Theodore Roosevelt: His Surgical Care Disparaged

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During a stop in Milwaukee on his 1912 "Bull Moose" campaign for the presidency, Roosevelt was shot at close range by John Schrank, a psychotic New York saloonkeeper. Schrank had his .38 caliber pistol aimed at Roosevelt's head, but a bystander saw the gun and deflected Schrank's arm just as the trigger was pulled. Roosevelt did not realize he was hit until someone noticed a hole in his overcoat. When Roosevelt reached inside his coat, he found blood on his fingers.

Roosevelt was extremely lucky. He had the manuscript of a long, 50-page speech in his coat pocket, folded in two, and the bullet was no doubt slowed as it passed through it. He also had a steel spectacle case in his pocket, and the bullet traversed this, too, before entering Roosevelt's chest near the right nipple. Thus, one could say that Roosevelt's long-windedness and myopia saved his life! MORE

Although the bullet traveled superiorly and medially for about 3 inches after breaking the skin, it lodged in the chest wall, without entering the pleural space. Roosevelt was examined in a Milwaukee hospital SEE BELOW, (where he reluctantly allowed the surgeons to administer an injection of tetanus anti-toxin 1a), and then was observed for 8 days in a Chicago hospital. He was discharged on October 23, 1912 -- only a few days before the election. The bullet had effectively stopped Roosevelt's campaign. He finished second to Woodrow Wilson, but ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. The bullet was never removed, and caused no difficulty after the wound healed. 2

The details of the assassination attempt and its aftermath are described in 3a.

Oscar King Davis, a Roosevelt aide who was formerly a correspondent for the New York Times, described a scene in the Milwaukee hospital where Roosevelt was initially taken after being shot:
It happened that one of our Wisconsin State committeemen, who lived in Milwaukee, was receiving at that time a visit from his brother, who was one of the distinguished members of the surgical staff of Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. This man's reputation was such that I was very glad when he came out to the hospital and went in to the operating room to join the examination of the Colonel. But when he came out, he walked up to me and said, quietly, but very earnestly:

"Get him out of here just as quickly as you can. This is no place for him."

I asked him what was the matter, but he did not say. He only repeated his advice to get the Colonel away from that place just as quickly as we could.

This surgeon was, I believe, Joseph C. Bloodgood.
Cited Sources
  1. Manners, William. TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
    a  p.286
  2. Foley, WJ. A bullet and a Bull Moose. JAMA. 1969;209:2035-2038. Pubmed: 4897364.
  3. Davis, Oscar King. Released for Publication: Some Inside Political History of Theodore Roosevelt and his Times 1898-1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925.
    a  pp.374-393, 398

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