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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Colonial Medicine

If antibiotics had existed in colonial Virginia, George Washington might not have succumbed to the infection that ended his life on December 14, 1799.
According to Joseph Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington, the former president rode the rounds of his estate for five hours during a snow, sleet and hail storm two days before his death. He then chose not to change out of his wet clothes because dinner was ready when he returned and he didn’t want to inconvenience his guests. The next day, although hoarse, he again went out in bad weather to mark some trees for cutting.

That night, he woke complaining of shortness of breath and pain in his throat.
His personal physician was called. He diagnosed Washington’s condition as serious and consulted two other physicians.

They bled him four times; blistered him around the neck; and gave him laxatives to try to eradicate the infection – common, but misguided treatments at the time.

Modern medical experts believe Washington may have suffered from an infection of the epiglottis, which is located at the entrance to the larynx .
It is quite uncomfortable, since the epiglottis blocks the windpipe. Breathing and swallowing become difficult.

Finally, Washington asked his doctors to stop their efforts. “I die hard,” he said, “but I am not afraid to go.” His last words were “Tis well.” Washington was 67 years old.

Save This Date:
September 27
at 7:30 p.m. Center for the Arts -- Fairfax campus of George Mason University. Joseph J. Ellis, author of the 2007 All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington discusses his biography. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - GMU. Free; first come first served; no registration required.

Upcoming All Fairfax Reads Event:
September 10
at 7:30 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library. James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, discusses his book, George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character.

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