William Henry Harrison: Failed Treatments

Harrison gave a two hour inaugural speech on a cold, wet, and blustery March 4. He caught a cold, which is not surprising given the President's thin, malnourished state. The White House was poorly heated at that time, and by March 27 he was very sick with right lower lobe pneumonia and "congestion of the liver." 1a SEE BELOW
The year was 1841, and the germ theory of disease had not yet been established. Instead, medical science believed that disease was caused by accumulation of harmful substances in the body. Disease, therefore, was treated by removing these offending agents. 1b

Blistering of the skin was a standard method to draw evil humors from the body. Given that the president was sick with pneumonia, the President's physicians tried blistering the right side of his chest. The President did not improve.

Next, the doctors applied suction cups to the blistered skin to draw out the evil, elusive substance that weakened him. Then the doctors gave him ipecac to induce vomiting. They also gave him calomel and castor oil to purge his bowels. Then they administered sedative to the fast-weakening President in the form of opium and brandy. As a last resort, they tried Virginia snakeweed, a Seneca Indian remedy. Nothing worked. 1a
Harrison died one month to the day after his inauguration.
Cited Sources
  1. MacMahon, Edward B. and Curry, Leonard. Medical Cover-Ups in the White House. Washington, DC: Farragut, 1987.
    a  p.18  b  p.13

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