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The Hunger Artist

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His mother still fumes at that chapter, which came as a revelation to her. Michael complained at the time, but she and her husband were told by other doctors that the psychiatrist had a wonderful reputation. She was afraid if she took Dr. P out of the picture, her son might get even worse. "I didn't know where else to go." She now knows it was a mistake to keep him going to Dr. P for nearly three years, after which, Krasnow wrote, his "depression increased to the point where it could not get any worse. It never let up. I just wanted to die."

Compounding this failure was the fact that anorexia in males is an ignored or hidden malady, while the mainstream media trumpets the disorder as a female problem. Males do comprise only a tiny percentage of anorexics, but experts in the field universally believe many more male anorexics are out there, yet to be diagnosed. For diagnosed males, there are only a few residential treatment centers in the country for them, none in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, or Broward counties. The Renfrew, Fort Lauderdale's only residential treatment center for those suffering with eating disorders, is exclusively for females, though it recently began treating males on an outpatient basis.

Krasnow managed to maintain a weight of between 110 to 120 pounds through the end of high school, terribly thin but not life-threateningly so. It was his father's life that was threatened: During Krasnow's senior year, his father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable and fatal form of muscular dystrophy. The grim truth was that his father would die, maybe in a year, maybe in a decade.

When Michael started commuting from his parents' house to a nearby college in the fall of 1987, he dropped breakfast from his diet, causing his weight to plummet to 96 pounds. His parents committed him to the psychiatric ward at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. He was told he could leave if he got his weight back up to 100 pounds. Instead he decided to kill himself. "Now I was (and still am) too much of a coward to shoot or stab myself or anything like that. The only way I would commit suicide is to fast and starve myself to death," he wrote.

He gained the five pounds necessary to get out of the hospital, withdrew some cash from his bank account, bought a one-way Greyhound ticket to Orlando, and took off. Police were put on the case, and stories about him running away appeared in the Boston newspapers, but Michael made it to Orlando anyway. The next day he decided to take an Amtrak train back to Boston, taking his "chances with dying on the train," he wrote in a diary entry. "If I'm not dead when I get to Boston, I don't know what I'll do." Before getting on the train, he inexplicably called his parents, which led to police finding him and his return home.

"What I will say about those five days 'on the run' is that I had peace of mind," he wrote. "I felt better about myself than I had for years."

Back home he started starving himself again, and by March 5, 1988, he was down to 81 pounds, prompting his parents to commit him to Bournewood Hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he refused to gain weight, yet maintained his 80 pounds. "We were at an impasse," he wrote. It was here he was first treated by a psychiatrist named Stephen Wiener, another of the select few medical professionals who gained Krasnow's respect.

Wiener had him transferred to the eating disorders unit at Children's Hospital in Boston. It would be his only stay at a residential treatment program designed for anorexics, and, at age nineteen, he was out of place, a young man among kids.

He did well there anyway, gradually bringing his weight up to 92 pounds. Not long after he reluctantly agreed to increase his daily caloric intake to 1750, he was told to increase again, to 2000. "The plan was for me to get up to 110 to 120 pounds. To me this was unthinkable." He began to consider running away. Any chance of success was shattered by an arbitrary two-month time limit the hospital set on stays in the residential center. He was told he would soon have to leave Children's. "This would mean starting all over... I felt overwhelmed. On May 24, I ran."

His escape led to more headlines in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Middlesex News. ("Parents fear for son who left hospital," read one; "'Troubled' teen flees hospital," went another.) This time he made it to North Carolina, where he checked into a hotel to starve himself to death. After seven days of total fasting (no liquids either), he was still alive. He called his parents and they came and got him.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman