Vol. 148 May 15, 2016 Fun Facts About U.S. Presidents

Hub thumbnail 2015Since we are fully immersed in the Presidential primaries, and I just happened to see an illuminating PBS documentary on the death of President James Garfield, I thought that this week’s blog should be about some U.S. Presidents.

President Garfield was not assassinated. He died of medical malpractice.

On September 19, 1881 a disgruntled office seeker who was denied the post of Paris Consulship shot President Garfield twice as he walked through the Washington, D.C. railroad station. This was 16 years after Lincoln’s assassination but secret service protection for the President did not yet exist. A passing policeman wrestled the shooter, Charles Guiteau, to the ground before he could fire a planned third shot. Garfield died 79 days later from overwhelming infection from the one bullet retained in his body.

Though Lister had been writing about anti-sepsis techniques to prevent infection for twenty years, the wound was repeatedly explored by bare hands and unsterilized metal probes in unsuccessful attempts to locate the bullet for removal. Dr. Willard Bliss, an experienced surgeon who had served during the Civil War, took personal charge of the case, refused access to any other physicians, and steadfastly insisted that the bullet was lodged in the President’s right side. He continued to probe the wound looking for it. Alexander Graham Bell designed a metal detector expressly for finding the bullet. Dr. Bliss allowed him to scan the right side only since “that was where the bullet was.” The metal detector scan was ambiguous, perhaps due to the metal bed springs, but Dr. Bliss declared that it showed that he was right, ” the bullet is in the right side of the back”. Dr. Bliss declared the persistent pus as a “sign of healing”, the raging fevers as caused by malaria (which Garfield’s wife did have), and issued several press releases describing Garfield’s “improvement”. Dr. Bliss denied other physicians’ requests to examine the patient in order to help with the treatment. He clearly did not believe in anti-sepsis and the germ theory, both of which were in the medical literature since the 1860’s. Dr. Bliss also rejected the new fangled stethoscope and listened to Garfield’s terminal pneumonia by pressing his ear to the patient’s chest. Emaciated, septic, and covered with carbuncles and abscesses Garfield finally died when his splenic aneurysm burst.

An autopsy revealed that the bullet was lodged in Garfield’s left side of his back, had missed all vital organs, and it was not considered to be a lethal wound. Dr. Bliss was roundly criticized by prominent physicians and the press “for practicing not in accordance with well-defined and acknowledged surgical precepts.” Garfield’s death is considered by some to be a water shed or dividing point in American medicine with subsequently more positive journal articles about anti-sepsis, the development of nurse educational standards (trained nurses were rare and Cabinet wives provided most of his nursing care), and the beginning of the trend toward medical specialization.

Ronald Reagan got his nickname because in those days no one was routinely testing children’s vision before starting school. (1)

President Reagan got his nickname “Dutch” because his parents knew he could not see straight and had his hair cut so that bangs fell over his eyes. The “little Dutchman haircut” gave him his nickname. Reagan was severely near-sighted and developed hobbies involving close-up things like butterfly collecting. He sat in the front row of the classroom to try to see the blackboard. No one picked him for their baseball team because he was a lousy hitter and often got hit by the ball when at bat. When he was thirteen and riding in the country with his family one Sunday he picked up his mother’s eyeglasses which she had left on the car seat. The shout of amazement when he suddenly saw the rest of the world for the first time almost caused his father to crash the car! The next day the eye doctor measured his vision as 20/200 and gave him some thick lenses in ugly frames. His new-found confidence led him to work as a lifeguard for 7 summers, and he saved 77 people, by his count, while wearing his glasses.

Ulysses S. Grant was a horse whisperer long before Nicholas Evans ever wrote a word or Robert Redford ever acted.

When Ulysses was very young a traveling circus came to town and the ringmaster issued a challenge to all the youngsters to try to ride a miniature pony. Ulysses immediately volunteered, but was skipped over for several older boys. When they were all thrown by the pony Ulysses got his chance. Despite the pony’s rearing, kicking, and pawing at the sky Ulysses dug his heels in and held on to the mane until the pony quieted. Ulysses guided him quietly around the ring as the crowd went wild! By the time he was five he could stand up on a trotting horse holding the reins in his hand. By 7 he found a job hauling wood in a horse-drawn wagon. With the money saved from the job he bought his own, first horse. He was not a savvy “horse-trader”, paid a bit too much, and was dubbed by his friends as “Useless Grant.” By age 9 farmers were hiring him to break their unruly colts. His early reputation in the Union Army was based largely on his superb horsemanship. As President he expanded the White House stables and sheltered more horses than any other President. He preferred riding a horse in Washington, D.C. rather than being chauffeured around in a carriage and once got a $5 ticket for speeding while President.

Obama’s early writings predicted the future.

In response to a third grade teacher’s request to write about “What I Want To Be in the Future” Barrack Obama wrote the following:

“My name is Barry Soetoro.
I am a third grade student at SD Asisi.
My mom is my idol.
My teacher is Ibu Fer. I have lots of friends.
I live near the school. I usually walk to the school with my mom, then go home by myself.
Someday I want to be president. I love to visit all the places in Indonesia.
The eeeeeeeeend.”

Hm-m-m??   I-N-N-teresting.

1. All three of these stories about Presidents as kids are from “Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents” by David Stabler and Doogie Horner, Quirk Productions Inc., 2014;  www.quirkbooks.com

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