22 Aug ANNA ROOSEVELT: HER FATHERS CAREGIVER & SURROGATE FIRST LADY II
FDR’S DAUGHTER: INSTRUMENTAL IN PROLONGING HER FATHER’S LIFE, APRIL 1944 — APRIL, 1945?
Anna Roosevelt, President Roosevelt’s daughter and favorite child, became a White House resident in early 1944 and was her father’s closest companion until his death in April, 1945. It was at her insistence that FDR was examined by Dr. Howard Bruenn, an expert cardiologist, at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Dr. Bruenn was alarmed by the findings of his examination. The president’s heart was significantly enlarged; he had marked hypertension; and he was in congestive heart failure. Bruenn previously asked his superior, White House Physician Ross McIntire, for Roosevelt’s medical chart. McIntire, probably embarrassed by the quality of his care, at first failed to locate the records, but under duress, finally found them. Bruenn was flabbergasted that FDR was hypertensive at least since 1941 (188/105 mm), and yet had not been treated. (1)
Bruenn’s recommended course of treatment (complete bed rest for seven weeks with nursing care, avoidance of tension, digitalis, a low salt diet, and weight loss), shocked McIntire. The latter immediately convened a medical board composed almost entirely of military physicians. The board initially rejected Bruenn’s recommendations, but when the opinions of renowned civilian consultants were solicited, Bruenn’s diagnoses were accepted and his treatment regimen was modified and implemented. FDR immediately embarked upon a lengthy vacation at the South Carolina estate of a friend.
Thereafter, Bruenn was assigned to the White House. He impressed upon Anna the importance of altering FDR’s diet, something that Eleanor Roosevelt apparently did not understand. Eleanor sent her husband steaks instead. (2)
“Though Anna was never given an official title or salary, her assignments, she joked, grew ‘like Topsy, because I was there all the time and it was easy for Father to tell someone to ‘ask Anna to do that’ or to look over at me to say, ‘Sis, you handle that.’ When it became clear to her that she could not write fast enough to take accurate notes on all the things her father asked her to do, she taught herself shorthand at night.” (3) Anna listened to Dr. Bruenn’s admonition to lighten FDR’s workload. In response she took control of her father’s schedule to conserve his energy. (4) In 1945 it was acknowledged that his daughter controlled the access to her father. (589)
President Franklin Roosevelt life was ended by a massive hypertensive-induced cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945.
To follow: Anna accompanied FDR to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. If FDR’s medical condition remained undiagnosed, and if his treatments were unfollowed, would he have died earlier during 1944/45? Would his death have made a difference?
Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994)