," she told me.
Throughout the years, this odd nocturnal behaviour recurred alongside frequent nightmares. Ruya's baffled and terrified family then sought out the help of bomohs, shamans and medicine men who confirmed their worst suspicions - Ruya was being plagued by djinns and demons which possesses her to steal her away. However, nothing these witch doctors do could free Ruya from their clutches. "The spirits are too strong," they said in their failure.
Finally, they came into the care of a Muslim imam - a man they refer to simply as the Ustaz. The Ustaz gave them the same supernatural diagnosis and have told them that over the years, the spirits plaguing Ruya had multiplied in numbers due to the machinations of vengeful bomohs they have stopped patronising. And, with the help of this imam, the incidence of grand-theft-Ruya decreased as she grew older. Then it stopped altogether. Impressed by the spiritual mojo that this imam displayed, the family converted to Islam because clearly, it is the One True Religion™, is it not? Why else would Ruya's night visitors loosen their grips on her?
Keeping my face as straight as I could, I asked one very critical question: Did any of these "paranormal activities" occurred when Ruya is awake?
"My O&G colleague told me that you appeared very distressed and upset that you have to be admitted in this hospital. Why is that?" I asked further.
Ruya said that that's because she was afraid that she might have to stay in the hospital overnight alone. The Ustaz have apparently told her that she must never ever be alone or the spooks and djinns will take the opportunity to assault her again.
"Please tell O&G to discharge me tomorrow! Or my mother will have to sleep here with me for another night!"
At that moment, I felt very angry but since I'm a professional, I smiled instead. I started off by telling them that there are a lot of schools of knowledge and I happen to be from a school of medicine. I told them that what I know might bring Ruya some relief and proceeded to explain that Ruya is (or was) a somnambulist i.e. she walks in her sleep. Sleepwalking is very common in children and as a child grows older, the episodes will naturally decrease in frequency, as observed in Ruya's case.
After my brief lecture, Ruya's mother thanked me and mistakenly addressed me with the honorific of "Ustaz" (which I declined politely). Ruya's husband however incorporated the information I have given him into his worldview and agreed that the devious ghosts and ghoulies have been using sleepwalking to lure Ruya out of her bedroom. Holy crap, you can never win with these people!
Realising that this is a battle I don't want to fight so late in the evening, I politely excused myself, went down to the labour room and told the O&G team that they have just referred a case of sleepwalking to me. I gave Ruya an appointment, but not for her somnambulism.
Anyway, how did the imam "know" that it was evil spirits that's plaguing Ruya? Was he lying or did he fool himself into thinking he is able to detect supernatural entities just because he went to Qur'an school or something? And boy he must have considered it a great success to convert an entire family to his brand of magical thinking. Had Ruya's family consulted a Christian pastor or a Taoist priest just as her symptoms were abating, they would be following a very different god today.
I am frequently told that I should leave people's beliefs alone because, why take them away if it comforts them? Ruya is one of the reasons why. Thanks to pure superstitions peddled by the shamans and the imam, a young woman had become so afraid of the world around her that she must be accompanied by family members at all times. And this is not the first time I have one of my patients harmed by one of these charlatans.
This is the 21st fucking century, people. Stop being afraid of the dark.
He who bumps back,
k0k s3n w4i