Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Illness, Reign, and Legend of Frederick III

Since the crown prince had always been prone to throat maladies, 1 he and his wife were not particularly concerned when he developed hoarseness as result of a cold in late 1886. This time, however, the hoarseness did not abate. In March 1887, Dr. Gerhardt, a throat specialist from the University of Berlin, examined the crown prince and discovered a small growth on the left vocal cord. 2 Dr. Gerhardt suspected that the growth was cancerous and asked Dr. Ernst von Bergmann, a prominent surgeon and the director of the medical school in Berlin, to confirm his diagnosis. Bergmann concurred with Gerhardt and advised an immediate operation on the larynx to prevent the spread of the disease and to save Frederick's life. After consulting with the crown prince and his wife, the doctors scheduled the surgery for 21 May.

Bismarck, however, believed that the doctors were acting too hastily and that the royal couple was not adequately informed about the risks involved in the surgical procedure. 3 Risks there were: if the doctors chose to perform a laryngectomy, the chances of surviving such surgery were slim, and postoperative patients had a life expectancy of only a few months to a little over one year. 4 Bismarck also requested that Frederick's case be reviewed by other experts. Other prominent throat specialists confirmed Bergmann's diagnosis and recommended surgery, but Bismarck was still not satisfied. He now insisted that the best non- German expert be called in for consultation, and the German doctors selected Dr. Morell Mackenzie, a noted British larnygologist.

To the surprise of the German doctors, Mackenzie believed that the growth was not cancer but a "wart or a papilloma" and insisted that the crown prince could be cured if he came to England for treatment. To substantiate his diagnosis, Mackenzie ordered Dr. Rudolf Virchow, known as the world's greatest authority on cells, to examine particles of Frederick's larynx microscopically. Virchow was able to find nothing to confirm a diagnosis of cancer. 5 With a tremendous sense of relief, the royal couple departed for England, with the doubting Bergmann and Gerhardt in tow. 6

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