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The Death of George Washington: An End to the Controversy?

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The controversy surrounding the death of George Washington was immediate, intense, and continues today. After a horse ride in sleet and snow, Washington developed fulminant acute epiglottitis that rapidly claimed his life within 24 hours. In treatment, he endured phlebotomy of over 2500 mL as well as various other painful therapies that were the standard practice of the day. Over the years, numerous criticisms have been lodged against the care his three physicians rendered. Although the marked bloodletting has been most heavily scrutinized, others have argued that Washington could have survived had a tracheostomy been performed. Delayed presentation, prolonged Class IV hemorrhagic shock, acute respiratory failure, and probable septic shock in a 67 year old with preexisting medical comorbidities has a high mortality rate today and would have been irreversible in 1799. George Washington's inevitable death was assured by his own initial actions compounded by the treatments initiated by his physicians.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Surgical Intensive Care Units, Orlando Regional Medical Center, Orlando, Florida

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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  • The Southeastern Surgical Congress owns and publishes The American Surgeon monthly. It is the official journal of the Congress and the Southern California Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, which all members receive each month. The journal brings up to date clinical advances in surgical knowledge in a popular reference format. In addition to publishing papers presented at the annual meetings of the associated organizations, the journal publishes selected unsolicited manuscripts. If you have a manuscript you'd like to see published in The American Surgeon select "Information for Authors" from the Related Information options below. A Copyright Release Form must accompany all manuscripts submitted.
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