Medical Science, Taft, and the Physicians
Sleep apnea was not a recognized clinical entity in Taft's era. Although case reports of sleepy obese patients existed,75,76 the significance of hypersomnolence was generally unknown. However, William Osler, the leading physician in the English-speaking world in the early 20th century, was an exception. Osler knew the case reports, and his textbook popularized Dr. Christopher Heath's observation that patients in these reports resembled a severely obese, hypersomnolent boy named Joe in Charles Dickens' 1836 novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. By 1905, Osler had seen a case himself, and earlier had described obstructive apneas in sleeping children, including their behavioral sequelae.
Osler and Taft maintained a warm, but mostly long-distance friendship from 1902 until Osler's death in 1919. Osler had multiple opportunities to observe Taft from 1904 to 1905 (Fig 5),[83,84] years when Taft would have been somnolent as Secretary of War. Although Osler gave medical advice regarding Taft's daughter,[17(p160),85] their correspondence does not mention Taft's health or sleepiness. Osler resided in England during Taft's presidency; thus, one of the few physicians able to appreciate the President's symptoms did not have access to the President.
Program from the Taft-Osler dinner of March 11, 1905. Reprinted with permission from the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Taft had a doctor-patient relationship with some 30 physicians during his life, including White House physicians Matthew DeLaney[86,87] and Cary Grayson.[6(p445,449)] Whether they learned of the Butt-Jackson conversation is unknown. Dozens more physicians were socially acquainted with Taft, including W. W. Keen, who had operated on President Grover Cleveland's maxillary cancer in 1893; Harvey Cushing ; and S. Weir Mitchell, the dean of American medicine, who himself had a long interest in sleep medicine.
Apart from James Marsh Jackson, no physician mentioned Taft's somnolence, although most of Taft's health-related correspondence occurred during his nonsomnolent post-presidential years. Nevertheless, it appears that physicians close to Taft did not regard him as disabled.
CHEST. 2003;124(3) © 2003 American College of Chest Physicians
Cite this: Taft and Pickwick: Sleep Apnea in the White House - Medscape - Sep 01, 2003.