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Paradise is purple

From the LabLit short story series

Rebecca Nesbit 20 May 2015

www.lablit.com/article/867

Avoiding the patient’s gaze, Rita suppressed her scientific urges

People think that paradise is yellow, but it’s not, it’s purple. Brighter, purer purple than you can imagine. And the bliss, it’s more profound than you’ve ever felt.”

Rita managed a reassuring smile for her patient, then glanced over to check her voice recorder. Her notes were never good enough for interviews such as these – she couldn’t quite bring herself to record that paradise was purple.

The lady’s records showed that, like Rita, she was in her mid-thirties. She was slim and pretty, and had a look of intensity which suggested she had a lot to say on the topic.

Fearing more descriptions of paradise, Rita asked, “Can I just start by confirming the approximate date of your first epileptic seizure?”

Silence.

Avoiding the patient’s gaze, Rita suppressed her scientific urges and said, “Um, the date of your first... religious experience?”

“It was Christmas 2003. From the first time I witnessed paradise, I have been blessed. Everything around me, it’s more intense now. Paradise smells of the most beautiful flowers you have ever known, and sometimes I glimpse that smell again.”

Rita looked at the EEG trace, which had areas of abnormal activity circled in orange highlighter. “It seems that your first seizure... er... first experience, made permanent changes in your brain. That’s why the way you experience the world has changed.”

“Yes. I am blessed.”

Unable to come up with a response, Rita reverted to her script. “And what medication are you taking?”

“I don’t take any.”

“Nothing?”

“I’m not interested.”

“Have you discussed it with your neurologist? Ecstatic auras can be precursors to loss of consciousness.”

“I have discussed it with every doctor who wanted me to listen. I know that most people think I’m mad, simply because they will never understand.”

This was the kind of thing that reminded Rita why she was a scientist, not a physician. She could focus on her data and not worry about convincing a patient of anything.

No information on brain activity was valuable if you didn’t understand its effect on the patient. Rita, however, was much more interested in analysing activation of the left anterior insula than interviewing patients about the experiences it created.

Still, she listened attentively to the descriptions of paradise. “The lights, they’re dazzling… Imagine every moment of peace, every glimmer of understanding, and put them together… It breaks my heart that nobody stuck in this world can feel the ecstasy.”

Twenty awkward minutes later, Rita concluded the interview with a firm handshake and a thank you. The patient looked relieved to go, but then she paused at the door.

“I know you don’t believe in Paradise, and that you wouldn’t expect to be invited there anyway. But if you will never visit the real thing, wouldn’t you want to view it? Would you simply want to take a tablet to make you normal?” She gave a smile which suggested serenity, and let the door click closed behind her.