June 13, 2011

Grover Cleveland's Secret Surgery

Written by Rosa Morgan

July 1, 1893 Cleveland ran his tongue across his ulcerated palate for the umpteenth time. It was the side he chewed his cigars on, and the spot had pained him for months. It was a damnable inconvenience to get sick, he thought; what with the Depression and the fiery debate over the Silver Act. However, he couldn't refute Dr. O'Reilly's orders; an examination and biopsy confirmed cancer and demanded an operation. At fifty-six, despite being extremely corpulent with gout, he considered himself a bull of a man, and he'd be put to the test on this score in the next few weeks.

Frances, seven months pregnant, came into the room with their daughter. "Baby Ruth, give your papa a kiss goodbye; he's going on a well-deserved holiday and have those rotten teeth of his pulled." The child obliged, though her father's bushy mustache tickled her lips. Cleveland gazed fondly at his little family. His wife was twenty-seven years his junior, and still had the blush of youth. He dared not reveal to her, his illness, nor the true purpose of his sojourn. He asked, "Have you had the rat catchers called? These rodents are taking over the White House." She retorted, "You've said a woman shouldn't bother her head over political parties, and I tell you not to worry about domestic affairs." The president lovingly rubbed her growing belly. "Good-bye, my darling. Take care, and I'll be back soon."

Cleveland lay down in the cabin below. In order to keep his illness a secret from the public, as well as his own Cabinet and Vice-President, he was to be operated on the yacht, Oneida, as it sailed from New York to his summer home in Massachusetts. The surgeons sedated him with nitrous oxide and ether, and used Cocaine as a topical anesthetic.

The surgery took nearly an hour and a half and was done completely within the mouth, without external incisions. Parts of his upper left jaw and hard palate were removed, leaving his mouth disfigured. After the cavity was packed with gauze, a hypodermic of one-sixth of a grain of morphine was given: the only narcotic administered at any time. On July 17, a second surgery was performed aboard the same ship. In October, he received a vulcanized rubber palate implant.

It was 25 years before the details of this secret surgery was compromised.

(Dear Reader, Please leave your comments on whether or not the President of the United States should disclose the details of his health)

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