Baby and Child Care by pediatrician Benjamin Spock occupies a rarefied position in publishing history. Only a handful of titles — the Bible, Quotations from Mao Tse-tung, The Guinness Book of World Records, and a few others — have been more successful. Over 46 million copies of the pediatric manual have appeared, counting hardcovers and paperbacks and translations into just about every language in which books are printed, including (in the past five years) Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese, and Czech. Second through sixth editions have been released.
As they have, the original 1946 book has changed a lot. Now it is changing one more time. Dr. Spock and his wife Mary Morgan moved to La Jolla last November, where they’ve been overseeing the preparation of a seventh edition to be published early next year. But the doctor is a very old man. He turned 94 in May, and Death is stalking him.
The 53-year-old Morgan, Dr. Spock’s second wife, has been relentless and inventive in her search for ways to keep her husband youthful and healthy. For his 75th birthday, for example, when they’d been married for only a year and a half, she gave him lessons in transcendental meditation, and ever since, she and he have meditated twice daily, “even in his darkest hours,” she says. “It has had a profound effect on our lives.”
Morgan has prodded him into doing various forms of physical exercise, and she’s had the two of them submitting to up to nine hours of psychoanalysis every week. She’s been vigilant about what he eats, first nudging him into vegetarianism and then onto an even stricter regime six years ago. “He was dying,” she says about that change. Beset by respiratory ailments, “he’d been on antibiotics for nine months, but the doctors had been unable to clear his lungs. Finally we met with a macrobiotic consultant, and we started on the [macrobiotic] program at noon on September 6, 1991. It was amazing!” Within six weeks, Dr. Spock lost 50 pounds, his wife recalls. His lungs cleared, and he stopped taking the drugs. “On October 15 , when we started on the road [promoting the sixth edition of Baby and Child Care], he put on his suit, and he couldn’t believe how good he looked and how well he felt!” He was then 88.
More recently, however, other problems have bedeviled the doctor. “When he swallows, a part of the foods or liquids goes into his lungs," Morgan disclosed in a recent phone interview, adding that since the two of them arrived here last November, her husband has had six occurrences of pneumonia caused by this disorder. She says in March he began taking all his nourishment through a tube. “He’s supposed to get this special canned food, but we think he benefits more from the macrobiotic diet.”
A macrobiotic regime — which eschews any consumption of dairy products and consists of vegetables and whole grains — is demanding to prepare under the best of circumstances. But delivering this diet through a gastric tube sounds like a Sisyphean enterprise. Because variety is critical, she’s been preparing at least 20 to 22 dishes daily, she says. “For example, this morning he had whole oats, which I cooked all night long. He also had miso soup. He had kale. He had kudzu tea.” She says she rises at four or five each morning to prepare these and other dishes. “I put them in a hand mill and hand grind them myself. And then they have to go through a sieve, and sometimes I add some pickles, to give him the real healthy enzymes that he needs in his gut. And then I put them in a syringe and shoot him up!”
Morgan told me that she feeds her husband through the tube in this way for 14 to 16 hours a day. “I start at five m the morning and I feed him till 11 o’clock at night. Even when he’s napping. There’s only 30 minutes in there that he doesn’t feed, and that’s when he has a medication that has to be taken on an empty stomach, and then we start back again. ’ On this sustenance, He's had a few good days recently, she indicates. The day before Halloween, she told me that the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of that week “were three very, very good days. We went out and he had energy, and he was up and walking and so on.’' But then the days that followed had been ' real low,” she said. “So he’s not into talking to or seeing people right now.”
Dr. Spock has ascended from other physical low points. Morgan indicates that things looked grim a few years ago, when she contacted health guru Deepak Chopra. She says Chopra assured her, “If you’ll bring him to San Diego, I know there’ll be people who will help you take care of him.” This was back when Chopra’s Center for Well Being was located in Del Mar, and Morgan says she and Dr. Spock moved there for a while, living in an apartment at L’Auberge Del Mar until they bought a 22-foot Winnebago. In it, “We lived mostly out in the desert,” she told me. A cold winter prompted them to move to Florida, but the landscape there disappointed them. “It was warm, but it was very, very flat.” She says by then, “we were looking for the climate of the Virgin Islands combined with the medical facilities of Boston.” So they came back to San Diego a year ago.
Morgan says the very first thing they did upon arriving was to drive the Winnebago over to Fay Avenue and park it in front of Chopra s institute (which by then had moved to La Jolla). She says she went there thinking she and her husband would study ayurvedic medicine as well as yoga. ‘We had only done yoga with a video before.... That was about it” Chopra referred her to the Master Yoga Academy, located next door to his own institute.