MACLEAN’S REPORTS

My terrible 30 minutes with Dr. Hawkins' magical machine

KEITHA MCLEAN January 1 1969
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

My terrible 30 minutes with Dr. Hawkins' magical machine

KEITHA MCLEAN January 1 1969

My terrible 30 minutes with Dr. Hawkins' magical machine

WHAT, I WONDERED, is a nice girl like me doing in a situation like this? I’m terrified of anything electrical, yet there I was, strapped to a couch, at the mercy of a sinister-looking machine, with electrodes attached to wet pads fastened all over me from knee-cap to chin tip. Little green and red lights flickered in a whirring countdown, all was quiet except for the rumble outside the window of rushhour traffic in London’s elegant Curzon Street, and I lay hoping Dr. Hawkins knew what he was doing.

Dr. Sebastian Hawkins, a South African osteopath, invented the electrical slimming machine that has become a fad among health-conscious Britons. This machine is supposedly shocking away excess pounds, jolting off unwanted inches and toning up slack muscles on everybody from plump teenagers to arthritic grandmothers, at hundreds of clinics throughout England, Africa and Europe. (If

the Hawkins people have their way, their treatment will be available in major Canadian cities by mid-1969.)

Hawkins’ machine, a transistorized apparatus straight out of Dr. Strangelove, feeds a combination of currents into the muscles in a series of modulated jolts, causing them to contract and relax. This way you can (they say) stay slim, svelte and gorgeous with absolutely no effort. A comfortable thought. But suddenly I noticed my machine was plugged into the wall. What happened, I wondered, to all that electricity between the time it came out of the wall and the time it zapped into my upper arms?

“Only a fraction of an amp will reach you,” my technician, a marvellously trim Hungarian countess named Hanna, assured me several times. Besides, she added, should anything go wrong, there was a safety cut-off switch. Suddenly I realized she had switched the machine on. Z-z-aaa-p-ooo — then again, and again. Then suddenly: Za-auh-auh-auh-appp! “The

current changes in modulation every two and a half minutes,” the countess said calmly. “Soon it will change again.”

It did. Za-a-a-ap-ppp! and every muscle I owned contracted, not from the Hawkins current, but from terror. The minutes zapped past safely if slowly. Technically I was having the half-hour sample treatment. Had I been a Hawkins regular, I’d have been going through the treatment (as many as 32 electrodes all over the body) anywhere from three to six times a week, for 30 to 60 minutes at a time.

Each Hawkins machine takes two patients, and my co-victim, a very roly-poly lady, began chattering about her course. “Combined with a diet, I’ve already lost 28 pounds and dropped two dress sizes,” she told me proudly.

Countess Hanna explained that it’s possible to increase the current as a patient becomes accustomed to the treatment. Ignoring my protests, she turned on enough power, I’m sure, to light a building. As I looked on, horrified, my excess poundage leapt around the couch like a fish in a frying pan. The electrical impulses gripped my mid-section like a vise, and every time the current changed, I felt a Lilliputian army in track shoes running up my legs.

I gave up before my half hour was over, and my hands were clammy as I climbed off the couch. The weight isn’t shocked off, I decided — it’s sweated off in tension. Now my legs were rubbery and my back ached all over. For almost an hour, I wanted

nothing but home, a hot bath and bed. Then gradually I began to feel wonderfully limber and relaxed, and ready for a night of discothèqueing.

Perhaps, as Countess Hanna insisted, the treatment would be even more effective once I got used to the machine. Maybe it would — if somebody could figure out a way to make it work without electricity.

KEITHA MCLEAN