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Gandhi As A Patient: The Spirit Struggling Against His Ailed Body

During my routine search on literature related to Mahatma Gandhi, one study attracted my attention. It is a book by Dr. Noah D. Fabricant, a qualified physician [ M. D. ], titled  '13 Famous Patients' ( 1960; xxix, 231 pp.). It includes Mahatma Gandhi along with 12 other, naming ( 1 ) Franklin D. Roosevelt, ( 2 ) Adolf Hitler, ( 3 ) Woodrow Wilson, ( 4 ) Marcel Proust, ( 5 ) D. H. Lawrence, ( 6 ) James Joyce, ( 7 ) F. Scott Fitzgerald, ( 8 )  Sigmund Freud,( 9 )  Clarence Darrow, ( 10 )  Paul Gauguin, ( 11 ) George Gershwin, and ( 12 ) Enrico Caruso.

The first part of the book is devoted to 4 politicians - - - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Woodrow Wilson. Noah considered Gandhi mainly a Politician aspiring to be a Saint.

Gandhi versus Hitler

Mahatma Gandhi was an attractive personality, an inverse of Hitler's. Hitler was mostly condemned by politicians, yet Gandhi tried to approach him to save the world (Gandhi's letters, dated July 23, 1939, and December 24, 1940 ). His last letter, like the first, could not reach to the Fuehrer but some claim that the second one reached to him, and probably he answered. A strange study even claims that Hitler, in his last stage of life admired Gandhi's policies. Books on Gandhi were found in Hitler's library. We will deal with it in a separate blog post. 

Noah writes in the very beginning of his study that '' As a result of his megalomania [ a mental disease ], Hitler set out to determine the pattern of the history of Europe for a thousand years.'' Noah describes Hitler's early life which is little known. Hitler first caught a lung disease when he was a 16-year boy, and never recovered from it. But his main disease, that is, megalomania or narcissistic personality disorder and antisemitism developed later when he picked the political power. Regarding his antisemitism, more than one writer suggests that it had roots in some bad sexual experience, possibly the contraction of a venereal disease -- syphilis, which Hitler caught. Apart from that, He was a very very aggressive person, his voice was harsh and threatening at one side of its coin and his eyes and gestures hypnotic on the other. His aggressiveness was mapped by clinicians analyzing his voice pattern. It is reported that it had a frequency in a typical sentence of 228 vibrations per second, quite above of a highly angered person. He stunned the audience with his too loud a voice, almost a shouting, in much with the same as we stunned by a louder auto horn. His lower teeth had to be pulled because of his excessive speech pattern, and later he developed a benign laryngeal polyp, he got removed it but it developed again. Throughout his life, he remained fearful that his body bears cancer.

Although Hitler signed peace treaties, a bit few, out of political compulsions his doctrine of peace was a synonym of violence. On August 28, 1942, he spoke of 'peace':  '' As a general principle, I think that a peace which lasts more than twenty-five years is harmful for a nation. Peoples need regenerating by blood-letting.''

Noah concludes: '' Lack of psychiatric attention in the case of Adolf Hitler demonstrates how mental disease can alter the course of history and affect our lives.''

Mahatma Gandhi - - A Political Saint

Barring a single sentence where Noah criticizes Gandhi's some of the health-related experiments, saying ''much of his philosophy of medical practice''  is '' medical whimsey '', he regards Gandhi as charismatic, and wonders about Gandhi's physical stamina in its old age, post-70, and attributes this miracle to a vegetarian drug, Rauwolfia Serpentina, quoting his physician. More than half of the article ( 12 out of 18 of its pages ) is devoted to Gandhi's extraordinary political leadership and his personal sacrifices for the cause of humanity. '' Even though Gandhi had become a highly successful barrister, earning approximately five thousand pounds a year, he dropped commercial practice to found an agricultural colony which was devoted to poverty, nonviolence, and the simple virtue...'' ( p. 62 ). Writing about Gandhi's  Salt Campaign, Noah says: '' When he [ = Gandhi ] reached the sea, he scooped illegal salt from the water, saying '' I would rather die a dog's death and have my bones licked by dogs than that I should return broken'' ( p. 69 ).

'' What sort of man was Gandhi in his daily life? Mahadev Desai tells us: '' Nursing those who are ailing mentally and physically has been a passion with him ( Gandhi ) throughout his life. But for his fundamental objection to vivisection, he might have been a physician and a surgeon'' ( p. 71 ).

Gandhi, at times, suffered from constipation, headache, dysentery, pleurisy, high blood pressure, cough, fever, piles, acute appendicitis, general debility, rheumatic inflammation, and mental depression. Moreover his periodic, especially, prolonged fasts made him weak enough. He observed three longtime fasts of each 21-days duration ( in 1924, 1928, and 1943 ). After the conclusion of his first such fast ( September 17 to October 7, 1924 ), he was too weak to speak; on another such occasion, he was unable even to drink a cup of water. His last fast was started on January 13, 1948, and terminated on Jan. 18. Noah describes it providing details.

'' The first day of his fast, Gandhi walked to the evening prayer meeting and conducted the services. The next day his physicians told him not to attend prayers, so he dictated a message to be read to the congregation. Gandhi did not want to be examined by his doctors, telling them '' I have thrown myself on God''.

'' Gandhi finally relented, and he was told by one of the attending physicians that there were acetone bodies in his urine. '' That is because I haven't enough faith'', Gandhi commented. '' But this is a chemical,'' the physician protested. '' How little science knows,'' replied Gandhi, '' There is more in life than in science, and there is more in  God than in chemistry.'' His kidneys were now functioning badly, his weight dropped about two pounds a day, and he lost much strength. He was unable to drink water, for it caused nausea, and he refused to add a few drops of honey or citrus juice to counteract nausea.

'' On the third day, he submitted to a to a high colonic irrigation. Then at 2:30 a.m. he awoke, asked for a hot bath, and dictated a memorandum. Feeling giddy, Gandhi was removed from the tub and placed in a chair. At this time his weight was down to 107 pounds, and his blood pressure was recorded as 140/98. The remainder of the day he lay in a crouched position on a cot, knees pulled up toward his belly, fists under his chest. His eyes were closed and he seemed asleep or half conscious. On the fourth day, Gandhi's pulse was irregular, but he insisted on addressing the prayer meeting by the microphone for two minutes. The following day, January 18, Gandhi felt better, and he submitted to some light massage. On that day he received concrete assurances that real peace would take place among the divergent elements, and he broke his fast.

'' For several days after the end of his fast, Gandhi was weak and had to be carried to the prayer grounds'' ( pp. 74-75 ).

Noah occasionally cites Gandhi's views on health and medicine:

" Gandhi detested modern medicine, calling it ' the concentrated essence of black magic'. Strange it may seem, he once argued quite seriously that modern medical science created more tuberculosis and venereal diseases than its cure. On another occasion, he wrote to Madeline Slade,: '' The West has always commanded my admiration for its surgical inventions all-round progress in that direction'' ( p. 63 ).

In spite of Noah Fabricant's best efforts the study is limited as only a few sources ( only 4, see below ) has been utilized in comparison to Roosevelt ( 21 ), Hitler ( 11 ), and Woodrow Wilson ( 7 ). There is of course much more literature on this subject both in the general bibliographies and general medical databases.

**Noah D. ( Daniel )  Fabricant, ' The Medical Life and Times of Mohandas Gandhi', in his '' 13 Famous Patients' ( Philadelphia; and New York: Chilton Company, 1960 ), pp. 58-75, with a photographic portrait of Gandhi in praying posture, courtesy: United Press International. Based on 1. Gandhi's 'The Story of My Experiments with Truth' ( Beacon Press, 1950 ), 2, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, by Louis Fischer ( 1950 ), 3. The Gandhi Reader, by Homer A. Jack ( 1956 ), 4. Inside Asia, by John Gunther ( 1939 ).

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