Conditions hindered chance of recovery
A gynecologist operated on the president because a well-known surgeon was out of town, the library director said.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
Primitive conditions under which doctors operated on President William McKinley contributed to his death, according to a retired pathologist.
Patrick Finan, director of the McKinley Memorial Library, said there was some dispute after McKinley was shot Sept. 6, 1901, about whether a gynecologist at the scene would operate or if they should wait for renowned surgeon Dr. Roswell Park, who was out of town.
They opted for the gynecologist, Dr. Matthew Mann.
"Dr. Mann operated and did pretty well," said Dr. Ludwig Deppisch, who retired last year after 25 years at Forum Health Northside Medical Center.
Dr. Deppisch, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., taught an elective course on the health of U.S. presidents at Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown.
One of the bullets from the assassin's revolver bounced off a button on McKinley's clothing, the other pierced his abdomen, perforating his stomach and damaging his pancreas and part of a kidney.
Operating table: McKinley was taken to a makeshift hospital on the grounds of the exposition facility he was visiting and placed on a primitive operating table.
"There was really no artificial lighting," the doctor said. "They were operating by the sun."
McKinley's regular physician, Dr. Presley Rixey, a Navy medical officer, held a mirror during the surgery to direct sunlight into the wound.
McKinley's physique also complicated matters.
"McKinley was not a thin man," Dr. Deppisch said. "He didn't believe in physical exercise and he was a rather rotund fellow."
Dr. Mann didn't remove the bullet, reasoning that his probing for it aggravated the president's condition and it didn't appear to be causing harm. He sutured the wounds, and the president seemed to improve.
Optimistic: "The physician was so optimistic about his recovery that he told [Vice President] Teddy Roosevelt to go ahead to the Adirondacks and go camping," Dr. Deppisch said.
But eight days after the shooting, McKinley died. Reading from the autopsy report, Dr. Deppisch said destruction of the pancreas was listed as the cause of death.
A person wounded the same way today "would survive, no question," the doctor said.
Dr. Deppisch is pursuing a master's degree in history at the University of Arizona. His thesis is on the White House physicians. He returns to the area periodically and gives lectures on presidents' health.