Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Medical Treatment of Abraham Lincoln

     With the release of the recent movie, Lincoln, I recalled delving into part of the Lincoln story back a number of years ago while working as a producer for Medical News Network. So I dug up an old VHS of it and re-encoded. But it wasn't Lincoln's life, it was his death that I was unearthing for this story. I'd visited an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and discovered they housed many Lincoln death artifacts like the bullet that lodged in Lincoln's brain, pieces of his hair, and instruments used to probe his wound. Certainly, it's Lincoln's life that is the most interesting to learn about, especially the part depicted in Spielberg's great film. It's hard to believe but it's only 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, though morbid it may sound, Lincoln's death is also quite fascinating, especially from the medical perspective.

     Doctors knew little about head trauma in those days, or even germ theory, but they did manage to keep Lincoln alive for 10 hours after he was first proclaimed to be dead. I don't think much has changed on this story since we produced this video segment with medical historian Dr. Dale Smith, though it was reported that some new papers belonging to Dr. Charles Leale, the first physician on the scene, were discovered last year. But if you are into learning all the details of Lincoln's existence, this 9:30sec video will give you a well-rounded view. For even more detail, check out this interview with avid Lincoln medical buff, Dr. Blaine Houmes. (I recommend wearing headphones for better audio experience.)