Health and Medical History of President

William Howard Taft: Shops for a Surgeon

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perineal abscess
Taft lived in Manila as Governor of the Philippines from 1900 to 1903. In September 1901 he developed a fever and was diagnosed (probably incorrectly) with dengue. In early October he developed abdominal pain. Late that month, an abscess in the perineum ruptured. After an emergency operation, he was near death for several days, but recovered. A second operation was necessary in late November 1901, and the need for a third became apparent in February 1902 BELOW. In March 1903 he developed amoebic dysentery and was forced to bed MORE leading some to believes the original abscess was amoebic 1a.

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In February 1902 Taft and his wife, Nellie, had an extensive correspondence on medical matters. She was in Cincinnati, he in Washington and New York. (All excerpts are from the Taft Papers in the Library of Congress.)
February 3, 1902
My darling Nellie ... I have been feeling blue for two days over the judgment of Dr. Borden one of the best surgeons in the army[?] that a a small opening of my wound is evidence of a [illegible] of the bowel and the necessity for another operation which will consist of cutting open one side of the rectum three or four inches down to where the hole is, and laying it open and curetting it. He says it might heal in two weeks and it would be most unusual if it took longer than three. But I have been hacked and cut and curetted and etherized so much and have lain so long in bed that a continuance of all this for the better part of a month is not welcome.... Dr. Borden came this afternoon and probed and found that he could reach into the hole which Reilly and Rhodes both thought to be filled up solid at least three inches. I am afraid he demonstrates that it is a fistulous opening into the rectum. He says that there is no hurry about its being operated on but that he would not go into the tropics with it. I shall consult an expert in New York before acting. ... I am uncertain whether I ought to be operated on in Washington, New York or Cincinnati.

February 6, 1902
My dearest Will ... I do feel dreadfully that you are having more trouble with that horrid wound. I want you to go to Baltimore and see Dr. Kelly who is the best authority on all such things. Dr. Forchheimer says that the only thing to say against the Johns Hopkins is that they might charge you frightfully. He had a friend who was charged $17,000 for an operation, probably a very serious one. It could be done perfectly well here [in Cincinnati], and much more cheaply. He says, though he thinks you should at any rate see Dr. Kelly and have him write to Dr. F. who is a great friend. I give you this for what it is worth, but I am inclined to think that this advice is good. I am sure Johns Hopkins is the best place to go, and of course if you decide on that I will come and stay with you. I doubt if the doctor is going to let me go to New York next week, as I have not improved any yet as far as feelings go. I feel encouraged however because my bowels are beginning to act in a normal way which they have not done for a year or longer. ... Mind what I say and consult a doctor in Baltimore and not in New York.

February 8, 1902
My dearest Will ... I hope you have seriously considered Dr. Kelly. He is the thought by everyone here to be the greatest surgeon in the country [sic]. And as consultations are no doubt costly, it is better to go right to him than to waste money in New York. I am very blue over the idea of your having to go through anything more.

February 8, 1902
My darling Nellie ... I shall consult Dr. Kelly before leaving Washington but I think I may consult an expert in New York, too. ... I think I would rather have the operation performed in Cincinnati if I could. Ask Dr. F what hospital I could go to and whom would he have perform the operation.

February 11, 1902
My darling Nellie ... I spoke with Forchheimer today about the surgeon. He says ... Ransohoff is the man to have, though he would only say so in strict confidence because of his connection with Connor. He insists that there is no necessity of going to a hospital, and when I said that we would prefer it, as it would make too much trouble here, he said that you should rather than a hospital come to his house first, which is nonsense of course.

Nellie was herself not well at this time.
February 14, 1902
My dearest Will ... I have been feeling poorly again the last two days. The doctor has given up the medicine I was taking, and has changed it to quinine, because I had one of my faint spells and slept forever after it. The quinine makes me sick, and I am feeling miserable today.

February 15, 1902
My dearest Will ... [I have been feeling] rather dumpy. The quinine that I am taking has disagreed badly with me, making me break out in a rash, and have many disagreeable symptoms [sic], but I hope I shall not have to take it after tomorrow. I have not been out for a week and have not felt able to do anything but lie around.

Nellie's letter of the 15th expresses concern that "the doctor" would object to her traveling to New York for a reception with Prince Henry on Feb. 24.
February 17, 1902
My darling Nellie ... If Forcheimer thinks you ought not come to New York by February 24th then I'll go to Cincinnati have it done [sic] at the Jewish Hospital by Ransohoff.
And finally, more words of concern for his wife:
February 20, 1902
My darling Nellie ... I am worrying about you. Why don't you grow stronger. What does that smiling Forcheimer say about it? Is it malaria in your blood? I don't see why quinine should be used if malaria were not the problem.
Ultimately, Taft had the operation in Cincinnati in early March 1902. Ross says the operation was performed by Dr. Frederick Forchheimer and Dr. Hiller Rauschoff 2a, but I wonder about that. I wonder if Ross might have mis-read Ransohoff as Rauschoff. Of note, Ransohoff discovered the Cullen sign before Cullen.
Resources
Cited Resources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.0899509568 Libraries 93-42000. ap. 168
    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.
  2. Ross, Ishbel. An American Family: The Tafts - 1678 to 1964. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1964. Libraries 64-23540. ap. 143
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