Three Minutes for a Dog… My Life in an Iron Lung

Three Minutes for a Dog… My Life in an Iron Lung by Paul R. Alexander with assistance from Norman D. Brown lowered the bar for worst self-published work I have ever read. I cannot even write about Alexander’s remarkable life because what overshadows his story is the thoroughly unpresentable state of his book. Although brief (137 pages) I had to read each page twice or three times in order to understand anything. His stream-of-consciousness style mixed with mid-sentence changes of thought left me lost when I finally arrived at the end of a sentence. The lack of punctuation necessitated rereads as I parsed sentences and fitted in commas and divided run-ons with periods. Pages were laid out as solid blocks of text, creating an obsessive-compulsive unindented rectangularity. The author must have never heard of paragraphs. I knew what I was getting into as soon as the Aknowledgements page when I encountered this:

“The team that came together to complete ‘Three Minutes for a Dog’, was the handiwork of God and accomplished greater professionalism and readability then I could ever could have hoped to achieve on my own.”

The Almighty had no part in bringing this to press. I didn’t write down errors as I am wont to do as I felt this memoir just wasn’t worth it. Unlike past self-published works that I have trashed–only to have their authors commendably edit their works using my notations–this work cannot be fixed by simply rubbing the author’s nose in it. The only way to “fix” this book is to wholly rewrite it. Nevertheless, there were some gaffes that had me shaking my head. Erroneous capitalization of nouns in the middle of sentences, ignorance of the correct way of rendering the possessive of it (I recorded it’s, its’ as well as the correct its), his repeated usage of then instead of than and confusion between affect and effect all tested my patience. That is just the start. And then come the parade of typos.

Who let these sentences see press ink:

“I gained pace of mind ad started to expand my horizons.”

and this double dose of homophonic hijinks:

“I remembered a strange, and apparently significant incident of walking down the church isle toward the alter when an elderly gentleman sitting to my left caught my attention.”

and I don’t have a clue what he meant by:

“In total contradiction to the western delusion of more is better, greater consumption and satisfaction of desires is the capture of power, quite the contrary is and control over the ‘needs,’ even breathing is the true knowledge and possession of power personal or universal.”

Formatting was nonexistent. Words were divided by hyphens on the same line of text, where the second part of the word was mysteriously capitalized. Where punctuation was present it was often superfluous with unnecessary commas. He repeated complete sentences on adjacent pages or even on the same page, a sign that someone forgot to use the delete key. No author gains praise and admiration when he makes his work such a chore to read. Alexander wrote this book himself by tapping out the letters using a contraption on his head connected to a keyboard, yet did anyone read what he had written before sending it out to press?

Obviously not. I was puzzled by his frequent self-references using the terms “cripple” and “crippled”. I’d have thought those words would be inappropriate in 2020, but I suppose if he had grown up in the fifties, they would have been words he encountered every day and uses them still.

And surely another set of eyes would have edited out the passage below. After the author was admitted to SMU (Southern Methodist University–not the first time he introduced abbreviations only to explain what they meant later) I nearly had a spit take while reading at work:

“I made friends quickly of all sorts including, wealthy, successful Jews who I learned a lot from, all the way to not so successful, struggling students who somehow lived on nothing.”

Alexander contracted polio at the age of six in 1952 and within a few days he could neither move nor breathe. At that time polio was a rampant epidemic, afflicting far more children than adults. Parents feared for the health of their children and Alexander painted a portrait of American polio paranoia as no one knew who or when the disease would strike next. How was it that Alexander was afflicted but his brother and sister were spared?

The reader accompanied the young author as he was first contained in an iron lung as a boy of six, and relived his terror of feeling paralyzed in a hospital ward where children died and then disappeared. He listened as their iron lungs were wheeled away and wondered if he would be next. Truly the saddest part of his memoir was reading of his earliest times in the Parkland Hospital in Dallas:

“The children were rolled out the next morning or as the worn out rag dolls were discovered Each week a parade of new friends and neighbors just disappeared, and I was completely alone again. I would be alone together with a new group of victims. It was almost like being buried alive for days at a time in a mass grave composed of row upon row of iron lungs, facing each other as far as you could see in long rooms, they called Wards.”

At a young age, Alexander learned to develop the art of projection. Since he was not able to join activities with others–at least not yet–he had to train his mind in the art of visualization:

“My ability to project myself into surrounding activities was still at an infant stage of development. Socially immature, I had not developed the ability to derive greater satisfaction out of more vicarious interaction with others. The opportunity to exercise vicarious enjoyment was far from being a process I could turn on and manipulate in most contexts. Before reaching such a point in my head, I would smash up against many frustrating and lonely moments in which I could not find a comfortable place to fit.”

We relive Alexander’s struggle and eventual victory to gain admission to university and his lifelong quest to find reliable caregivers who don’t abandon him. He recounted numerous occasions where his helpers hightailed it, leaving him cocooned in his iron lung. In 1986 he passed the bar and is now working as a lawyer.

Alexander has a story worth telling yet I never enjoyed my few days with this book learning about him. With a collaborator and editor he can flesh out his story into an interesting and inspiring book lasting a lot longer than 137 pages. As it stands now if I had known how poor this book was going to be, I’d have chosen to wait for Mink Stole’s account filming her role as a chain-smoking patient in an iron lung in John Waters’s Cry-Baby instead.

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