Roosevelt is entering his sixties when Lelyveld’s story begins, and he is still fighting his own body’s attempts to betray him. Sixty was older then than it is today, and after twelve years in the presidency his appearance sometimes left visitors alarmed. In his memoir of interviewing him that year, Turner Catledge, a respected reporter for The New York Times, recalled that at first glimpse of the president he was so “shocked and horrified” that he had an impulse to turn and walk out. He felt he was “seeing something I shouldn’t see,” he wrote, describing the president with a “vague, glassy-eyed expression” and mouth “hanging open,” a man who “would lose his train of thought, stop and stare blankly at me.”...
Yet old friends and family were now disturbed by visible signs of frailty. His hand shook when he lifted his coffee cup. His shirt collars seemed to be much too big. Ed Flynn, Democratic boss of the Bronx and one of FDR’s oldest political friends, had been keeping a professional eye on him lately and exercised friendship’s privilege by telling him that he no longer had the stamina for the job and ought to quit. There was also a somber opinion from Dr. Frank Lahey, founder of the Lahey Clinic, who had examined him. Lahey had left a memorandum that was kept from public disclosure until Roosevelt had been dead for sixty-two years. Maybe that was because it revealed doctors playing fast and loose with the presidential medical news back in the 1940s. Lahey wrote that Roosevelt was unlikely to survive another term, and that the president had been so informed. The note was dated July 10, 1944. The next day Roosevelt announced that he would run for a fourth term.....
Interviewed years later, Bruenn [a cardiologist belatedly brought in to care for the President] said Roosevelt was in “God awful” condition at their first meeting. His examination notes described “a diseased heart” that had “become enlarged and shifted away from its normal location in the chest.” The president’s face was “very grey,” indicating a possible oxygen deficiency in the blood. His blood pressure was “a worrisome 186/108.” All the evidence pointed to “an alarming enlargement of the heart, induced by chronic high blood pressure.” Bruenn’s notes said, “heart was enormous.”
His diagnosis was “acute congestive heart failure,” specifically “left ventricular heart failure.” Lelyveld observes that this would have been explosive political news in 1944 and may explain why it was kept from the public for twenty-six years.
Friday, September 16, 2016
It's kinda topical, but let's not even discuss the evidence that Reagan had clear signs of developing dementia during his second term, and go back further to FDR. There's a review of a new book about his last months up on the New York Review of Books, and here are a few extracts: