By Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP
Myth: George Washington’s teeth were never made of wood
Mystery: Would JFK have lived if he wasn’t wearing a back brace during his assassination? Who took over when Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke?
Medicine: Why did it take Lincoln to die 11 hours after his mortal gun shot wound?
George Washington – I cannot tell a lie….
It is believed that George Washington suffered from diphtheria, tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, dysentery, possible sterility, tonsillitis, and epiglottitis. He appeared to have many issues with the back of his throat. Syphilis has been debated but then again many people at the time had syphilis (Abraham Lincoln supposedly had syphilis when he was younger).
George Washington had one original tooth left by the time he became president.
His teeth were not made of wood…..instead made of hippopotamus/walrus/elephant ivory or transplanted teeth.
The tooth loss could have been from the mercury oxide that was used to treat his smallpox and malaria.
During one of his battles its been said he had to ride on a pillow on his saddle while being ill with fever. It is believed that the dysentery, left his bottom so much in pain that he needed a pillow.
In 1799, George Washington died of presumed epiglottis, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. His end was a painful one as doctors burned and blistered him to draw out the humors.
James Garfield – “Did the doctors kill this President”
James Garfield was shot twice (once in the arm and once in the back) on July 2, 1881. The bullets and wounds supposedly were not lethal but the un-sterile technique used (the practitioners used their fingers to find the bullets while he lay at the train station) caused him to have infection and his doctors supposedly restricted his eating since they thought the bullet pierced the bowel.
They fed James Garfield by rectal enema. He was fed beef bouillon, egg yolks milk, whisky and opium through his rectum. It was considered a “Nutritional enema”.
Interestingly, Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector made of a battery and several metal coils positioned on a wooden platform, connected to an ear piece to help find the bullet. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. James Garfield died 80 days later.
Library of Congress
Thomas Jefferson – ahead of his time…….
Thomas Jefferson lived until he was 83. He was not a vegetarian but ate less meat than others and increased his vegetable intake.
His sleep habits were also good – 5-8 hours of sleep in a “reclined” position. “Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.”
He was against tobacco, and moderately used alcohol. “…you are not to conclude I am a drinker. My measure is a perfectly sober 3 or 4 glasses at dinner, and not a drop at any other time. But as to those 3 or 4 glasses I am very fond.”
Its been postulated he also had Aspergers…….
William Taft – Poster child for sleep apnea and the “Atkins diet”.
President Taft weighed over 300 lbs, supposedly would nod off during the day and during meetings with world leaders. He was presumed to have narcolepsy from suffering from sleep apnea.
His doctor put him on a low carb diet and he lost 60 lbs
Franklin D. Roosevelt – as if polio wasn’t enough…..
In addition to being a victim to polio, cerebral hemorrhage and very high blood pressure, its been postulated that FDR had malignant melanoma above his left eyebrow….possibly the cause of his hemorrhage when it spread to the brain.
Abraham Lincoln – was he suicidal?
Myth – Abraham Lincoln had Marfan’s Syndrome? No. Now its believed he had a genetic disorder, MEN2B which gave him a Marfanoid appearance (tall, lanky, long limbs), large lower lip, history of constipated, bumpy lips, “pseudodepression”, and his mother possibly suffered the same disorder.
Why did it take 11 hours to die from a fatal wound? ……Doctors actually relieved the intracranial pressure, and appeared to do an amazing job considering the time. He fell unconscious immediately, but they never were able to revive him.
Was Lincoln suicidal? The poem, Suicide’s Soliloquy was believed to be authored by Abraham Lincoln.
Woodrow Wilson – Was he always in charge?
In October of 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. After his medical incident its believed his wife Edith ran the country while he was bedridden. He died in 1924, three years after leaving office at the age of 67.
Dwight D. Eisenhower – if your heart’s not in it…..
In 1955 he suffered a myocardial infarction (heart attack). He originally thought he suffered from indigestion. Recovery time was much slower than modern day and he was kept on bed rest for months. He was considering resigning. Months later he regains his strength and plans to run for a second term.
John F. Kennedy – did his back brace kill him?
Why was JFK was so “tan”? He suffered from Addison’s disease and along with this suffered from chronic back problems. He required multiple injections and medicines on a routine basis.
His back brace may have cost him his life……Historians believe he didn’t slump over after the first shot (prevented by the brace) and was therefore sitting upright when the second shot hit his head.
JFK appears to be in his back brace that day. If the first shot caused him to fall over, historians believe he could still be alive today, avoiding the second fatal shot to his head.
Other reported maladies affecting some U.S. Presidents include:
Ulysses S. Grant – throat cancer
Chester Arthur – Bright’s disease
Teddy Roosevelt – detached retina
Herbert Hoover – GI Cancer and GI bleed
Richard Nixon – phlebitis, blood clots
George HW Bush – hyperthyroidism/Graves disease
In short, Presidents are not always in the finest of health and may suffer the same maladies their constituents do. Washington has always found a way to keep this from the public and may continue to despite today’s technology.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and board certified Family Physician