How Did Doctors Try to save George Washington's Life?

On 12 December 1799, former US President George Washington was just another Virginia landowner out inspecting his farm on horseback. There was wintry precipitation throughout the day -- light snow, hail and later freezing rain. By the time he returned to Mount Vernon, the 67-year-old Washington was feeling ill with a sore throat. By the next morning, his condition had worsened and doctors were called to his bedside, with fatal results.

The diagnoses varied, the first being “inflammatory quinsy” (today called PTA or peritonsillar abscess). Bloodletting, a common treatment for many ailments in the 18th century, was prescribed for the former president. In the course of his treatment, five to seven pints of blood were taken in less than 16 hours, and Washington soon died.

Some have speculated that the amount of blood taken from Washington's body contributed to his demise. Today, the Red Cross will only take two pints from a donor over an eight-week period. Many medical experts and historians also now believe that acute epiglottitis may have been the cause of George Washington's death.

More about George Washington's medical treatment:

  • Washington was given a mixture of molasses, butter and vinegar to soothe his throat, but it was difficult to swallow, causing him to convulse and nearly suffocate.

  • Dried beetles were applied to Washington's legs to raise blisters, while doctors applied calomel, a mercury compound, to his neck.

  • One physician called to Mount Vernon proposed a tracheostomy, which was practically unheard of at the time. He was overruled by the other two doctors, who said the procedure would be too risky.

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More Info: WETA

Discuss this Article

Post 7

These are great posts for information and trivial facts.

Post 6

I enjoy all your FYI posts.

Very educational too!

Post 5

The third doctor with the suggestion of tracheostomy had the right solution. That is the emergency treatment of acute epiglottitis with suffocation.

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