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He Wanted the Moon

The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him

by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton

He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton X
He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
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  • Amy G. (Bowie, MD)
    This book is a huge step away from any book categorized as a biography. It is the true story of a man, who was also a dedicated doctor, and who suffers from bipolar disorder. He doesn't know what he suffers from or how to diagnose it, treat it or cure it. I was utterly spellbound by his descriptions of the indignities suffered by the doctor in an attempt to cure this undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.

    Almost the entire narrative is written from the doctor's perspective, although the last part of the book is the story of his daughter's quest to discover more about her chronically absent father. The results are astonishing and uplifting.

    Reader beware...this book is unflinchingly accurate in its descriptions of treatments, and not necessarily for the faint of heart. But if you can manage "He Wanted The Moon" is a wonderfully inspirational book.
  • Linda J. (Ballwin, MO)
    He Wanted the Moon
    Mimi Baird was six years old when her father was taken away to a mental institution. She never knew why. Her mother dismissed his absence with a wave of her hand, saying "He's away."
    Dr. Percy Baird, a rising star in the medical field in the 1920s and 1930s was researching the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he was beginning to suffer from it himself.
    He had discovered that the blood of manic patients differed from healthy subjects, and had published a paper on his findings.
    Unfortunately, his condition worsened and in 1944, he was committed to the first in a series of hospitalizations where he was subjected to inhumane treatments such as electroshock therapy, ice baths, beatings, and being wrapped in a straitjacket for long periods of time – the recommended methods for those days.
    During this time, he wrote constantly. This is what makes this book so fascinating. Readers can track his journey from his lucid moments to his manic episodes.
    "I pray to God that in the future I shall be able to remember that once one has crossed the line from the normal walks of life into a psychopathic hospital, one is separated from friends and relatives by walls thicker than stone; walls of prejudice and superstition," he writes during a time when he was thinking clearly.
    Later he writes "Another morning came. I detected an odor of exhaust gas coming through the window as I lay there in my straightjacket(sic). I surmised that everyone in New England except us had been killed by gas released by the Japs."
    Ultimately, his medical license was revoked, his wife divorced him, most of his friends deserted him, and he was left to a life devoid of any meaning, save his own thoughts.
    During this time, he was released, committed, released, and recommitted to different mental hospitals. In December, 1949 he underwent a lobotomy and died in 1959 of a seizure. His research unfinished and his accomplishments unrecognized.
    His daughter, however, had not forgotten him. Through all the years of his absence, she continued to ask her mother, his friends, and colleagues about her father. After his death, through a series of coincidences, she ran across the papers he had written on onion skin paper throughout the years, and resolved to write a book about him.
    She found that he had completed a first draft of his article 'Biochemical Component of the Manic-Depression Psychosis,'" which was published in 1944 in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,'
    However, with most of his peers overseas in World War 11, there was no one to promote his article, and, as Baird write, "My father had run out of time – the race to cure himself was lost."
    The first part of the book consists of Dr. Baird's observations of his condition and experiences along with some clinical notes from the institutions in which he was hospitalized.
    Mimi Baird tells her story in the second half of the book. How, through the years, she had wondered about her father, but was unable to get any answers from her mother, only that he was "ill."
    After his death in 1959, she was determined to find out her father's story. She began visiting her parents' friends, asking questions about him.
    One woman said to her, "Your father, he couldn't help himself. You know, Mimi, he wanted the moon."
    She finally tracks down a manuscript, written in pencil in her father's hand, detailing his illness and barbaric treatment.
    With this manuscript along with his medical records, she writes a compelling story of a father she never knew, who was on the brink of discovering a way to treat his condition. Unfortunately, as she said, he "ran out of time."
  • Chris W. (Temple City, CA)
    a great read
    Having worked in the mental health field for several decades, I was thrilled to receive a copy of this book. To learn how such a brilliant psychiatric patient described his many symptoms, treatments, disappointments, rejections, escapades, etc. was fascinating. Having seen myself the same manic patient present with different symptoms over time, it was interesting to read his own descriptions of his episodes. What else would he have discovered in his research if he had not been sidetracked by psychotic episodes that were untreatable at the time? No doubt he would have benefited greatly from medications that are available today to other bipolar patients and could have avoided the inhumane and horrid methods used in the 1940s. I watched a good family friend deteriorate during many manic states prior to her receiving Lithium. The author wanted to honor her father's wish to have his journal published. What a journey she went on learning about her father, why he was "away" and that he did not just abandon her. It's an amazing story that she even found his journal, and I was touched and saddened by what he and his family and friends went through because of his mental illness. There are still many people who do not understand mental illness and think patients can control their symptoms. This book would be helpful to families living through a similar nightmare or to groups of people trying to understand how someone feels when in a manic state. This should be read by anyone who wants to understand more about manic depression and other types of mental illness.
  • Susan M. (New Holland, PA)
    A Fascinating Memoir
    If you are not turned off by graphic descriptions of brutal and inhumane treatments suffered by inmates of mental institutions back in the 40s, this book is a powerful true account of Dr. Perry Baird's experiences in such places during treatment for his bipolar disorder. His daughter, Mimi, at age six, was informed that her father was "ill and away" and never saw him again until just before he died.
    Dr. Baird was a brilliant, well respected Boston dermatologist before his illness landed him in a series of different asylums. He was able to document detailed descriptions of his treatments and the research he did into his own disease during these confinements and after 50 years his daughter obtained all his handwritten notes. She finally got to know her missing father through reading his own words and then writing this book.
    It was shocking to read how mental patients were treated at a time before any helpful medications were discovered. Also the stigma of mental illness caused families to abandon them and pretend they did not even exist.

    I found the book to be a fascinating journey through this doctor's life told by a daughter who only got to know her father's true story after his death in 1959.
  • Janet P. (Spokane, WA)
    The Moon was Painfully out of Reach
    I was attracted to this book because of personal history. In both family and friends I have been touched by Bi-Polar Disorder through three individuals. The family suffering and pain as well as the pain to the individuals diagnosed has truly marked my life. My heart already ached for the disarray I saw this cause in families. Therefore the subtitle "The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him" hooked me. Mimi Baird is one brave woman. She reveals to the reader the confusing love, fear, hate, pity and confusion that any mental illness, but specifically Manic-Depression, brings to a family, and in her case, to a daughter kept from the truth of her father's illness until very late in her life. Dr Perry Baird was a brilliant physician lost to his world of success and accomplishment, to mental illness, in a time that the first solution was incarceration in Mental "Hospitals" and the final "solution" was lobotomy. The inclusion in the first half of the book of the handwriting of Perry Baird through his varying submissions to his "future book" along with doctor's comments and Mimi's memories was a stroke of genius. There was something compelling about reading the words, "I am caught, caught, caught" in Dr. Baird's own handwriting. The psychological effect on the reader multiplied over what it would have been had those words only been included in the book's normal font! Much of Perry Baird's narrative while hospitalized sound like anything but a crazy person, yet the reappearing sense of grandeur and need to work around the clock, interspersed with times of crippling sadness and depression spoke volumes. To realize that this man, with all he had working against him, came close to understanding the biological nature of his malady, again was heartbreaking. Dr Baird's own words, "And so the story unravels itself. A story predestined to take the course it has followed, a character on the stage of life, seemingly driven along by strange compulsions beyond his understanding. So much happened so quickly, so much to remember forever, so much to haunt the corridors of memory...We are only to such a limited degree the pilot of our soul, the captain of our ship," left me in tears. These are the last words we hear from Dr. Perry Baird before his daughter Mimi, our author, begins again her story of her search for a father, who was removed from her life at age six. I was greatly moved by this book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in medicine, mental illness, family love and lore. It was quite a read!
  • Mal H. (Livermore, CA)
    Touching story
    Baird's impeccable journal account of his descent into the depths along with his institutional stays are well detailed. His brilliant mind citing the cruel mistreatment by staff, barbaric treatments administered. His feelings of loneliness and isolation heartbreaking. As his disease appears and fades, his many losses are felt, his heart heavy.

    His relentless desire to learn more regarding mental illness propels him on the path of research where his suspicious are confirmed. Sadly darkness overshadows his research and his initial findings silenced, however, thankfully noted. His intellect utterly halting.

    Stripped away of her father at a young age Mimi Baird, craves to fill the void of her father. Questions silenced, his disappearance vaguely acknowledged. Decades later Mimi discovers her father's journal/manuscript broaching his illness, institutionalization as well as his research on mental illness. Finally Mimi pieces the puzzle of the man she remembers as she comprehends the full story of her father and his ongoing fight with manic depression. Mimi's loss is heartbreaking proving the ravages of manic depression extend to family, especially family disguising mental illness.

    A story of two people searching for answers. A painful account of mental illness, the stigma attached. A topic of compelling nature, Baird shares her father, hopefully demonstrating knowledge in the hopes of removing the stigma attached. Touching story.
  • Dorothy G. (Naperville, IL)
    A fascinating and heartbreaking tale
    He Wanted The Moon is a must read for anyone who has suffered from, or known someone who has, mental illness. The unimaginable horrors of treatment are made clear to us through his personal account. The strides that have been made in treating mental illness in the past fifty years are amazing. I think it is important to think of those strides while reading this book. Clearly, this man's intelligence shines through giving us a very personal and terrifying account of his experiences.

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