President John Kennedy: Health Issues

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President John Kennedy: Health Issues.

In the year after President John Kennedy was assassinated, an eminent historian began a new project of oral histories.

He asked people to record their memories on tape of the late president. He approached Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, to take part in the project and she agreed.

There were three reasons for this. The first was that she knew it would help her in coming to terms with her husbands death – talking about it was almost equivalent to talking to a psychiatrist.

Also, Kennedy had told her that once he retired from office, his intention was to write his own reflections and memoirs. As his widow, she felt that this task now was her responsibility.

Finally, the historian explained to her that fewer people were writing journals and letters and that the best way to record her husband’s achievements and to preserve his memory was to create an oral history of people talking about their memories and thoughts.

She agreed with two stipulations.

The first was that she could have editorial control over the eventual transcript of her memories and the second was that they  should not be make public until after her death. This was agreed upon.

During the recording sessions, which took place over a period of several months, there were two subjects Jackie had problems talking about. She was flustered, unsure and hesitant. The first of these was their married life which naturally included his extramarital liaisons. The second was the subject of his health.

The reason she was so hesitant about this was that JFK had spent most of his life hiding his health problems.

They began when he was just a small child and contracted scarlet fever. He was never completely healthy again. Before the war, when his father was the USA ambassador in London, John Kennedy had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease. The doctors at that time thought that he had only a year to live but they tried to control the disease with medication.

During the Second World War, he had a serious Addison’s episode and nearly lost his life. After this, he was often hospitalised because of the disease but made sure that everyone believed that he was being treated for malaria attacks that had flared up after his military service overseas.

His American doctors were less gloomy that their English counterparts and said that he should be able to lead a normal life if he was diligent about his medication and avoided infections, to which people suffering from the disease were prone – and this could lead to heart failure.

But JFK had another serious medical problem – his back. This affected him to such an extent that he often could only walk using crutches. By now he was a senator and when he was being treated for his back problems, the press and the public was told that he was being treated for sports injuries – to keep the  image of the hale, hearty and fit senator alive.

Doctors argued about whether he should have surgery for his back problem.  Those who disagreed with the procedure felt that if infection set in, this could kill him because of his Addison’s disease. Nevertheless, JFK was in so much pain – and was almost crippled – so the surgery took place.

This caused immense problems as yes, an infection did set in causing a huge number of complications.And yet only his close family, his friends and his doctors knew about his condition. It’s said that during his presidency he was taking an abnormal amount of painkilling and other drugs both orally and intravenously.

You can read more about this is this article or in the book pictured – just click the link below the image.


Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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