America's 10 Unhealthiest Presidents
6. Andrew JacksonSeventh President (1829-1837)
Smallpox: During the American Revolution, Andrew Jackson, only 13 years old at the time, became a courier in South Carolina's mounted militia with his brother. During this period, both boys were imprisoned by the British, and contracted smallpox while in jail. Though Jackson's mother was able to jockey the boys' release, she could only take one of them on horseback to their home for treatment. Jackson, delirious with fever, had to walk the 45 miles without shoes or a jacket. Jackson's brother died two days later; Jackson recovered after several months.
Bullet wounds: Jackson was known for his hot temper, particularly over slanderous comments about his wife. These often landed him in gun feuds with his attackers, despite Jackson's poor aim. In 1813, Jackson was seriously wounded after being shot twice in the shoulder and once in the arm during an altercation with politician Thomas Hart Benton and his brother Jesse Benton. His left shoulder was shattered, with shrapnel lodged against his left humerus. Since he was losing massive amounts of blood, almost every doctor recommended amputation, which Jackson refused. He was bedridden for three weeks, but ultimately healed.
Jackson was also injured during an 1806 duel with famous marksman Charles Dickinson, during which Dickinson shot the future president in the chest. The bullet missed Jackson's heart but shattered two of his ribs, which never healed properly, leaving him with pains for the rest of his life. (To his credit, even after taking the bullet, he righted himself and fired a fatal shot at Dickinson.)
Dysentery, malaria: During his military campaigns, Jackson suffered from both dysentery and malaria.
Addiction to coffee, alcohol, and tobacco: Jackson refused to give up these three vices, despite doctor's orders and the fact that they gave him migraines. He was such a fan of chewing tobacco that brass spittoons were installed in the White House.
Lead and mercury poisoning: Despite enduring intense pain from bone infection, Jackson didn't have the bullet from the Benton scuffle removed until 1832, 19 years after the fact. The chief of the Navy's Bureau of Medicine arrived at the White House to perform the operation sans anesthesia. The extraction proved successful, and Jackson's health improved tremendously immediately afterward, suggesting the bullets may have contributed to slow lead poisoning.
Furthermore, Jackson also had a habit of self-medicating with calomel (mercurous chloride -- often used as a diuretic and purgative in the mid 19th century), as well as ingesting sugar of lead (lead acetate -- used as a food sweetener). Both these compounds are toxic, leading to mercury and lead poisoning. Indeed, a 1999 evaluation of Jackson's century-old hair samples revealed significantly elevated levels of both metals, which surely contributed to his severe health decline.
Edema: In 1845, during his last two months of life, Jackson began experiencing edema, an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath his skin and in certain cavities. With his feet, legs, hands, abdomen, and face all swollen, his bloated body was bedridden until he died on June 8.
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