First, Do No Harm
Nestled on a knoll near the majestic Potomac River in Virginia, the Mount Vernon estate was home to George and Martha Washington. From their porch the couple could gaze across the river to the Maryland shore, watch squirrels cavort, or spy bald eagles soar. In spring they saw trees leaf out, the first vegetables inch skyward, and carefully tended gardens dazzle strollers with beautiful blooms. A time of renewal and rebirth, spring spread optimism. Summer sweltered and plants prospered, luxuriated, overwhelmed the land. Fall's coming brought a blazing mosaic of yellows, oranges, and reds. But in late fall and winter there was only drabness, for all of nature was painted in shades of gray and brown. The trees' vulnerable nakedness hinted that not all living things would survive to see another spring.
As was his habit, one day in December 1799 George Washington took a horseback tour of the Mount Vernon estate, overseeing projects and sometimes pitching in. By early afternoon, the retired president noted later in his diary, “it began to snow, soon after to hail, and then turned to a settled cold rain. ” 1 Undaunted by the bad weather and protected by an overcoat, Washington continued his rounds, not returning to the comfort of his warm home until after 3 p.m.
The next morning Washington awoke with a painful sore throat. 2 As the day wore on, the discomfort worsened and he became quite hoarse yet did not seek medical attention. That night Washington was afflicted with a fever and had difficulty breathing. By next morning he could speak only with much effort, and so at last Dr. James Craik of nearby Alexandria was sent for. In the meantime Washington directed his overseer, Rawlins, to bleed him, and—despite Martha's objections—it was done. Home remedies, including an emetic and bathing the feet in warm water, were tried, but to no