Lawrie McFarlane: some historical contenders for medical lawsuits
With misdiagnoses now the number one cause of medical lawsuits in the United States, here are some possible contenders from the past.
All Winston Churchill fans know that his father, Randolph, died of syphilis. But did he do it?
Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.
His career ended at its peak, when he threatened to step down over a budget dispute and, to his surprise, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, accepted his resignation. Randolph had thought his position so strong that Salisbury would have to give in.
Thereafter, his health rapidly deteriorated until, falling into madness, he died at the age of 49. It was generally believed that syphilis was the cause – he had frequently seen a doctor specializing in the disease.
But it seems just as likely, if not more, that he died of brain cancer. Her doctor never mentioned syphilis, which is perhaps understandable.
But he referred to “general paralysis,” which at that time could mean a variety of ailments.
And Randolph’s symptoms were more closely linked to a brain tumor on the left side, a condition not well understood at the time.
Finally, his wife did not contract syphilis and there is no indication that Randolph was advised to abstain from sex with her.
When Franklin Roosevelt died suddenly in 1945, his attending physician diagnosed him with a massive stroke. This conclusion was certainly supported.
While normal blood pressure is in the range of 120 over 80, in his later years Roosevelt’s BP was 240 over 160 – enough to kill an elephant. Effective antihypertensive drugs were unknown at this time.
But as with Randolph, a better explanation emerged. Photographs from the 1920s to 1940s show a lesion on Roosevelt’s left eye, which gradually grew larger.
Then suddenly, in subsequent photos, he disappeared. It certainly meant surgery, although no medical records remain from the President.
If it was indeed melanoma, it would explain not only the bursting of a blood vessel in his brain, but also the President’s growing weakness and rambling speech. Metastatic brain cancer is a common result of melanoma.
Everyone who saw the movie The imitation game knows that the genius of mathematics and inventor of the computer, Alan Turing, committed suicide. He was found dead in bed with a half-eaten apple by his side.
Although the investigation into his death did not say so, it was widely believed that Turing had coated the apple with cyanide. The man was an amateur chemist and kept cyanide in his apartment.
Here, too, there was good reason to believe that it was a suicide. Turing had been convicted of “gross indecency” with a 19-year-old man and had a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration.
Turing chose the latter, enough to destroy any human’s peace of mind.
But then come the counter-arguments. His mother refused to believe the verdict. You might expect it.
But so did many of his friends, who had seen no signs of depression or hopelessness in the days before his death. Indeed, Turing had bought new clothes the day before and was getting ready for a vacation weekend.
There was no suicide note.
The other explanation is that Turing was just plain careless when handling his chemicals, which he was known for. The poisoning was therefore only accidental. With remnants of cyanide on his fingers, he picked up an apple, bit into it, and died.
Then there is the Mad King George III. It was widely believed then, and long after, that his repeated bouts of insanity were due to porphyria, a genetic condition.
In the years that followed, however, various reviews of his medical records, as they stand, revealed that even though he had the disease, a more likely cause of his mental disorder was arsenic poisoning. .
In 2005, an analysis of George’s hair samples found arsenic present, which can be explained by the fact that doctors at the time were using drugs based, in part, on this chemical.
Finally, the emperor of all misdiagnoses. In 1897, a journalist published an article according to which Mark Twain was either on his deathbed or indeed died.
This provoked the famous retort: âââThe announcement of my death has been grossly exaggerated.