pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

“Presidential” Medicine

Anyone who hasn’t just about had enough of all things “presidential” by now must have spent the last year living in a cave somewhere.

I’ve found some “presidential medicine” related stuff that you probably “ought to know.” Just sayin!

Here’s the deal though. This stuff is much more fun to read if you sort of get into this. FIRST ‐ I’ll ask a question and give you several options for answers.

SECOND ‐ you use your intuitive skills to think of the answer; and,

THIRD – hover over (or select on touch screens) the blacked out answer to reveal it and an explanation of the issue.

As they say in the ‘real’ circus: Prepare yourself to be amazed!”

“Presidential” Medicine

Let’s begin with a fairly innocuous piece of presidential medical trivia which nobody around the office seemed to know today.

Secret Surgery

Which president underwent a secret operation aboard a yacht to remove a potentially cancerous lesion from his jaw?

A: John F. Kennedy; B: Ulysses S. Grant; C: Grover Cleveland; or, D: George Washington

Grover Cleveland

President Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, the only one to serve two nonconsecutive terms.

During his second term, he consulted a doctor about a sore inside his mouth, which was determined to be potentially cancerous. He decided to have the lesion removed but wanted the surgery kept secret to preserve the nation’s financial stability and his own political position.

Doctors aboard a yacht removed the tumor from inside his mouth, without using any external incisions, and then implanted a rubber prosthesis to correct his speech and appearance. One of the surgeons confirmed the story years later to a newspaper.

An Alcoholic

Which of these presidents was considered an alcoholic?

A: George W. Bush ; B: Martin van Buren ; C: Franklin Pierce ; D: Ulysses S. Grant ; or, E: All of the above.

All of the Above

Although the term “alcoholic” was not used back then the way it is now, van Buren was certainly known as a heavy drinker. The eighth president’s alcohol consumption was linked to a variety of health ailments, including gout.

Pierce, on the other hand, was widely known as an alcoholic. When asked what he was going to do when his term ended, he reportedly replied, “There is nothing left…but to get drunk.” The 14th president of the United States reportedly died from cirrhosis of the liver.

Grant, the 18th US president, also was known to consume large quantities of alcohol, but whether he should be characterized as an alcoholic has been hotly debated.

Fast-forward to 2001, when “W” Bush was inaugurated as the first president to openly admit to past alcohol abuse, saying that he quit in 1986 and never drank again.

But wait… there’s more!

Other past presidents who have been associated with excessive alcohol use include William Howard Taft, James Buchanan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Adams, Grover Cleveland, and Richard Nixon.

Kept Disease A Secret

Which president died of what was then called “Bright’s disease”?

A: Chester A. Arthur ; B: James A. Garfield ; C: Theodore Roosevelt ; or, D: Calvin Coolidge

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur became the 21st president when his boss, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881.

President Arthur struggled with health issues while in office and was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a broad term that is no longer used in medicine.

Today, his condition would be described as chronic nephritis. Like other ailing presidents, he tried to keep his illness a secret, but he died a year after leaving office.

Bowel Surgery

Which president underwent surgery for Crohn’s disease while in office?

A: John F. Kennedy ; B: Lyndon B. Johnson ; C: Dwight D. Eisenhower ; or, D: Jimmy Carter

Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Eisenhower had just announced his decision to run for re-election in 1956 when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (then called ileitis).

Soon after his diagnosis, he suffered a severe attack and underwent emergency surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He had survived a heart attack just a year earlier and would suffer a stroke the following year.

Although his health was a public issue, Eisenhower was re-elected later that year by an even wider margin than in his first election. This man was elected for his actions, not his talk!

Revealed an “Oversight” In the Constitution

Which president was nearly incapacitated by a stroke while in office, leaving his wife to unofficially manage his duties?

A: Franklin D. Roosevelt ; B: Woodrow Wilson ; C: John Adams ; or, D: James Madison

Woodrow Wilson

President Wilson suffered a serious stroke in October 1919, during his second term. He was paralyzed on one side and his vision was severely impaired.

His condition was kept secret for weeks, even from members of his own cabinet, and his wife Edith managed his schedule and delegated tasks as needed.

Within a few months his paralysis became public knowledge, but there was no process in place for replacing him as president. The situation eventually led to passage of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which resolved the handling of a disabled president.

Died in Office

How many presidents have died in office?

A: 3 ; B: 5 ; C: 8 ; or, D: 11


William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy all died in office.


There you have it. There are more presidential illnesses of course but these are a few highlights. Most of ‘my folks’ remember how John F Kennedy remodeled the Whitehouse to install a swimming pool for his war-injured back. And believe me the current yahoo and those wannabes got plenty too; but nobody’s talkin’… yet.


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