Monday, January 10, 2011

Wilson’s Stroke

Woodrow Wilson tried to go to the people to override the Senate’s refusal to join the League of Nation and this tour took a grave toll on his health:
A special train left Washington on September 3 making stops all across the country. The President appeared on the rear platform, delivered a speech to the gathered crowd, and the train then sped on to the next stop. It was a grueling schedule and it began to take its toll on Wilson's health. Severe asthma attacks and splitting headaches started in Montana. In Colorado, his headaches almost blinded him. Finally in Wichita, his doctor found Wilson close to a "complete breakdown." On September 26, the train sped back to Washington to give Wilson a rest.

On the morning of October 2, Mrs. Wilson found her husband unconscious on the bathroom floor of their private White House quarters bleeding from a cut on his head. Wilson had suffered a stroke - a massive attack that left his left side paralyzed and impaired his vision. She immediately summoned Dr. Grayson. Then the conspiracy began. The two of them formed a bulwark between the invalid President and the rest of the country, simultaneously shielding Wilson from intrusion and hiding his condition from outsiders.

This is Ike Hoover’s (White House Chief Usher) account of what happened on October 2:
At exactly ten minutes before nine o'clock on this memorable day (I noted the time in writing the same day), my telephone on the desk in the Usher's Room at the White House rang and Mrs. Wilson's voice said, 'Please get Doctor Grayson, the President is very sick.' The telephone used was a private one that did not go through the general telephone switchboard. Mrs. Wilson had come all the way out to the end of the upper hall to use this particular telephone instead of the regular one in their bedroom. I reasoned at the time that it was done to avoid publicity, for there had been talk about the operators of the switchboard listening in and distributing information they picked up. I immediately called Doctor Grayson at his home, repeated the message as Mrs. Wilson had given it to me, and ordered one of the White House automobiles to go for him with all haste. I then went upstairs to see if there was anything I could do.

...I waited up there until Doctor Grayson came, which was but a few minutes at most. A little after nine, I should say, Doctor Grayson attempted to walk right in, but the door was locked. He knocked quietly and, upon the door being opened, he entered. I continued to wait in the outer hall. In about ten minutes Doctor Grayson came out and with raised arms said, 'My God, the President is paralyzed! Send for Doctor Stitt and the nurse.'

...The second doctor and nurse arrived and were shown to the room. The employees about the place began to get wise to the fact that the President was very ill, but they could find out nothing more. Other doctors were sent for during the day, and the best that could be learned was that the President was resting quietly. Doctor Davis of Philadelphia and Doctor Ruffin, Mrs. Wilson's personal physician, were among those summoned. There were doctors everywhere.

A consultation of them all together was held about four o'clock. An air of secrecy had come over things during the day. Those on the outside, including family and employees, could learn nothing. It was my privilege to go into the sick-room in the late afternoon. Some rearrangement of the furnishing had to be made and the domestic attendants on the floor were not allowed in. So Doctor Grayson, the nurse, and I did the job.

The President lay stretched out on the large Lincoln bed. He looked as if he were dead. There was not a sign of life. His face had a long cut about the temple from which the signs of blood were still evident. His nose also bore a long cut lengthwise. This too looked red and raw. There was no bandage.

It is the "conspiracy" that this author mentioned that has led to extension speculation on how much control Edith Wilson had during this period.

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