John Tyler: A Mysterious Illness

symmetric paralysis
While a 30 year old Congressman in Washington, Tyler developed an illness that remains difficult to diagnose. Based on Tyler's clear description of the illness SEE BELOW it would today be described as a symmetric, generalized, subacute paralysis. His recovery was so slow and prolonged that he resigned from Congress for two years 1a.

Possible diagnoses include Guillain-Barre syndrome, myasthenia gravis, tick paralysis, diphtheritic paralysis, and botulism 1b.

Tyler described the illness to his doctor as follows 1c:
I sustained a violent singular shock four days ago. I had gone to the house on Thursday morning before experiencing a disagreeable sensation in my head, which increased so much as to force me to leave the hall. It then visited in succession hands, feet, tongue, and lips, creating in each the effect that is produced by what is commonly called a sleeping hand, which all of us are subject to; but it was so severe as to render my limbs, tongue, and so forth, almost useless to me. I was bled and took purgatives which have rendered me convalescent. The doctor ascribed it to a diseased stomach, and very probably correctly did so. I am now walking about and I'm to all appearances well, but often experience a glow in my face and over the whole system which is often followed by debility with pain in my neck and arms.
Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
    a  pp.64-65  b  p.65  c  p.64

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

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