The Hunger Artist

Michael Krasnow was one of the few male anorexics to leave behind a detailed account of his life. And his reasons for dying.

The physicians tried to force-feed him by pushing a clear plastic tube up his nose, down through his nasal cavity and throat, and into his stomach. Krasnow ripped the tubes out of his nose, the first skirmish in a weeks-long battle:

June 30: Still resisting doctors' efforts, he weighs 67 3/4 pounds.
July 2: Now at 67 pounds, the situation is critical. With Spielberg on vacation, a substitute doctor orders a forced feeding. The doctor, named only "Dr. V" in Krasnow's book, tried to shove the tubes down Krasnow's throat, but Krasnow refuses to swallow them. "Nine times he pushed them in and yanked them out. I started to cough up blood. Later the nurse would tell me, 'It was so gross that I had to turn away.'" His wrists were tied down and his head was restrained. Krasnow "was still able to shake his head from side to side violently enough to throw the feeding tube back up his throat from his stomach," Wiener later wrote of it.

July 3: Krasnow is winning. His weight: 66 1/4 pounds. He manages to yank the tube out another dozen times.

July 5: Krasnow's blood-sugar level drops so low he has a hypoglycemic attack and goes into respiratory arrest. His mother, sitting in a waiting room, hears the word "code" and runs to her son's room to see doctors trying to revive him. "I remember thinking my head was going to explode," she remembered. "They forced me into my chair. I screamed, 'Let him alone! Let him be at peace!' He'd been through so much already." He was revived and put into the intensive care unit.

July 7: As a last resort, Krasnow is put on TPN, which stands for total parenteral nutrition and involves a feeding tube being sewn into a vein in his neck. To keep him from pulling out this tube, casts are placed on both arms and his wrists are tied down. One of Krasnow's lungs collapses, perhaps as a result of the TPN, requiring another tube to be sewn into his chest for reinflation.

July 8: Another hypoglycemic attack leads to respiratory arrest, and again he is revived. He later remembered that while he was dreaming, he told himself: "Wait 24 hours to die." He wants to say goodbye to a cousin. His body is cannibalizing itself, causing extreme bone marrow deficiency and wreaking havoc on his liver.

July 10: Spielberg returns. The hypoglycemic attacks continue and Krasnow, covered in blankets because of severe hypothermia, drifts in and out of consciousness.

July 20: After days on the brink, doctors discuss sewing a feeding tube into Krasnow's stomach for more-direct feeding.

July 23: The tube in his lung causes an infection. Krasnow's temperature shoots up to 104 degrees. He receives antibiotic injections.

The feeding tube in Krasnow's neck was keeping him alive and talk of the stomach operation resumed. Finally, at the end of July, Krasnow agreed to drink a can of Ensure, a chocolate-flavored nutritional drink, that Spielberg had brought him. It was a moment his mother never forgot, watching him voluntarily eat again.

He got back up to 70 pounds, but his depression was still so severe that doctors again decided to give him electroshock therapy. In the middle of August, the electricity was pumped into him, and he reentered a mental cloud. He managed to recall telling a nurse he wouldn't eat or do anything she asked him to do unless she stopped treating him like a baby.

"I was the boss -- all-powerful and in control."
The following year, after another failed attempt to starve himself to death left him at 68 pounds, Dr. Spielberg called a truce with him. Rather than commit him to a hospital, he let Krasnow bring his weight up on his own.

Thus freed Krasnow, at the age of 21, moved to Broward County to run his uncle's finance company. Despite the medically proven fact that starvation shrinks the brain, his mind was clear enough to run a complex company, and through his own studies and his days at college, he'd become an expert with both computer systems and tax laws.

There seemed to be hope after all.

What do you say to a man who looks like he might vaporize before your eyes? For many years any trace of fat and muscle was impossible to find on Krasnow. But even more disturbingly, so was any emotion. He barely looked human, and he certainly didn't act like one. One relative wouldn't go to see him. "What are we going to talk about?" he'd say.

Even his mother had problems talking to the son she'd spent thousands of dollars and years of her life to help. Some days he simply didn't speak to her when she did visit, not a word, only leaden silence.

"I had to wrack my brains to come up with things to talk about," she said.
All she wanted to get from her son was a reaction, a sign that he still had feelings. She never got it. The only emotion her son ever showed her in his last years was occasional anger, usually when he didn't agree with what she had said. When he had something to say, he would say it bluntly. When his mother would tell him she loved him, he'd calmly reply: "I'd believe you, if you didn't say it so much."

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