He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book will break your heart in a lot of ways, but I highly recommend it.
Mimi Baird’s father mysteriously disappeared from her life at age 6 without any real explanation from anyone, including her mother, as to why. The oldest of the three Baird children, Mimi had the only vivid memories of her dad, of their connection, and, subsequently, she alone felt and mourned his sudden absence the most.
For almost sixty years, Mimi asked questions, especially from her mother, about her father that went unanswered.
But Mimi had already started trying to find the answers elsewhere. Because her father, Dr. Perry Baird, was well-known in the medical field, Mimi was able to get correspondence from mentors and other people Baird had either studied under or worked with.
It was from this correspondence that Mimi learned that her father had severe manic-depression for most of his life and it derailed his marriage, his career, and eventually his life (Dr. Baird died at age 59, a few years after a last-ditch-effort then sanctioned as a cure-all in psychiatric circles – a frontotemporal lobotomy, which was nothing short of sadistic dehumanization).
Like many severe manic-depressives, Dr. Baird eventually looked for a way to manage the extremes of the disease and he found his “cure” at the bottom of a bottle, which no doubt, hastened his early death as well.
Mimi received a gift that fulfilled her quest to know her dad when she received his papers from a cousin in the mid-1990’s, 20-plus years after his death.
And it was in those papers that Mimi finally got to know her dad. Among them were his account of the psychiatric hospitalization in 1944 that forever took him away from his family, including six-year-old Mimi.
Mimi, through her life’s work, had the ability to get all of her dad’s medical records from beginning to end and it was through combining her dad’s paper with the medical records that a clear picture of her father’s tragic life emerged.
Much of this book is Dr. Baird’s own words, describing in detail the absolutely horrendous treatment that psychiatric patients endured in the 1940’s (and not just the 1940’s – it was going on before and, quite frankly, having had to deal with my mom, because of dementias, being in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks in July 2010, it is still going on).
What makes Dr. Baird’s observations so compelling, however, is that there was a part of his brain that was able to somewhat objectively see, understand, and describe his mania. Dr. Baird also knew that it was a chemical imbalance (he was in the middle of a research fellowship that was on the path of discovering, perhaps, lithium as an effective treatment when he got derailed by a hospitalization for a severe and extended manic episode).
It is well worth your time to read this book. Not only does it give a lot of insight into bipolar disease, but it is also tells a heartfelt story of love and loss.