The Healing Horse, Ch 20, Scene 2: Testing

image of sculpture of schroeinger's cat
In physics, the observer effect describes how measuring something can change it. In psychology, there is a similar effect, in which the attitude and instruments of the psychologist can change the behavior of the person being tested. In this scene, under the icy gaze of an angry psychologist, little Karen tries to pull herself together. She knows her test scores will affect the education she will have access to. But her delicate nervous system shuts down under the pressure. 

(Image by Koogid, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Scene 2: Testing

He opened the door at the end of the hall, and his arm extended again.

“Here we are, child.”

He directed her into a tiny room, no more than a closet.

“Sit, sit,” he said, his voice gnawing on her nerves.

His nose flared.

“Achoo! Excuse me, while I get a Kleenex. We have a lot to accomplish, and I don’t have a lot of my time to spend on you and your problems. Sit down, child, and let’s begin!”

Karen saw how far below him he thought she was. She sat down in one of two white, wooden, spindle-legged chairs, by a two by three foot white porcelain table. On the table were a thick tan file labeled with her name, a stack of testing cards, pencils, pens, a puzzle, a mirror and a coffee cup. The stark white walls had been textured to make the atmosphere warm, but without any pictures or personal touches they still looked sterile. The room was cold, and when she touched the table, it felt icy. She shivered and looked up at him.

So glacial. So very, very glacial and as hard as arctic ice. There is no kind presence, here.

Feeling trapped, she forced herself not to feel limited. She forced herself to focus. She used her willpower to remember how strong and intelligent she was, but she still felt her nervous system failing.

This is how Pegasus must have felt before he came to life, before I rescued him, when he was trapped and thrown on a heap with all the other horses.

Dr. Muñoz began his examination by frowning at her and asking questions in rapid fire, his deep voice taut with urgency. Regardless of what he asked, her stressed nervous system rearranged her sensory input. With every word he spoke, she forgot the word that came before. She could neither visualize them nor recall their sounds. The harder she tried, the more difficulty she had. She could not give the right answers, even though she knew that they were somewhere in her mind. She tried to match his level of insistence, but the more she demanded of herself, the less she could recall.

He asked her about the physics of falling rain and about the names of famous musicians. She understood gravity and condensation in cumulus clouds, and she tried to explain them to him, but she could not find the words. She and her mother delighted in Louis Armstrong, but with Dr. Muñoz’s accent, she thought he was asking her about Elouisa Armstrong, and so he noted that she was unable to appreciate music. Her only relief came when Dr. Muñoz had her assemble some jigsaw puzzles. These were easy, spatial, and nonverbal.

She felt herself becoming exhausted, as the tests drained her of all emotional and intellectual energy. Every effort to bring up a correct response depleted her energy more.

As the session ended, he asked her to repeat groups of numbers back to him, and she trembled inside. This was a decoding problem, her weakness, and exactly what she could not do when she was stressed. Body stiff and rigid, involuntarily shaking, her apprehension grew. She repeated back the numbers: 5, 76, 632, 936, 1066, 90401 and 666064 but she could not see the links between them or recall their order. She knew she must be transposing them and felt overwhelmed. Failure on this part of the test would lower her score even more than not being able to add or subtract without pencil and paper.

The hour with the psychologist seemed like a year with a torturer, and then she was finished. Done.

Without thanking her or giving any encouragement, Dr. Muñoz coldly said, “You can leave, now.”

He pointed to the door, only inches away.

Original Text ©2022, Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.

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