Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Diagnosis: fun!

Over the years experts have claimed that Abraham Lincoln suffered from heart disease, or ataxia, or Marfan syndrome, or maybe some other variety of mutant gene-type disease.

Last week was the news that with modern medical technology Abe might well have survived that big ol' hole J.W. Booth put in his haid.

Now some doctors are claiming that Lincoln had smallpox when he gave the Gettysburg Address:

"If you play doctor, it's difficult to shut down the diagnostic process" when reading about historical figures, said Dr. Armond Goldman, an immunology specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He and a colleague "diagnosed" serious smallpox in Lincoln after scouring historical documents, biographies and old newspaper
clippings. . . .

According to Goldman and co-author Dr. Frank Schmalstieg, Lincoln fell ill Nov. 18, the day before giving the speech in Pennsylvania. When Lincoln arrived at the battlefield to dedicate a cemetery for the fallen soldiers, he was weak, dizzy, and his face "had a ghastly color," according to the report.

On the train back to Washington that evening, Lincoln was feverish and had severe headaches. Then he developed back pains, exhaustion and a widespread scarlet rash that turned blister-like. A servant who tended to Lincoln during the three-week illness later developed smallpox and died in January 1864. . . .

If Lincoln had smallpox, it's unclear where he got it. Goldman and Schmalstieg suggest it might have been from Lincoln's 10-year-old son, Tad, who was bedridden with a feverish illness and rash around the same time. . . .

Confidential to JWP: you're right, it wasn't Tad. It was the Army. Or maybe fur traders.

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