|George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797|
Most of our time here at the Guide is spent gadding about on European soil, yet today marks the anniversary of the death of George Washington and, since I share my abode with a colonial gentleman, it seems only right to commemorate this occasion.
The weather in Virginia in December 1799 was foul, winter growing deeper with each passing day. Despite the freezing rain and deep snow, however, George Washington spent hours outdoors as he made inspections of his plantation. When he finally returned to shelter in search of food and warmth he was freezing, no doubt glad for home and hearth.
The following morning Washington awoke to face the day and found himself suffering from a painfully sore throat. Once again though there was plantation work to be done and he travelled abroad in the heavily falling snow, spending hours outside. He retired to bed that night with no respite from the sore throat that had plagued him, waking in the early hours of 14th December barely able to breathe, let alone speak.
With no physician on hand an estate manager was summoned and Washington instructed him to begin bloodletting, in total removing approximately half of pint of blood. Meanwhile, the president's personal physician, Dr James Craik, was summoned, along with Dr Gustavus Brown and Dr Elisha Dick. Upon consulting their illustrious patient the three medics disagreed on their diagnoses yet all were of one mind that further bloodletting must take place and, in the next few hours, almost half the blood in Washington's body was removed. Dick was adamant that the problem was an inflammation of the throat that could only be cured by performing a tracheotomy yet the unfamiliar procedure was rarely undertaken and the more experienced men rejected the proposal out of hand.
With every treatment failing, the doctors laboured on until Washington died at 10pm, uttering his final words, "Tis well." Almost immediately the three physicians were called to account for his death, a tragedy which many believed had been caused by the extreme amount of bloodletting Washinton had endured. As they defended their actions and reputations George Washington was laid to rest at Mount Vernon four days after his death, leaving a nation to mourn.