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This week’s question was asked by: friends

QUESTION: What is psychic surgery?

ANSWER: Psychic surgery is a cautionary tale of faith misplaced in the paranormal and occult. From a website, “Psychic surgery is a pseudoscientific medical fraud in which practitioners create the illusion of performing surgery with their bare hands and use trickery, fake blood and animal parts to convince the patient that diseased lesions have been removed and that the incision has spontaneously healed.”

The Philippines remain the hotbed of “bloodless surgery,” in which a psychic surgeon pulls out what appears to be tumors and organs. The skin is left untouched, which the psychic surgeon attributes to miraculous and speedy healing.

Andy Kaufman was a comic genius. He opened a Saturday Night Live show and appeared on the Letterman show and starred in the movie Man on the Moon. At a November 1983 Long Island Thanksgiving dinner, friends noticed his persistent coughing. He went to a doctor who told him nothing was wrong. He visited a quack clinic in a Hollywood strip mall and the holistic doctor treated his left arm with radiation.

In November 1983, Kaufman checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a series of medical tests. He was diagnosed with large cell carcinoma lung cancer, an aggressive cancer with a high mortality rate.

Kaufman’s final public appearance was at the premiere of My Breakfast With Blassie in March 1984, where he appeared thin and emaciated. The following day, he and girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, flew to the Philippines for a six-week course of psychic surgery. That trip made U.S. tabloid headlines. Kaufman died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 16, 1984, at the age of 35.

The passing of Peter Sellers (1925-1980) is another cautionary tale. Peter Sellers achieved worldwide fame as Chief Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series of films. He played three different characters in the Dr. Strangelove movie. He was a movie legend.

In 1964, at age 38, Sellers suffered a series of heart attacks that caused serious damage to his heart. Four unsuccessful marriages and using popper pills, marijuana and cocaine did not do his failing heart any good. Refusing to have open heart surgery, which could have saved his life, Sellers turned to psychics, whom he visited twice a year.

On July 22, 1980, Sellers flew in from Switzerland to stay at his favorite suite in the Dorchester Hotel in London. He visited the ashes of his overbearing mother, whose funeral he had refused to attend. Sellers had a lot of demons in his life, real and imagined. Preparing to meet some old friends for dinner that evening, he fell out of his chair, turned blue, was rushed to Middlesex Hospital, and never regained consciousness.

The medical profession will generally agree that there is a role for holistic healing. But turning to the paranormal or the occult while ignoring proven tradition medical practices is not on the positive side of the ledger. In the case of Andy Kaufman, the odds seemed stacked against him, given his diagnosis. It appears that Peter Sellers, on the other hand, made some really bad choices.

Speaking of bad choices, right before his death, Sellers was about to divorce his fourth wife, actress Lynne Frederick. However, she got his $7 million estate and Seller’s own three children each got a measly $1,000. Lynne Frederick married twice more and later succumbed to drugs and alcohol. The bulk of the money went to Lynne Frederick’s daughter, Cassie, fathered by Frederick’s third and last husband.

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Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.


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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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