Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wilson Diagnosis

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wilson Diagnosis

Article excerpt

I found the late Kenneth S. Lynn's article on Woodrow Wilson ["The Hidden Agony of Woodrow Wilson," WQ, Winter '04] both engaging and disturbing. As a physician with over 50 years' experience in medical practice, research, and academics, I found many of Lynn's ideas unrealistic and ill informed. One is his suggestion that Wilson's difficulty in learning to read in his youth might have been due to a small, unrecognized stroke. Although this is not completely outside the realm of possibility, it is highly unlikely in a young child unless that child is afflicted with some rare, inborn cardiovascular or clotting disorder. In that case, survival to the age of 68, at a time when no diagnosis or treatment was possible, would be so rare as to make it incredible. Edwin Weinstein, professor emeritus of neurology at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York, wrote a detailed medical and psychological biography of Wilson--Woodrow Wilson: A Medical and Psychological Biography (1981)--in which he diagnosed the cause of the youthful Wilson's difficulty in reading as developmental dyslexia.

Perhaps more disturbing is the thematic innuendo in the article that Wilson was derelict in his civic conscience for not revealing his history of hypertension and small strokes to the public when he ran for public office. The anther makes the common mistake of judging past actions in the light of present knowledge and principles. Little was understood about hypertension in Wilson's time, mostly because there was no practical instrument available for measuring blood pressure in patients until sometime after 1905. The author even mentions one of the most prominent works on the subject, by Dr. Walter Alvarez, which was not published until 1960.

Having received my medical education in the 1940s, I am also cognizant of the difference in professional philosophy in the past as compared to now. Prevailing medical ethics then sanctioned and promoted selectively withholding information from patients, if it was felt to he in their interest to do so. Usually, the closest relative or friend would be fully informed, and asked about his or her preferences with regard to informing the patient. In Wilson's case, this would have been his wife, Ellen. …

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