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The Excruciating Final Hours of President George Washington

A couple of months ago, we told you about the painful last days of King Charles II. Over a hundred years later, when former president George Washington fell ill in December of 1799, medical science hadn’t much more to offer. Washington felt worse the next morning, so his estate’s overseer, George Rawlins, tried to help.

At 7:30 a.m., Rawlins removed 12 to 14 ounces of blood, after which Washington requested that he remove still more. Following the procedure, Col. Lear gave the patient a tonic of molasses, butter and vinegar, which nearly choked Washington to death, so inflamed were the beefy-red tissues of his infected throat.

Dr. James Craik, Washington's longtime physician, was summoned. He didn’t have much to offer, either.

Dr. Craik entered Washington’s bedchamber at 9 a.m. After taking the medical history, he applied a painful “blister of cantharides,” better known as “Spanish fly,” to Washington’s throat. The idea behind this tortuous treatment was based on a humoral notion of medicine dating back to antiquity called “counter-irritation.” The blisters raised by this toxic stuff would supposedly draw out the deadly humors causing the General’s throat inflammation.

That was just the beginning of the efforts Dr. Craik made to save Washington’s life. Washington died on December 14, at the age of 67, but not before enduring dubious remedies that only made his last day likely the most agonizing of his life. Read about the treatment the father of our country endured at PBS Newshour. -via Digg


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