Friday, June 27, 2014

President Polk Dies During Cholera Epidemic

Oo! Modern medicine
We'e stamped out certain diseases in the United States. Americans now have to travel great distances before they have have to worry about malaria and cholera, among other diseases. We are so used to the idea that these diseases belong to the far away, it's hard to remember that they also belong to the long ago.

The Edgefield Advertiser of Edgefield, South Carolina reported on June 27, 1849 on the death of James K. Polk. Polk had died on the 15th of June, but news travelled slowly in those days. He lived only a few months after leaving the White House, possibly a victim of cholera. This has an aspect of "a U.S. President died of what?" to it.

Yes, cholera.

We find the following interesting details of the illness and death of Mr. Polk, in the Nashville True Whig of Tuesday last:

James K. Polk, late President of this Republic, died in this city, as we barely had time to announce in our last, at about 5 o'clock on Friday evening last, the 15th instant, lingering for about two weeks. — His disease was of a chronic nature, having been troubled with it more or less for twenty-seven years; probably aggravated by the cholera epidemic which has been raging in this city for time past. We saw him at a period when his physicians considered his case very critical.
A note here: The Nashville True Whig seems to take umbrage that Mr. Polk had the discourtesy to die right before deadline, thus interrupting the usual flow of putting out their paper. Further, they did a interview with him on his deathbed. Mr. Polk's dying thoughts were probably that it would be nice to have some sort of person in one's employ to talk to the press when one could not or did not wish too. One could direct the enquires of the press to this "press secretary."

Mr. Polk had a reason for talking to the press:
He happened to hear that we were going to Columbia, where his good old mother resides, and sent for us. Upon entering the room, he asked us to take a seat by his bedside; he then proceeded in a very calm, deliberate manner, to day that the exhausted condition of his body was not alarming to him theta he felt satisfied that his early career was fast approaching an end; that he wished to send some word to his beloved mother, who was so unwell, as he understood, that it was probably she might not be able to come to see him; he spoke of her and other members of his family most affectionately; among other messages delivered to us in the same calm, resigned tone, he requested us to thell his mother, that, should they not be permitted to meet on earth again, that he had an abiding hope that through Divine mercy, they would meet hereafter.
 It's not clear if Mr. Polk meant these comments for publication, but if you call a newspaper reporter to deliver a message, you can't much complain if they publish it.

There is another item about cholera on the same page, dealing with its treatment.
One fact is worth a dozen theories, especial on matters connected with the preservation of human life. In Chicago they are using sulphur in cholera cases with great success, administered according to the following prescription of Dr. Bird:
It goes on to suggest dosing the patient with a mixture of charcoal and sulphur. These days, we use antibiotics. No work on what treatment the former President received. Further, through the True Whig only went as far to say that he died during an epidemic, it seems that his chronic condition made him more likely die once infected.
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