Longform

The Hunger Artist

Page 7 of 9

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."

While she struggled with what to say to him, she knew exactly what not to say: Goodbye. She'd been told by one of her son's psychiatrists that to utter that word to him might give him license to commit suicide.

Gail Krasnow was both a cop and a spy when it came to her starving son. He hated to be checked up on, so she devised different ways to peek into his refrigerator, like bringing a bottle of water on her visits to put in his refrigerator. She didn't really need the water -- it was a pretense to scan the few things inside the fridge. On the rare occasions she found herself alone in his room, she'd pop through his cabinets to make sure he had food. Usually there would be a jar of peanut butter, some canned tuna and chicken, and cereal. He claimed to eat about 1000 calories a day in those last years, just enough to sustain his sparse weight. He wrote that in an average day, he would eat two ounces of cereal in milk in the morning, and a sandwich (peanut butter, tuna, or chicken) in the evening with a banana and juice.

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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