Grover Cleveland: Secret Jaw Operations - The Second Operation


During such an operation, especially in operations on bone, with the parts bathed with blood, it is often impossible to judge accurately whether all the diseased tissue has certainly been removed. When, later, he could see clearly the condition of the parts, Doctor Bryant was not quite satisfied with the appearance at one point. At his request, Doctors Janeway, Erdmann and I (and undoubtedly Dr. O'Reilly, though neither Dr. Bryant nor my own notes record his name) again boarded the Oneida. We went by train to Greenwich, Commodore Benedict's home, and there, secure from discovery, went on board. Mr. Cleveland joined us on the yacht at Gray Gables; and on July seventeenth Doctor Bryant, with our assistance, removed all the suspicious tissue and cauterized the entire surface with the galvanocautery. This operation was brief and the President recovered quickly. On July nineteenth, again the second day after the operation, the same three signatures appear in Commodore Benedict's register. This second operation has never been disclosed before.

On the evening of the eighteenth I was put ashore at Newport just before the Fall River boat was due, on her way to New York. Then an amusing encounter almost betrayed me. My intention was to get a stateroom and seclude myself there at once. At the head of the stairs on my way to the stateroom, whom should I meet but my brother-in-law, Mr. Spencer Borden, of Fall River!

"Hello! What are you doing here?" was his greeting.

I said very nonchalantly that I had had a consultation near by, and had had no time to visit the family in Fall River, as I had reached Newport only a few minutes earlier. Knowing my reticence in such matters and respecting my sense of duty, he did not press the question as to where the consultation had been held, nor who was the patient. When "Holland's" account was published, six weeks later, with swift intuition Mr. Borden exclaimed to his family at table that that surely must have been my "consultation" when he met me on the boat!

Mr. Cleveland left Gray Gables for the special session of Congress on August fifth. He returned to Gray Gables for rest and recuperation on August eleventh. Finally he went to Washington for the winter on August thirtieth and reached the White House on September first; on which date Doctor Bryant's notes say: "All healed."

After the first operation, while the President was at Gray Gables, Dr. Kasson C. Gibson, of New York, fitted Mr. Cleveland with an artificial jaw of vulcanized rubber. This supported the cheek in its natural position and prevented it from falling in. When it was in place the President's speech was excellent, even its quality not being altered. On October fourteenth Mr. Cleveland, in a letter to Doctor Gibson, expressed his lively satisfaction after trying a new and even better and more comfortable plate also made by Doctor Gibson.

I went to Washington at intervals several times afterward to-examine Mr. Cleveland's mouth and never found anything wrong. These brief visits were always a great pleasure, at the time as well as in retrospect, since I made the more intimate acquaintance of both the President and Mrs. Cleveland and their lovely family.

Now, after the lapse of nearly a quarter of a century, it is even more evident than it was at the time that the instant decision of Mr. Cleveland himself, concurred in by his professional advisers and such friends as Secretary Lamont and Commodore Benedict, to keep the operation a profound secret, was wise, and one may say imperative. What the consequences would have been had it become known at once we can only surmise, and shudder!

Mr. Cleveland died June 24, 1908, fifteen years after our operations. That he should have survived after the removal of a sarcoma of the jaw without local recurrence for so unusually long a period was a great satisfaction to Doctor Bryant and his colleagues.

Long before his death Mr. Cleveland had "come into his own." He passed away as the "foremost American citizen," respected and honored by all parties and in all ranks of life. To me it is a rare satisfaction to have been associated with him so closely and to have been able to assist my trusted friend Bryant in doing a most important service to our beloved country.

The first time I ever saw Mr. Cleveland was at a reception in Washington, in 1888, when the American Surgical Association held its annual meeting. Mr. Cleveland readily consented to receive the members of the association, at Doctor Bryant's request.

Mrs. Cleveland had still the bloom of a youthful bride, for the marriage of the President and Miss Frances Folsom had been celebrated in the White House in 1886; only two years earlier. I shall never forget the deep impression she then made upon me as we filed past and she shook our hands. Her manner had a delightful friendly charm, which seemed to say to every one of us in turn: "My dear doctor, I should really like to sit down and have a nice little chat with you; but you see all these gentlemen behind you, to whom I am obliged to say a word or two. I am very sorry; but I must let you go." Nor has that charm been lost with the passing years.

Unfortunately Mr. Cleveland never learned to dictate easily to a stenographer. Practically all his letters, papers and addresses were written by his own hand. In the New York Academy of Medicine there is framed a formal address before the academy, every page of it laboriously hand written. I never received from him a note or a letter that was typewritten.

I never knew any other public man who took the duties of his office more seriously -- one might say, so over conscientiously. Every case that reached him from various courts, civil or military, I have been told, had to have all the evidence presented along with the sentence; and many a midnight hour found him still poring over the documents in the case. Such infinite labor has long been a heavy task for our Presidents. Now it has become a practical impossibility. The President of over one hundred million people should be relieved especially of the huge burden of the appointment of thousands of officeholders in the many departments of the Government. The principal and confidential officers, cabinet ministers, judges, members of important commissions, and so on, should be the only presidential appointees. This would give him time and strength to devote to determining the great questions of policy, which the direction of internal affairs, and still more the intricate and often perplexing foreign relations of a great nation, require. His time and strength should not be frittered away by the importunities of applicants and their personal and congressional advocates.

Once only did I, myself, transgress this rule, and the time and care he gave to this case shamed me. In the autumn of 1893 one of -my former medical students wanted to study tropical diseases. As his means were limited he asked me whether I could obtain for him an appointment as consul at some not too busy place, where there would be leisure for such study. In those days there were no laboratories available for such studies. The work had to be personal and individual.

Moreover, there was absolutely no examination for consulships, and the commercial duties represented by our present useful consular reports were often neglected. Accordingly I wrote to Mr. Cleveland, stating the case. Most men in his position would have thought that making the appointment upon the facts as stated in my letter was fully warranted. Not so Mr. Cleveland! He insisted on knowing all about the applicant in detail; and, instead of directing a clerk to write the reply to me, he wrote it himself. When satisfied with the qualifications of the applicant he made the appointment.

In 1898 Mr. William Potter, former Minister to Italy, and then, as now, the efficient president of the board of Trustees of the Jefferson Medical College, sought to obtain Mr. Cleveland as the orator at the commencement of the Jefferson. At his instance I wrote to Mr. Cleveland, urging him to accept. In his courteous reply, declining the invitation, appears an echo of July, 1893:

"I sometimes think I have not, and perhaps never will recover from the mental twist and wrench of my last term in Washington. I suppose I am booked for a speech of a political character, to be made late in April; and while it seemed to me the highest duty dictated the engagement, the anticipation of the ordeal is already such a nightmare that it makes me unhappy."

There again spoke the great citizen. The "highest duty" was ever a call to be obeyed.

The last time I saw Mr. Cleveland was in his Princeton home on December 26,1905, in consultation with Doctors Bryant, Carnochan, of Princeton, and William C. Lusk, of New York. He was the same dutiful patient as in 1893. For a man of his rugged temperament, self-conscious power, and concentrated will and purpose, he was the most docile and courageous patient I ever had the pleasure of attending.

Once a decision was reached and announced to him, he observed the prescribed regimen steadfastly and with unquestioning obedience. His equanimity was one of the most noticeable features of his everyday life -- at least, as I saw it -- but I have a strong suspicion that when, in turn, the lion was roused it were well for his adversary not to cross his path.

My political principles and convictions differed from his own, but I never questioned his sincerity. He had long had my profound respect, for he gained my affection in the very first hour I passed with him on the deck of the Oneida. May this nation ever be blessed with many such noble, fearless citizens!

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