Case of the Late President M’Kinley
We have refrained from occupying
space in preceding issues of this journal with anything in connection
with the lamentable tragedy that not only shocked but was a most
serious blow to the entire nation. The secular press with its daily
telegraphic service, the weekly medical and other publications have
with succeeding issues supplied such facts as were obtainable and
much useless conjecture and opinions, some of which needed very
material revision; and our monthly confreres, some premature, others
with more matured facilities have not been sparing in the use of
printers’ ink so that anyone might be advised as to the saddening
and grievous theme. Personally we have had opportunities through
other channels of placing our opinion on record as to our sincere
sorrow that the citizens of this great republic for the third time
in a brief generation have been destined to mourn and lament under
so grievous a calamity. On being called upon at a meeting of the
Nashville Academy of Medicine, at its regular meeting on the Tuesday
following the closing of so sad a page in the nation’s history for
an expression of opinion on the cause of death, we find that the
opinion then expressed with the limited opportunities afforded at
that time have been sustained by the final report in full of the
surgeons and medical advisors in charge of the case.
The leading weekly medical publications,
headed by the Journal of the American Medical Association
have given in full this report, which is doubtless in the hands
of many of our readers. We regret that our limited space necessitates
restricting ourselves to the following abstract, which is hereby
submitted for the benefit of those of our many reader [sic]
who may not have seen the report in full:
The report lays emphasis on the complete
harmony that existed among the physicians. It says of the operation
that the utmost care was used to prevent infection of the abdominal
cavity and of the wound. The wounds in the stomach were sutured
with silk, using double rows of stitching so arranged that the greatest
possible security was given to the sutured spots. The application
of these stitches was accompanied by great difficulties, especially
the sutured opening of the superior wall of 
the stomach. The chief trouble was the depth of the abdominal cavity,
the lack of instruments to draw the edges of the wound apart during
the sewing and the lack of good light.
Speaking of the search for the bullet
during the operation, the report says:
The operation on the stomach now being
finished, Dr. Mann introduced his arm so as to palpate carefully
all the deep sutures behind the stomach. No trace of the bullet
or of the further track of the bullet could be found.
“As the introduction of the hand in
this way seemed to have a bad influence on the President’s pulse,
prolonged search for further injury done by the bullet, or for the
bullet itself was desisted from.”
It was decided not to introduce any
gauze or tubes into the abdomen for drainage, as this was not necessary,
but the wound was not sewed up so tightly that no drainage could
take place naturally.
On the fifth day, September 10, took
place the much discussed removal of stitches from the wound in the
abdominal wall. The report says:
“In the evening the dressings were
examined, and as there was considerable staining from the discharges,
it was thought best to remove four stitches and to separate the
edges of the wound. A little slough was observed near the bullet
track, covering a space nearly an inch wide, the thickness of the
flaps. The suppuration seemed to extend down to the muscle.
“The remainder of the wound looked
healthy, and it was thought that the infection was due to the bullet
or to a piece of clothing which had been carried into the wound
at the time of the shooting. The wound was then dressed and on the
following day the patient’s condition was very much improved.
“The findings at the autopsy, as well
as the developments of the case during the last days, exclude all
possibility of absolute injury to the stomach by premature giving
of solid food, as was alleged at the time when unfavorable symptoms
came on after change to solid food.
“On the fifth day the President sipped
hot water, on the sixth he had beef juice, the first food taken
by mouth since the operation.
“In the meantime nutritive enemas
were given, but were not well retained. At 8:30 o’clock on the morning
of the seventh day he was allowed chicken broth, a very small piece
of toast and a small cup of coffee. He did not care for the toast
and ate scarcely any of it.
“The wound had in the meanwhile been
doing very well and had been dressed daily after the removal of
the stitches and the sloughing tissue.
“The President seemed at his best
and a favorable result was now confidently predicted. There was
no sign of blood poisoning or of inflammation of the peritoneum.
The only alarming symptom was his rapid pulse, but as the President
had naturally a rather rapid pulse and as it had been of a fairly
good quality right along, the surgeon did not attribute very great
importance to this sign. On the seventh day, towards noon, 
the pulse began to grow weaker and grew rapidly wore [sic].
Stimulants were given and the food was discontinned [sic],
while castor oil and an enema of ox gall were given to move the
bowels. At midnight there was some improvement in the pulse after
an injection of salt solution into the subcutaneous tissue. On the
eighth day the condition of the President was described as very
serious, as he did not respond to stimulation. Stimulants and injections
of salt solution, coffee and broth were given, but without much
At 5 o’clock oxygen was given and
continued for some hours.
At 6:30 o’clock the President was
restless, at 10 . .
he lost consciousness and continued to sink until he died at 2:15
. . on September
In speaking of the criticism that
Roentgen rays should have been used to locate the bullet, Dr. Mann
says in his report:
“We were often asked why, after the
operation, we did not use the X-ray to find the bullet. In the first
place there were at no time any signs that the bullet was doing
harm. To have used the X-ray simply to have satisfied our curiosity
would not have been warrantable, as it would have greatly disturbed
and annoyed the patient and would have subjected him also to a certain
risk. Had there been signs of abscess formation, then the X-ray
could and would have been used.”
The report of Dr. Harvey R. Gaylord,
pathologist to the New York State Pathological Laboratory, on the
autopsy, is lengthy and detailed. The abdominal wound shows no evidences
of necrosis or sloughing. No inflammation of the peritoneum was
found. The wound in the front wall of the stomach was found “held
intact by silk sutures,” but the area of stomach wall around it
was discolored, grayish green and easily torn. The area around the
wound on the posterior wall of the stomach was also of a dull gray
color, but the sutures held the wound intact.
Behind the latter wound there was
a spot of discoloration which showed that the sloughing process
had gone backwards in the track of the bullet. The gangrenous cavity
found behind the stomach involved the pancreas and the surrounding
loose tissues, the bottom of the blind pocket being formed by the
upper end of the left kidney, which was found to be lacerated at
that point to the extent of about 2 centimeters.
The track of the bullet was then traced
through gangrenous tissues in the fat behind the kidney to the muscles
of the back wall of the abdomen; the direction of the bullet, however,
could not be traced any further. The search for the bullet was most
thorough and painstaking, but in spite of all efforts it could not
be found, and the autopsy had to be discontinued because the time
allotted to it by the family of the late President had already been
Examination of the heart muscle showed
that it was affected with well marked fatty degeneration and in
some places the muscle fibres showed groups of dark brown granules,
demonstrating a diseased condition of the cardiac muscle.
Dr. Gaylord believes that the repair
to the stomach wounds had been 
effective and that the gangrene around these wounds does not seem
to have been the result of any well-defined causes. He attributes
the gangrenous condition of the tissues solely to lowered vitality
in the parts. The appearance of the gangrenous tissues showed that
the gangrene took place shortly before death.
In speaking of the causation of the
cavity behind the stomach he says that it must largely be attributed
to the action of the missile. It may have resulted from the rotation
of a nearly spent ball or from the simple concussion of the bullet
as it passed into the soft tissues.
The injury to the pancreas, producing
a cavity within it, occurred during the passage of the bullet, because
the cavity was found walled off by fibrin in an advanced organization.
There was no leakage of pancreatic fluid into the surrounding tissue.
The extensive gangrene of the pancreas seems to have been an important
factor in the case, though it had never been shown how much of this
organ must be destroyed to cause death. The wound in the kidney
is of no importance except as showing the track of the bullet.
The diseased condition of the heart
muscles shows why the pulse was so frequent and and [sic]
why it did not respond to stimulation at the critical time.
The report of the bacteriologist,
Dr. Herman G. Matzinger, is largely what we may call “negative,”
i. e., it concerns rather the absence of germs than their presence.
As the result of an examination of various tissues and fluids removed,
Dr. Matzinger concludes that “the absence of known pathogenic bacteria,
particularly in the gangrenous cavity, warrants the conclusion that
bacterial infection was not a factor in the production of the condition
found in the autopsy.
A chemical analysis by Dr. Hill of
the remaining bullets and of the contents of the cartridge chambers
in the murderer’s pistol showed that there was no poisonous material,
thus disposing of the theory of a poisoned bullet.
We can but congratulate those in charge
of the case as having discharged their duties faithfully, courageously,
and with a careful attention to every detail from beginning to end;
and if all succeeding cases of gunshot wounds in this locality and
of approximate character, receive similar treatment, we fully believe
that it will but add additional lustre to the surgical achievements
of the day. In this case there were special conditions of a constitutional
character over which the highest degree of surgical art and skill
could have no control. That day may come, but it has not yet.
Some premature discussion has already
been indulged in coming from various sources, in regard to the compensation
of those in charge of the case. It may be presumptious [sic]
in making such a suggestion, but we cannot but think if the matter
is entirely ignored by those directly interested, and is left entirely
to the people, their representatives who will assemble in Washington
in December next, will surely appreciate the situation sufficiently
to appoint a suitable committee who will look carefully into 
the matter and recommend a proper appropriation for a liberal remuneration
to each and every one of those who devoted the best of their abilities
untiringly and zealously in the discharge of such responsible duties
as fell to their lot.