Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
Do I have a great book for you. Rory first mentioned it on Scraps of Literacy.
I thought it sounded good, and I had enough Amazon gift cards so I could get a book for free, and this was it: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.
I tend to be interested in more recent presidential history, maybe starting with Teddy Roosevelt. I had no idea that President James Garfield was such a fascinating guy. I knew he had been assassinated. Tale told.
But I learned so much about him and his death from this exceptionally well-written book. Not a single page was dull.
I'll tell you a few interesting facts about Garfield, but I don't want to ruin the book for you so you aren't getting all the details.
- He was a general in the Union Army and a strong abolitionist.
- After the war, he was elected to Congress and was perfectly content to serve there.
- He didn't run for president. He didn't say, Hey, I wanna be my party's nominee. Nope. They chose him when he didn't really want to be choosed.
- He absolutely adored his wife and children.
- He had been president for four months when he was shot by Charles Guiteau.
- Alexander Graham Bell came up with an invention that could locate the bullet in Garfield's body. Although the machine worked, the doctor didn't allow Bell to use it on the side of Garfield's body where the bullet had come to rest because the doctor was convinced the bullet was on the other side.
- The shots didn't kill Garfield; his doctors did.
With nothing to even ease the pain, Garfield lay silent as Bliss searched for the bullet inside him. Pressing the unsterilized probe downward and forward into the wound, Bliss did not stop until he had reached a cavity three inches deep in Garfield's back. At this point, he decided to remove the probe, but found that he could not. "In attempting to withdraw the probe, it became engaged between the fractured fragments and the end of the rib," he later wrote. He finally had to press down on Garfield's fractured rib so that it would lift and release the probe.
Although the probe was finally out, Garfield had no respite. Bliss immediately began to explore the wound again, this time with the little finger of his left hand. He inserted his finger so deeply into the wound that he could feel the broken rib and "what appeared to be lacerated tissue or comparatively firm coagula, probably the latter."
So you can see that we not only learn a great deal about Garfield in this book. We learn about common medical practices in the 1880s, but I promise, for those of you who are squeamish, it doesn't get too gross.
My favorite bits of trivia from this book are as follows:
The first physician on the scene after the shooting was one of the few black doctors in the United States. Thus, he became the first black doctor to treat a president.
Robert Todd Lincoln was present at the assassinations of two presidents and nearby at another -- when his own father was killed. RTL was on leave from the army (yes, of course, the Union Army) when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. RTL was invited to go to the theater with his parents that fateful night, but chose to remain at the White House. As a member of Garfield's cabinet, he was with Garfield when he was shot. Now, it's up to you to find out the next assassination at which RTL was present. I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up.
Here's the funniest part of the book. I find this absolutely hilarious. Garfield's doctor, the doctor who took charge of the case, was named Doctor. Yes, that was his first name! So when he became a doctor he was Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss.
God bless that idiot Dr. Doctor. His name gave me a good laugh because one of my favorite characters in literature is Major Major Major in Catch-22.
Infinities of love,