Doctors may have helped kill Garfield

July 25, 2006 at 7:36 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 25 (UPI) -- A Washington exhibit on the killing of U.S. President James Garfield opened 125 years after he was shot and is due to close 125 years after his death.

The show at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center suggests Garfield was as much a victim of 19th century medical care as he was of Charles Guiteau, the disappointed job-seeker who fired two bullets at him in a Washington train station in 1881.

Doctors probing for a bullet often used instruments that had not been sterilized or their own unwashed hands, The New York Times reports. While Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, had developed protocols for sterile treatment almost 20 years earlier, U.S. medicine was behind the times.

The medical experts also may have starved the president to death, the Times said. Because they feared the bullet might be in his intestine, they prescribed a liquid diet, administered through the rectum.

When Garfield died on Sept. 19, 1881, at a cottage in Elberon, N.J., he had lost 100 pounds.

So Guiteau, who was convicted and hanged may have been right when he said, "I just shot him," blaming Garfield's death on the doctors.

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