The patient seemed at first to be a rather run-of-the-mill schizophrenic—inasmuch as schizophrenics are ever run-of-the-mill. David Spiegelsen seemed much of the time to be aware of his environment, to be aware that he was in a psychiatric facility, but most of the time he had no idea how he had got here.
He seemed to have no memory of having been found five miles from where his home had just burned down. He wasn’t even sure at the time why he was all the way out there in his pajamas. It was obvious what had happened—there were even witness reports, but he claimed to have no memory of it and every time he was reminded about it, it seemed to hit him like he was hearing about it for the first time.
At first, Dr. Winchell was convinced he was a pathological liar. In the first few sessions, the questions she asked about his family all produced wildly different answers from one day to the next, all of which contrasted starkly with the story his parents, sister and friends presented. Some of these friends he claimed not to even know, and the sister kept getting younger in his versions the first few days, until by the third day, he seemed convinced he didn’t have one.
Most of the other patients she’d had with delusions decided on one and there was some variation to account for their cognitive dissonance, but this was almost like the opposite. In every moment, he had a specific version of his own truth, and regardless of whatever else was going on around him, he clung to it.
And then one day, it all became clear. “How does this keep happening to me?” he asked her. “Why is it always…”
He was aware, then, that his world was topsy-turvy.
“It’s like a parallel universe or something.”
That was when Dr. Winchell remembered an episode she’d seen once of an old sci-fi show on TV where one of the characters kept going from one parallel universe to another.
She read up on quantum physics and the theory of possible worlds, that microscopic changes could create branches in reality, all different universes.
He denied it when she asked him if he’d seen that show or knew of the theory, but that day he happened to be a jock who insisted that even at 120 lbs he was a linebacker, and kept asking about his nine-year-old sister, even though he didn’t have a sister.
It seemed a very convenient delusion to have, infinitely adaptable. His parents insisted he’d never had any particular artistic inclination, but there must have been some tendency towards creativity and imagination.
There must have been something there, wanting to get out and ultimately driving him insane.