A much more medicated Camelot
November 19, 2002 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Inside the JFK medical files. Very interesting article from Sunday's NY Times (reg. req'd) about the long-term health of John F. Kennedy, from World War II to his death. Corresponding Yahoo News item here also. [more inside...]
posted by PeteyStock (11 comments total)
Information was gathered by Robert Dallek, who is writing a new biography of JFK due out next year. He was recently interviewed by The Atlantic Monthly about some of the fascinating information that was found in Kennedy's White House records (apparently there is also another article on this in the December edition of The Atlantic, but not available on their website). One passage in particular I find interesting...

If the public knew how ill he really was, and how many heavy-duty medications he needed to take just in order to function normally, he feared that voters would be unwilling to take a chance on him. Thus, he took his medications in secret, avoided being seen with doctors, and concentrated on moving normally and concealing his pain when in public. When aides to Lyndon B. Johnson, his opponent for the 1960 Democratic nomination, reported to the media that Kennedy had Addison's disease, Kennedy responded by having his doctors issue a statement denying the illness, and proclaiming him to be in "excellent" health.

In all likelihood, Dallek speculates, Kennedy was correct to assume that Americans would not have voted for him if they had known the truth about his health. And it is probably also safe to assume that many would have been justifiably angry to discover that they had been misled into taking a gamble on a frail, heavily medicated candidate. But as President, Dallek points out, Kennedy proved to be an effective and inspiring leader whose performance was not discernably affected by health considerations.

Very fascinating stuff...can't wait for the book to come out and shed more light on the all-too-brief life of a very complex President.
posted by PeteyStock at 11:30 AM on November 19, 2002

I've read little about JFK and any conspiracy theories....
...wouldn't it be interesting if he was so sick and dying that he gave the OK for an "assasination" on himself? Assinated president looking better than one who dies from a sickness.

blah, monday.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:39 AM on November 19, 2002

consipiracy? you want conspiracy?

- JFK had Addison's disease
- I have Addison's disease
- JFK was born in Brookline, MA
- I was born in Brookline, MA

you call that a coincidence?!?! i don't think so...(it's in the water!)
posted by tristeza at 11:53 AM on November 19, 2002

Avoid Texas trips at all cost
posted by matteo at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2002

That sick and still able to run a country and bang movie stars. Amazing. Only one administration since has even come close.
posted by mss at 12:22 PM on November 19, 2002

The Atlantic article will be available online next month.

I just got my copy the other day and haven't read the article yet, but it seems to me that a lot of this info isn't exactly new, at least not as the mainstream press has been reporting it.
posted by briank at 12:36 PM on November 19, 2002

That sick and still able to run a country and bang movie stars. Amazing. Only one administration since has even come close.

You're referring, of course, to my man Ronald Reagan?
posted by oissubke at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2002

This is not, of course, earthshaking revelation. We've known for years now, anecdotally, that the guy was sick and medicated. This just seems to represent the most comprehensive historical examination of his medical situation to date; this was the first researcher allowed access to the medical records at the JFK presidential library. (And the Atlantic article is no sidebar, but the source of this entire flurry of articles.) It does seem to have been more serious by far than previously described.

The West Wing has Pres. Bartlet concealing MS through most of his first term. Although many politicians have done similarly -- Paul Wellstone's own MS comes to mind -- I wonder whether a president could get away with that today. And almost certainly, if he did, there is the potential of a major backlash once it is revealed.
posted by dhartung at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2002

In recent years, I can only think of Janet Reno's Parkinsons disease. Other American politicians -- except Wellstone's MS of course -- seem to be in pretty good shape ( I'm not talking phisical handicaps like soon-to-be former Sen Cleland)
posted by matteo at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2002

Dhartung is correct that these are not really new revelations. Interestingly, a surgical operation on Kennedy was described in the November 1955 issue of the American Medical Association Archives of Surgery:

A man 37 years of age had Addison's disease...managed fairly successfully for several years on a program of dexoxycorticosterone acetate pellets of 150 mg implanted every three months and cortisone in doses of 25 mg daily orally. Owing to a back injury, he had a great deal of pain which interfered with his daily routing.

The fact that Kennedy was an Addisonian made surgery dangerous (chronic adrenal insufficiency weakens a patient's immune system and other homeostatic systems). According to Richard Reeves' 1993 biography of JFK, Kennedy had the spinal fusion operation in 1954. "I'd rather be dead than spend the rest of my life on these goddamned crutches," he told one of his doctors, and he told another associate "This is the one that cures you or kills you."

Reeves goes on to note:

There was gallantry to Kennedy's consistent lying about his health and his success in persuading press and public that he was a man of great energy. 'Vigor' was the cliche used by the press. In truth, boy and man, he was sick and in pain much of the time, often using crutches or a cane in private to rest his back, and taking medication, prescribed and unprescribed, each day, sometimes every hour. He had trouble fighting off ordinary infections and suffered recurrent fevers that raged as high as 106 degrees...Joining the Navy, he had lied about the fevers and his debilitating back problems, and had somehow managed to get in without a physical examination...

So the new President was an Addisonian, a liar -- and a brave stoic, too. His friend Paul Fay had once watched Kennedy getting ready to inject himself in the thigh, as he did most days, and said: "Jack, the way you take that jab, it looks like it doesn't even hurt."

Kennedy lunged over and jabbed the needle into Fay's thigh. Fay screamed in pain.

"It feels the same way to me," Kennedy said.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:14 PM on November 19, 2002

Why is this an interesting link? It was all over the mass media.

Just wondering.
posted by singmesomething at 6:57 PM on November 19, 2002

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