The Milwaukee Sentinel - May 7, 1950
For more than half a century, a kindly physician named Dr. Ferdinando Pavoni was famous in the Bergamo section of Northern Italy. People called him "the doctor you can always reach at night." There was a reason for his perpetual availability. Dr. Pavoni, for 60 years never slept.
Because of that, thousands of Italians murmured excitedly the other day over news that came out of Almenno San Salvatore, home town of the round-the-clock doctor. A miracle, though an inevitable one, had happened at 80 for the good Dr. Pavoni. He was sleeping at last and it was a slumber from which no human hand would awaken him.
Dr. Pavoni was a young man of 20, just commencing his internship back in 1890 in a Bergamo hospital, when the strange affliction of sleeplessness fastened itself on him.
There was no known cause for it. Nor was there a cure. Eminent physicians, brain specialists and psychiatrists studied him and applied their skill in vain.
Dr. Pavoni tried often to treat his own case. Nor did he scruple to test the home remedies suggested by neighbours. Nothing availed.
Fortunately, the doctor was a philosopher. He lived life as best he could 24 hours a day. During the sunlit hours he drove himself furiously, never refusing work. He tended a garden and in his younger years participated in sports. If he exercised sufficiently, he could find relaxation though never slumber at night.
He married and reared a family.
When his professional services were not required, he sat at his desk for long hours at night reading the classics. He learned by heart the works of Homer, Virgil and Dante.
Almond and the adjacent region will long miss the kindly old man of medicine who could always be reached at night.
Remarkable as was his case, Dr. Pavoni isn’t the only rare individual who has amazed observers by being able to live and enjoy a semblance of health without sleep. Between the wars, Paul Kern, a 54-year-old clerk living with a wife and three children in a Budapest suburb, disclosed that he had not had a second of sleep in 22 years, since a grenade splinter struck his head on a World War I battlefield.
Whenever he felt tired, Kern said, he closed his eyes for a couple of hours and tried to exclude thought. Then, refreshed, he aroused and ate or read. It took eight meals a day to keep up his strength.
A somewhat similar case was that of Lieu-Col. Cornelius Szekely, another Budapest what veteran, who died at 43 in 1931, after 16 sleepless years. He, too, had a head wound. Szekely appeared to enjoy normal health until his final years. In his last two years he began drinking heavily and using narcotics to offset fatigue. But, so far as doctors could learn, he remained awake until deep slumber came to him a few hours before death.
An elderly Indian millionaire, Rai Bahadur Ramijidas Bajoria, won world-wide publicity in 1936 by offering $100,000 to anyone who could cure a spell of insomnia that had held him sleepless nearly three years. There’s no record that anyone collected.
Alfred E. Herpin, a 91-year-old recluse who died three years ago in New Jersey, insisted to the end that he never slept in his life. He said he never used meat nor alcohol, but he smoked constantly and consumed two pounds of tea weekly. Hospital authorities doubted his claim that he never slept, but admitted they never caught him napping while in their care.
It’s a strange story. Doctors agree that the average man can’t last long without sleep. But they’re baffled by the rare exceptions who seem to be able to break the habit and get away with it.
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