Lincoln Thinkin’

May 22nd, 2007at 07:04pm Posted by Eli

This is ultimately kind of a pointless exercise, but I found it fascinating:

If Ford’s Theatre had been in Baltimore, if the patient had been taken to the state Shock Trauma Center and if 1865 were 2007 . . . Abraham Lincoln might have survived the gunshot wound to his head.

If he had lived, he would at the very least have been partially blind, unsteady on his feet, numb in certain regions of his body and inarticulate. Nevertheless, he might have been able to think and, after much rehabilitation, communicate.

What that might have meant to the United States at the dawn of reunification after the Civil War — well, the string of imaginary events can be unspooled forever.

In their annual examination with the flexible retrospectoscope, medical experts last week took on the case of Abraham Lincoln at the 13th Historical Clinicopathological Conference, sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs hospital.

“We probably see a dozen gunshot wounds to the head each year where people survive. He had a non-fatal injury by 2007 standards,” said Thomas M. Scalea, a surgeon and the director of the Shock Trauma Center.

Though almost all previous analyses have called Lincoln’s wound unsurvivable under any circumstance, Scalea believes evidence to the contrary is in plain view. Lincoln survived for nine hours.

Lincoln was shot about 10:25 p.m. on April 14, 1865. He lived long past the “golden hour” when stabilization of vital functions — principally, respiration and blood pressure — is essential. Throughout the night his condition waxed and waned, until brain swelling and blood loss tipped him inevitably toward death, which occurred at 7:22 a.m. the next day.

“For him to have lived today would not be an extraordinary thing,” Scalea said.

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, shot the 16th president with a muzzle-loading derringer pistol. The bullet — apparently a .41-caliber slug fired from the .44-caliber weapon — pierced the lower rear part of the skull, called the occipital bone, and traveled roughly straight forward.

It tore a path through the left side of the brain, including through the fluid-filled lateral ventricle. But it did not hit the brainstem, which controls such essential functions as breathing, did not cross the midline, and stopped before entering the frontal lobes, the seat of reason and emotional control.

The story has detailed descriptions of the (surprisingly good) treatment that Lincoln received, and of the treatment that he would have received had the shooting occurred today.

If that’s not enough, you can check out the chat session with the reporter, which touches on the other three assassinated presidents (Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy), and the fact that Lincoln’s bodyguard was in a bar across the street when Lincoln was shot(!) No mention of whether Reagan would have survived if he had been shot in the 19th century, which might be an interesting question in itself. It sure sounds like Secret Service agents trained to jump in front of bullets didn’t come along until much later…

And yes, a bunch of people pointed out that if Lincoln had been shot with a modern gun with the same range and location, he would have been toast.

There is also some discussion about what would have happened if Lincoln had survived in an incapacitated state, as there was not yet any Constitutional provision for transfer of powers.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science


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