wrong medicine

wrong medicine

By Robert M. Kaplan |

My current opus, The King Who Strangled His Psychiatrist and Other Dark Tales, is a journey through the three elements of disease – doctors, diseases and patients – filled with surprising conditions, cases and individuals. The famous or notorious people described are not all sick but show behaviors that illustrate the human condition.

These elements come together in Ludwig II. The mad monarch who built these enchanting castles in Bavaria was locked in a palace coup before strangling his psychiatrist and drowning – the only known case in history of a psychiatrist being killed by his own hands of a royal (so far). My colleagues should read this with concern.

Otto von Bismarck (the man, not the herring), the Chancellor of the German Empire and the greatest politician of his time, drank and drank to death before the wacky doctor Ernst Schweninger save the life.

Half-forgotten adventurers whose dreams turned into nightmares were Harold Lasseter – wasting his life searching for a non-existent gold reef in Central Australia – and Maurice Wilson, driven by a messianic dream to scale Mount Everest unaided and succumbing to a day’s climb from the High.

Among the doctors are psychiatrist Johan Scharffenberg, a Norwegian resistance hero; Bernard Spilsbury, the CSI pioneer whose evidence led to the unjust hanging of at least three men; Humphry Osmond, who tested LSD in a remote Canadian province; Max Jacobson, who pushed John F. Kennedy at top speed (and nearly derailed the president’s 1961 summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna); the charismatic Leander Starr Jameson, who started a war with his impetuous raid into the Transvaal Republic; and Arnold Hutschnecker, Richard Nixon’s therapist.

The early psychoanalysts were an interesting group. The brilliant Viktor Tausk, rejected by both Freud and Helene Deutsch as an analysand, died shooting and hanging himself. Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, the first child analyst, was murdered by the nephew she wrote about. Hermann Rorschach, the inkblot man and cult enthusiast, died tragically young, never knowing how his work became a meme.

Deception is everywhere. Czech-born criminal Milan Brych, the fake cancer specialist, has filled a graveyard with his patients in the Cook Islands. In the age of the internet influencer, pert Belle Gibson garnered hundreds of thousands of followers with her claim to cure brain tumors through diet and healthy lifestyle before being exposed as never having had cancer. The book Sybila literary fraud, led to a famous movie and a diagnosis: multiple personality disorder.

Criminals whose exploits are described in the book include Hawley Harvey Crippen, a British doctor who was hanged on disputed evidence provided by Spilsbury; Lowell Lee Andrews, the murderer who shared a cell with the killers spoken of by Truman Capote In cold blood; and Ira Einhorn, the American New Age guru who beat his girlfriend to death and lived in Europe for two decades before being extradited. Mass murderer Louis van Schoor, who ended up in the same prison as his matricide daughter, is not forgotten.

Other unignored assassins include Dimitri Tsafendas, who responded to a worm in his stomach that told him to kill the architect of apartheid, Hendrick Verwoerd. Lee Harvey Oswald is mentioned, as are physicians Edward Charles Spitzka and Edward Anthony Spitzka, father and son, who testified at the trials of the assassins of 18th century US presidents James Garfield and William McKinley, respectively.

Some treatments and remedies come from strange ideas. Bernadette Soubirous’ visions created the spa town of Lourdes but did not prevent her untimely death. Milton Rokeach put three patients with schizophrenia, each of them believing they were Jesus Christ, together for two years and finally decided he had been deceived as much as they were in trying to cure them. Aristocrat Amanda Feilding led an election campaign to allow trepanation (drilling holes in the head).

Assembled with the shameless panache that pervades my writing, would The King Who Strangled His Psychiatrist and Other Dark Tales not be a book worth publishing and letting the public show their approval? I have no doubt. No editor would know; they do not read, respond to, or reject my heartfelt pleas.

In the meantime, having remembered everything and learned nothing, I write about Helen Flanders Dunbar, the beautiful polymath who discovered accident proneness and became a victim of her own discovery. It’s better than living a quiet writer’s life of despair. And who knows? Another rejection slip may arrive to cheer me up tomorrow. In all likelihood, self-publishing awaits us.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/21/2022 issue of Weekly Editors under the title: Bad Medicine

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