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The Medicine of History

I think I’ve told you this before, but when I was a newly-graduated house officer (US: intern) I worked with a brilliant and yet gentle, compassionate surgeon called Arthur Bullough; “Mr Bullough” as it was in those days, as surgeons love the reverse snobbery of not being called “doctor” but being called “Mister”, going back to the days when barbers with no degrees were often the best qualified surgeons! (and before you ask, yes, women have recently been referred to as Miss/Mrs/or Ms.)

Anyway, I used to love being in OR with Mr Bullough: we talked, we joked and I learned, as we whipped out gall bladders, iffy colons and kidney stones!

Shortly after I graduated from House Officer, Arthur became president of the Manchester Medical Society and he told me that he intended the title of his inaugural speech to be… The Medicine Of History. NOT The History Of Medicine, note, but the medicine and those diseases which significantly impacted history. I could not make his lecture but the concept was just brilliant.

Of course there are obvious things, like malaria, typhus and yellow fever turning back armies. But his take was to be more a person by person thing. The health of world leaders has often played a critical role in shaping the course of history. Decisions made while under the influence of poor health or illness can have far-reaching consequences, and the untimely demise of some leaders has altered the trajectory of nations.

Thus Queen Victoria, for instance, screwed up many of Europe’s royal families. She was a carrier of hemophilia (quick science: females carry the gene but do not get the disease. It is only some of the MALE offspring of a carrier who get the disease).

The first instance of hemophilia in the British Royal family occurred on the birth of Prince Leopold on 7th April 1853. Leopold was the fourth son and eighth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. No earlier occurrence of the disease in the Royal family had been known. It is assumed that a mutation occurred in the sperm of the Queen’s father, Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent.

But her daughters were much more of a problem: Through two of Victoria’s daughters, Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice, both of whom were carriers, the disease was spread into many of the Royal Families of Europe.

Most famously, the heir to Russia’s Romanov dynasty was affected, through the marriage of Alice’s fourth daughter Alix, to Tsar Nicholas II, at which point she became the Empress Alexandra of Russia. Their son and heir, Alexei, was much troubled by the disease and Alexandra fretted greatly over it. Rasputin brought her comfort (some say, he even bedded her, which led to his murder) but it was all for nothing. On July 16th, 1918, the whole Romanov family was assassinated by the Bolsheviks.

Alexei Romanov, the Tsesarevich (heir-apparent) to the Russian throne, never lived to reign

Hemophilia appeared in the Prussian Royal family when Alice’s third daughter Irene married her first cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia, the second son of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria, Princess Royal and brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The disease appeared in two of their sons: Princes Waldemar and Henry. Both died because of the disease.

Beatrice’s only daughter, Victoria Eugenie of Battenburg (14), known as Ena, was married to King Alfonso XIII of Spain and carried the disease into the Royal House of Spain.

Though they did not enjoy a particularly happy marriage (Alfonso is reported to have never forgiven his wife for passing the disease into the Spanish Royal bloodline) the couple produced six children, four sons and two daughters. Two of their sons, Alfonso and Infante Gonzalo of Spain, were affected with hemophilia. 

And while we are on the subject of sick royalty, let’s not forget George III (1760 – 1820). Many of the British monarchs were unable to properly manage their kingdoms because of porphyria, which can cause a variety of mental problems, like hallucination, paranoia, and anxiety. Some describe George III’s treatment of his American subjects, which helped to trigger the American Revolution, as being in part affected by his porphyric attacks.

Then if you dive deep into the past, what about good ‘ol Alexander The Great? He conquered the known world, got drunk often, but then succumbed to typhoid (although he may have been poisoned some speculate). He died very young (32 years). Who knows what the world map would look like today if he had continued rampaging and conquering everything he came up against?

Then there was Adolph Hitler. A good number of research works have indicated that Hitler suffered from various ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, skin lesions, cardiac dysrhythmia, coronary arterial disease, syphilis, borderline personality disorder, amphetamine addiction, and importantly, Parkinson’s disease. Any and all of these conditions could have played a part in his failing cognitive and leadership skills towards the end.

I joked with the newspaper media in the UK back in the 1980s that I could have cured his irritable bowel! I cured hundreds by resolving their food allergies. Hitler liked to eat heavy German bread and was probably highly allergic to grains!

Adolph Hitler almost certainly had food allergies and that can lead to depression, paranoia and violence.

In the modern era, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the USA, was paralyzed by polio, but he overcame adversity and led the country through challenging times. It was a matter of form that he was never photographed in his  wheelchair, which would have conflicted with his image as a healthy and competent leader. But his deteriorating health, including hypertension and heart disease, may have influenced his decisions during the Yalta Conference (Feb 1945), carving up the post-war world and ultimately giving rise to the Cold War.

Across the Pond, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), was known for his courage and unwavering leadership. But his health issues—including a stroke, pneumonia, and heavy alcohol consumption—may have contributed to his later decline in cognitive function and decision-making. This could have influenced the British government’s handling of the post-war reconstruction and decolonization.

The third person of the Yalta leadership trio, Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), was noted for his brutal leadership of the Soviet Union, as was. His poor health, including atherosclerosis and possible syphilis, may have exacerbated his paranoia and contributed to his brutal leadership style. 

Mao Zedong (also Mao Tse Tung), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, suffered from various health issues, including heart disease, Parkinson’s, and respiratory problems. As his health deteriorated, he became increasingly dependent on his physician, which may have led to questionable decisions during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, causing widespread famine and social unrest.

And finally (for the moment):

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), probably the most beloved US president after Lincoln, had health issues throughout his life, including chronic back pain, Addison’s disease, and the side effects of various medications. His health issues and use of painkillers may have impacted his decision-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other significant moments in his presidency.

I got almost to the end of this and remembered I had written something similar years ago. I forgot! Just put me down as one the those bumbling old bores, who tells the same story over and over, thinking they are being very witty!

To Your Wisdom and Health,

Prof. Keith Scott-Mumby
The Official Alternative Doctor

The post The Medicine of History appeared first on Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby.

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