Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: Northwestern Lancet
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Death of the President”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 1 October 1901
Volume number: 21
Issue number: 19
Pagination: 402

“The Death of the President.” Northwestern Lancet 1 Oct. 1901 v21n19: p. 402.
full text
McKinley assassination (news coverage); William McKinley (medical care: criticism); William McKinley (medical care: criticism: personal response); William McKinley (death, cause of); William McKinley (medical care: personal response).
Named persons


The Death of the President

     The medical journals and many of the newspapers have contained more or less complete reports of the illness of the president, the findings at the autopsy, and the report of the surgeons. The case has been talked over between lay and medical men, and many suggestions have been offered as explanatory of the final outcome.
     Naturally, the surgeons have been criticised for their favorable opinions given out in bulletins, the consequent unfortunate absence of the vice-president, the sudden collapse of the patient, the administration of semisolid foods, and the inability of the surgeons to more accurately gauge the extent and character of the wound.
     The findings at the autopsy demonstrated beyond any question of doubt the impossibility of recovery, and have done much to soften criticism so freely offered.
     The lay as well as many medical minds still comment upon the over-confidence and haste of the surgeons in expressing a belief that the wound was not serious, and that the president would surely recover. One layman has expressed a belief that this unfortunate episode is the hardest blow ever given the medical profession, and one from which it will take long to recover. Such comments may be expected for a time. Calm consideration will gradually overcome this idea, and the people will admit, with the physician, that no one is infallible, and that we all err at times.
     When one looks at the question from all standpoints, no harmful criticism will remain. Everything was done and by the best surgeons in the state, and no fault can be found with their work or the inevitable outcome.
     American Medicine says very plainly, in an editorial, that the internalist should have been called in with the first surgeon, and should have been active in the subsequent consultations. No fair-minded man will doubt the wisdom of this comment, particularly when a case of such severity and prominence is to occupy the attention of the entire country.
     The actual cause of death has not been very satisfactorily explained. Shock, sepsis from gangrene, ptomain [sic] poisoning, contusion of the heart, poisoning of the bullet, injury of the pancreas, and a few other possibilities, are suggested, but none are wholly reasonable.
     Do not the rapid pulse and the frequency of respiration, together with the infiltrated fatty heart, suggest the possibility of a renal insufficiency as the primary and underlying cause of failure of repair in the wounds? As yet no report has been given out in which a systematic urine analysis was made. The record simply states that the kidneys were somewhat contracted.
     It is commendable to note the harmony among the attending staff. Never at any time was there a serious disagreement or misunderstanding. When we take into account the prominence of the invalid, the clamor for information, the apparent rapid improvement, it is not strange that the surgeons should be carried away by confidence and hope of recovery. Yet beneath it all, everything that science could do, was done by competent, scientific men, who could not see into the depths of nature and her methods of destruction and repair.



top of page