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Journal Article


Ehrhardt JD, O'Leary JP, Nakayama DK. Am. Surg. 2018; 84(11): 1711-1716.


(Copyright © 2018, Southeastern Surgical Congress)






President James A. Garfield suffered two gunshots on July 2, 1881, but did not die until 80 days later of complications from sepsis. He might have survived had his injuries not been contaminated, either by the gunshots themselves or the interventions that followed. "Yes, I shot the president," said Charles Guiteau, Garfield's assassin, "but his physicians killed him." The drama of Garfield's struggle to survive his injuries evoked enormous national interest, a harbinger of the medical dramas and documentaries of today. D. Willard Bliss, a former Civil War surgeon, and his handpicked consultants underwent daily scrutiny by the professional community and lay press. As the President died because of his injuries, the surgeons' reputations suffered. A primary criticism was the supposed lack of antiseptic interventions in Garfield's care, especially when probing the wound with unwashed hands. Inserting a finger into the wound, however, was a basic part of examination of a gunshot wound at the time. Many American surgeons had not accepted Listerian antisepsis at the time of the event, and aseptic techniques, such as scrupulous handwashing and surgical gloves, had not yet been developed. In the context of surgical practice of the era, his surgeons followed the standards of care of the time.

Language: en


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