After taking Dilantin, I began to enjoy playing tennis again

New Evidence and a Broadening Perspective

What had happened to me doesn’t happen in real life. You just don’t ask your doctor to let you try one drug, out of a pharmacopoeia of tens of thousands, and find that it works. But this did happen. And it happened so casually, in such a matter-of-fact way, that the vast improbability of it didn’t occur to me at the time. Being of the human race, I naturally returned to routine. Much of my new energy went back into the Dreyfus Fund and Dreyfus & Co., as though I were trying to make up for lost time. Still, much of my thinking was on Dilantin and the intriguing puzzle it presented. There were many questions to be answered.

The first question was whether Dilantin had been the cause of my return to health. My body might have been due for a recovery and a coincidence could have occurred. But this question was soon answered in the affirmative because I was able to observe benefits from Dilantin an hour after taking it. A second question, about the safety of the medicine, was answered by Dr. Silbermann. He told me it had side effects but they were rarely serious, and it had been tested by time, millions of people having taken it daily for many years. A question that could not be answered right away was whether the benefits of Dilantin would last. But as months went by, and I continued to feel well, I gained confidence they would last.

The most important question was a broader question. Could Dilantin help others as it had helped me? It seemed highly improbable. How could important uses for a medicine have been overlooked for twenty years? It didn’t make sense, it seemed almost impossible. But if it were so, I clearly had an obligation to do something about it. I needed more facts. In the course of the next year I was to get more facts. During this period I saw six people, in succession, benefit from Dilantin. I wasn’t looking for these cases. They just happened in front of my eyes, so to speak. Each of the six cases was impressive. But the first two, because they were the first two, had the most significance and will be described in some detail.

The first person I saw benefit from Dilantin was my housekeeper Kathleen Fenyvessy. A month after I had started taking Dilantin I noticed that Kathleen was not her usual self and seemed depressed. Normally she was energetic but now she seemed worn out. Kathleen, who had recently come from Hungary, spoke imperfect English, and I was in the habit of talking slowly to her. Now she would interrupt before I could finish a sentence, saying, “I understand, I understand” and most of the time she didn’t. Obviously she was extremely impatient.

I asked her what was wrong. She told me her mind was busy with miserable thoughts and she couldn’t stop them. She’d seen several physicians and they’d told her she was having a nervous breakdown. She’d tried a variety of medicines that hadn’t helped. I thought of Dilantin. There seemed little to be lost, and much to be gained, by her trying it if Dr. Silbermann agreed. At my suggestion Kathleen visited him. After considering her condition he prescribed 100 mg a day for her. Since I saw Kathleen at least a few hours every day, I was in a good position to observe the effects of Dilantin. Within a day or two it was apparent that her good disposition had returned. And she was full of energy again. As for patience, she no longer interrupted me in mid-sentence. I could even tell her the same thing twice.

Kathleen found her recovery hard to believe. In a letter to her sister describing it, she said, “It was due to a medicine used for an entirely different disorder. If someone else had told me they’d had an experience like this I would not have believed it.”

About a month after Kathleen had started taking Dilantin, she and I participated in an unplanned experiment. Without consulting each other, we both stopped taking Dilantin for three days. We had gone to Hobeau Farm in Ocala, Florida, a thoroughbred-breeding farm managed by Elmer Heubeck, my good friend and partner in the farm. It was pure vacation for Kathleen. Except for the horse business it was vacation for me too.

At that time I thought Dilantin only helped me with stress and problems. By problems I really meant areas of interest. They were not always problems; when they went well they could be pleasures. But the negative mood that I had been in made me think of them as problems. I had five such interests, some of a business nature, some personal. I went over them; they were all in good shape. So it seemed to me that in the nice relaxed atmosphere of the farm, I wouldn’t need Dilantin. I stopped taking it.

The third day off Dilantin I felt a certain tingling in my nerves. I remember a funny expression entering my mind, that I had “worry gnats.” I thought maybe I’d feel better if I went to Miami, played some tennis and swam in the salt water. So I made arrangements to take a plane to Miami at eleven o’clock that night. That afternoon I said something to Kathleen. It might not have been as tactful as it should have been, but it couldn’t possibly have called for the response that it got. Kathleen burst out crying. I was astonished. Then something occurred to me, and I asked, “Kathleen, have you stopped taking Dilantin?” She said she had; she’d thought it would be so nice on the farm she hadn’t brought any. “Why didn’t you take some of mine?” I asked. She said she hadn’t because she’d noticed I had only a few capsules left. Before I left for Miami, Elmer told me he would arrange for Kathleen to get Dilantin.

At 11 p.m. I got on the plane to Miami. Now I was quite conscious of the “worry gnats,” and I thought of Dilantin. I figured it wouldn’t help since I didn’t have any stress or problems. But something inside me said, “Well, you’re research-minded. Why don’t you take some anyway and see if anything happens?” My bags were accessible on the plane and I went forward and got a capsule of Dilantin. I took it and looked at my watch. In a little while I thought I felt better, but I wasn’t sure. I checked the time; it was twenty-eight minutes since I’d taken the medicine. When the plane arrived in Miami it was an hour since I’d taken the Dilantin. The “worry gnats” were gone. As I walked through the airport I had the nicest feeling that peace had descended on me.

The next morning I called Kathleen. Even before I could ask how she felt, her cheerful voice gave the answer. Kathleen’s experience and my own, in stopping Dilantin and recontinuing it, confirmed our need for the medicine, and seemed to indicate this need was not based on realistic problems, but on something in our nervous systems at the time. Now I was in Miami again. I had gone there for the last few years on doctor’s orders. These trips were meant to be vacations, but there had been no fun in them. When a vacation is not in you, you don’t have one. But now I was on vacation and in a frame of mind to enjoy it. I still stayed at the lovely, dilapidated old Roney Plaza. Everything was beautiful—the air, the sea, just walking to breakfast. I was happy. And I know why. As Mark Twain said in “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself—it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.” I had the contrast.

Tennis was a pleasure again. I had taken up tennis about eight years earlier, mostly for the exercise. Golf had been my game since childhood and I’d loved it. I’d been almost a fine golfer, won lots of club championships, and at my best had a one handicap. But in recent years golf had started to bore me. Maybe it was my perfectionism. More likely it was the long walks between shots when all that was going on was the windmills of my mind.

I had started playing tennis with the local pros at the Roney Plaza. At this time Marse Fink was pro of record. Sol Goldman was pro emeritus. I didn’t play with the pros to get lessons. I’d had barrels of lessons in golf and I looked forward to doing everything wrong in tennis. We got up all sorts of games and bet on them all. They gave me large handicaps. Sometimes Marse and Sol played doubles against me and some bum they got as my partner. Sol and Marse were good friends, but if the match got close, they were not loath to comment on each other’s play. They called each other names their mothers hadn’t taught them. I’d get so interested in their descriptions of each other that I would lose my concentration—and they’d usually win. On the rare occasions they lost, Marse would go to his desk in the tennis shop and mutter to himself, so we could all hear, “I’ll never play with that son-of-a-bitch [Sol] again.” And he never did until three o’clock the next afternoon.

Sol, a remarkable character (the world’s leading authority on everything), was the second person I saw benefit from Dilantin. In his youth Sol had been a great athlete, acknowledged to be the best one-wall handball player in the world. When he was thirty he took up tennis and became an outstanding player. In a different field, Sol had ambitions to be an opera singer. He had a fine singing voice and might have made it to the Met if he hadn’t damaged a vocal cord. One morning Sol and I had breakfast at Wolfie’s on Collins Avenue. The waitress brought mushroom omelettes and Sol ignored his. He seemed in a fog and was staring into the distance. I’d heard that you could pass your hand in front of someone’s face and they wouldn’t notice, but I’d never believed this. I passed my hand a few inches in front of Sol’s face and didn’t get any reaction at all.

I asked Sol what was bothering him. He said that a couple of weeks ago a wealthy friend of his, whom I knew well, had bought six pairs of tennis shoes from Marse. Sol thought it terrible that Marse had charged his friend retail prices for the shoes. This was of such monumental inconsequence that I had a hard time believing the thought was stuck in Sol’s brain. But after listening to him I realized that it was almost an obsession. Then it occurred to me that Sol’s tennis game had been off, and he’d been uncharacteristically quiet on the court.

I asked Sol how he’d been feeling. He told me he had constant headaches, that he slept badly and was having nightmares. His worst complaint was that he would wake up at four o’clock in the morning hearing himself shouting. His only relief was to get in his car and drive around for an hour or so. He told me he’d seen a doctor. But the medicines he’d been given hadn’t helped and made him feel dopey. It seemed that Dilantin might be worth trying. I telephoned Dr. Silbermann about it, and he arranged for Sol to get a prescription.

The next day we were at Wolfie’s again. Sol had eaten earlier and was keeping me company at breakfast. He had his Dilantin with him and took the first 100 mg at that time. I had found Dilantin effective in myself within an hour, and this was a chance to observe its effects in someone else. I wanted an objective reading but didn’t know how to go about it. By chance I asked Sol, “What about Fink and Russell this afternoon?” We had a doubles game with them for fifty dollars a team. Sol said, “They’re awful tough.” This answer startled me—it was so unlike Sol, a fierce competitor. I thought, “Fink and Russell” will be a good test question. I looked at my watch. We left Wolfie’s and walked to the beach at the Roney Plaza, a couple of blocks away, and I went in swimming. When I came back it was thirty-five minutes since Sol had taken his Dilantin. I said, “Sol, do you think we’ve got a chance with Fink and Russell this afternoon?” Sol said, “We’ve always got a chance.” That was more like him. Twenty-five minutes later, an hour after Sol had taken the Dilantin, I asked again, “What about Fink and Russell?” Sol said, “We’ll knock the crap out of them.” Sol was back to normal.

That night Sol slept soundly and straight through. He started taking Dilantin daily and continued to sleep well—no more waking up at four in the morning. His daily headaches disappeared. The monumental matter of the retail shoes shrunk back to size. And once again Sol became his usual objectionable self on the tennis court.

In that first year I saw four more people benefit from Dilantin. Each was depressed and each had symptoms of an overbusy brain occupied with emotions related to fear and anger. Each additional case had a parlaying effect on the probability factor. A year earlier it had seemed almost impossible that important uses for Dilantin could have been overlooked. Now it seemed highly probable that they had been overlooked.

Which brings up the subject of probabilities.

Next Section: The Subject of Probabilities