By Robert M. Kaplan |
My current work The king who strangled his psychiatrist and other dark tales, is a journey through the three elements of disease: doctors, diseases and patients, full of surprising conditions, cases and individuals. The famous or notorious described are not all sick but they demonstrate behaviors that illustrate the human condition.
These elements come together in Ludwig II. The mad monarch who built those lovely castles in Bavaria was locked up in a palace coup before strangling his psychiatrist and drowning himself, the only known case in history of a psychiatrist being murdered by the royals’ own hands (so far). My colleagues should read this with trepidation.
Otto von Bismarck (the man, not the herring), the chancellor of the German Empire and the greatest politician of his day, was drinking and drinking himself to death before the eccentric doctor Ernst Schweninger saved his life.
Half-forgotten adventurers whose dreams turned to nightmares included Harold Lasseter, who wasted his life searching for a non-existent gold reef in central Australia, and Maurice Wilson, driven by a messianic dream of climbing Mount Everest single-handedly and succumbing to it. a day of climbing from the top.
The doctors include psychiatrist Johan Scharffenberg, a hero of the Norwegian resistance; Bernard Spilsbury, the CSI pioneer whose evidence led to at least three men being wrongfully hanged; Humphry Osmond, who tried LSD in a remote Canadian province; Max Jacobson, who speeded up John F. Kennedy (and nearly botched the president’s 1961 summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna); the charismatic Leander Starr Jameson, who started a war with his headlong raid on the Transvaal Republic; and Arnold Hutschnecker, Richard Nixon’s therapist.
The early psychoanalysts were an interesting bunch. The brilliant Viktor Tausk, dismissed by both Freud and Helene Deutsch as an analysand, died by shooting and hanging himself. Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, the first child analyst, was murdered by her nephew that she had written about. Hermann Rorschach, the inkblot man and cult enthusiast, tragically died young, never knowing how his work had become a meme.
Deception is always present. Czech-born criminal Milan Brych, the fake cancer specialist, filled a cemetery with his patients in the Cook Islands. In the age of internet influencers, the opinionated Belle Gibson attracted hundreds of thousands of followers with her claim that she cured brain tumors through a healthy diet and lifestyle before being exposed as if she had never had cancer. The book Sibyla literary fraud, led to a famous movie and a diagnosis: multiple personality disorder.
The 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 murderers written about in Truman Capote’s novel. 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. The mass murderer Louis van Schoor, who ended up in the same prison as his matriculated daughter, is not forgotten.
Other not-ignored killers include Dimitri Tsafendas, who responded to a worm in his belly that told him to kill apartheid architect Hendrick Verwoerd. Lee Harvey Oswald is mentioned, as are the father and son doctors Edward Charles Spitzka and Edward Anthony Spitzka, who respectively testified in the trials of the assassins of 18th-century American presidents James Garfield and William McKinley.
Some treatments and cures come from strange ideas. Bernadette Soubirous’s visions created the healing spa of Lourdes but did not prevent her premature death. Milton Rokeach put three schizophrenia patients, each of whom believed he was Jesus Christ, together for two years and finally decided that he had been as deluded as they were in trying to cure them. Aristocrat Amanda Feilding campaigned to allow trephination (drilling holes in the head).
Coupled with the immodest panache that permeates my writing, could I The king who strangled his psychiatrist and other dark tales Wouldn’t it be a book worth publishing and letting the public show its approval? I have no doubt. No publisher would know this; they do not read, nor answer nor reject my fervent pleas.
Meanwhile, having remembered everything and learned nothing, I write about Helen Flanders Dunbar, the beautiful scholar who discovered accident proneness and became a victim of her own discovery. It beats living a life of quiet despair as a writer. And who knows? Another rejection receipt may arrive tomorrow to cheer me up. In all likelihood, self-publishing is yet to come.
A version of this article appeared in the 11/21/2022 issue of weekly editors under the title: Bad medicine