Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September 24, 1955:

Eisenhower's Heart Attack

During a visit to his in-laws in Denver in September 1955, President Eisenhower fell ill suddenly. He was suffering a serious, though not ultimately debilitating, heart attack. As it turned out, he would survive the episode by more than 13 years, more than long enough to finish a second term in 1961.

Perhaps haunted by the spectre of Woodrow Wilson's crippling stroke, Eisenhower and his staff didn't hide the president's condition -- and in an era of mass communication, it's unlikely that they could have. But it seems that they carefully orchestrated the flow of information about the president's condition, especially when the prognosis was uncertain.

Mike Patty in the Denver Rocky Mountain News wrote in 1999 that "Ike's heart attack apparently began while playing golf at Cherry Hills Country Club on September 23, 1955, when he complained of what he thought was indigestion. He returned to the home of his mother-in-law, Elivera Doud, at 750 Lafayette St., where he had dinner that evening with his physician.

" 'He retired early, still complaining of pain after the doctor left,' said Katherine Ripley-Williams, corporate and foundation administrator for University Hospital. 'His wife, Mamie, called his doctor back to the house about 2 a.m., but they didn't take the president to the hospital until later in the morning.'

"Upon arrival at Fitzsimons, Eisenhower was rushed to room 8002 and the entire eighth floor was soon occupied by military police and health care personnel. Treatment consisted of administering a combination of drugs and placing the president in an oxygen tent.

" 'The doctors had many different opinions of treatment,' Ripley-Williams said. 'It's amazing how little they knew by today's standards. They made him stay in bed and not move for days, thinking that was the best treatment.' When news of Ike's heart attack became known, the press descended on Fitzsimons...."

And, it should be added, on Monday, September 26, the Dow Jones dropped 6.5%, 32 points, to 455, with a total paper loss of $14 billion, the largest ever. It was the steepest drop since the beginning of the Depression, but only a momentary panic, since the Dow soon recovered after a few days.

It took a little longer for Ike to recover. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution hadn't been devised yet, so there was no formal procedure for what to do during the incapacitation of a president. But with Eisenhower's approval over the next month or so, Vice President Nixon ran Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams, also helped keep the executive branch running smoothly by taking orders from the president's bedside.

September 24 (1837) is also the birthday of Mark Hanna, the Ohio industrialist and politico generally regarded as the mastermind behind the success of President William McKinley; reputedly when McKinley died, he said: "Now that damn cowboy is president." Hanna held office as a Senator from Ohio, but didn't live long enough to make a bid for the presidency himself. He died in 1904 from something not considered much of the threat in the civilized world any more, as opposed to heart disease: typhoid fever.

1 comment:

xanax said...

My how times have changed.