It is not unusual to keep the Health of American Presidents Secret

It was a cold, miserable day when Grover Cleveland rode down Pennsylvania Avenue with President Harrison, whom he was to replace as President of the United States. They both had previously attended the Vice -Presidential Inauguration of Adlai Stevenson (You may recognize this name. He was the grandfather of Adlai Stevenson II, who was the presidential candidate in the election of 1952 and 1956 against Eisenhower), Cleveland then took his own oath of office.  It was not a good time. The country was in a severe depression, and the economy was in shambles. Several months later, on May 5, he noticed a bump in his left palate by one of his left molar teeth, the side he was fond of chewing his ever-present cigar.  By June, it had doubled in size, and on July 1, 1893, he took a secret cruise, advertised as a fishing trip on the Oneida, one of his friend’s yachts, and six surgeons performed an operation that today would be a six-hour ordeal.  In 90 minutes, the tumor was removed along with half of his palate and six teeth. That remained a secret for 24 years.  He had to wear a rubber prosthesis to correct the facial distortion and speech from the loss of volume in the upper part of his mouth. With the rubber prosthesis and the fact that the incisions were all inside the mouth, there were no external signs of this rather radical surgery. It was cancer. (In 1980, that was reconfirmed on review of the original slides). The operation was a success.  He died 15 years later of a heart attack with no recurrence of cancer.  

It is not unusual to keep the President’s health a secret.  Woodrow Wilson had a cerebral event, likely a stroke, on September 25, 1919, while on a speaking tour. He was severely disabled, with paralysis and loss of cognitive functions.  Edith Wilson, his wife, shielded him from everyone but his doctor, even “guiding” his hand to sign documents. She, de-facto, became the Chief Executive of the United States until his second term concluded in March 1921.  She was our first woman president!!

Warren G. Harding was institutionalized for mental problems that were disguised as fatigue. He was President from 1921 to 1923 when he died in office at age 57, presumably from a heart attack.

Franklin Roosevelt had paraplegia, which most people did not know.  It was kept from the public by the media, never showing him in a wheelchair. He had small strokes that incapacitated him in his last few months of life. At 3:35 pm on April 12, 1945, he complained of a “terrific headache,” and shortly after that, he was dead, just months after he was elected to his fourth term.

Eisenhower’s first heart attack was hidden as “a digestive upset.” And Kennedy had Addison’s disease, a failure of his adrenal glands, which he and his doctors denied. He took steroids secretly. He had two episodes of complete collapse.

The assassination attempt on Ronald Reagen in 1981, led to his being unable to discharge his duties as the President. He was in and out of consciousness.  It was Alexander Hague, Secretary of State, who took charge, forgetting that the Vice President then the Speaker of the House, and finally the Senate’s President Pro Tempore came before him in the line of succession. Hague unceremoniously usurped power when he said, “As of now, I am in control here!” Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, five years after his term of office ended, but it was suspected by journalists, and even his son, long before his doctors agreed.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to shield our current President from concerns about his health. The Air Force One stair incident, stumbling not once but three times, is one of those events that has put even the most ardent supporter on notice, along with the rest of the world. “The United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength,” quoted from Yang Jiechi, director of Foreign Affairs Commission of China. Vladimir Putin ridiculed our President by mockingly challenging him to a public debate, saying he could do it after the weekend. Putin smells weakness! And China would not have been so brazen with our former President.  An insult of that nature would not have gone unchallenged! Unfortunately, a rubber insert, like the one that hid Cleveland’s deformity, would not hide the many gaffs our President makes with many of his public appearances.

About a year ago, I was asked, “Is it possible for a doctor to diagnose dementia without examining the patient?” I hesitated to answer the question because they had a point.  For any diagnosis, an examination by the physician is considered standard of care, but to do a full examination, taking the blood pressure, listening to the heart and lungs, etc. is not relevant to diagnosing a brain condition, especially one that deals with cognition, that can be evaluated by listening to the patient talk. Does the patient forget common words? C’mon man! You know “the thing!” Do they mix up who is a sister and who is a wife? Or when the patient consistently elevates the Vice-President to the Presidency, and things like that? Do they forget where they are? Even if they have a stuttering problem, the healthy brain of a person that stutters does not make mistakes like that. Just walking can tell you a lot about the patient.  Is their gait shuffling?  Do they stumble? Is their balance off? Just observing his/her behavior gives plenty of clues.  But I should have answered the critics. The answer is a resounding, “Yes, a doctor can diagnose dementia without actually laying hands on a person.” It is now so obvious that nine out of ten McDonald’s hamburger flippers can diagnose that dementia is the likely diagnosis. Of course, it is much easier now. To make it even easier, nearly half of people at age 80 have signs of dementia. That is why the airlines make pilots retire at age 65, and in Japan, surgeons over 62 are not allowed to operate. This would not be the first time in modern history when millions have been misled by propaganda. Joseph Göbbels certainly knew how to do it.