Low-Tech Bullet Removal
Jackson was shot in a gunfight which necessitated the removal of a bullet that had been lodged in his arm for almost 20 years. During a September 1813 gunfight with the Benton brothers in downtown Nashville, Jackson was shot by a slug and a ball. The slug shattered his left shoulder and the ball embedded against his left humerus. Jackson bled profusely, soaking two mattresses after being moved to a room in the Nashville Inn. Every physician in town tried to stanch the flow of blood, and all but one recommended amputation of the left arm. Jackson refused. “I’ll keep my arm” was the last thing he said before becoming unconscious. Both wounds were dressed with poultices. Jackson was utterly prostrate from the great loss of blood — it was three weeks before he could leave his bed. Thirty-four days after the shooting, Jackson was commanding troops in the field
By 1831, the bullet from the gunfight with Jesse Benton was migrating and causing periods of intense discomfort. In January 1832, Dr. Thomas Harris, chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine, was summoned to the White House to remove the bullet. “No anesthesia was available, of course, so Jackson simply bared his arm, gritted his jaws,… and said `Go ahead.’ The surgeon made an incision, squeezed the arm, and out popped [the bullet].” Jackson’s health improved at once, which has led to speculation that the bullet was causing or contributing to lead poisoning, for which there is some evidence.
Tomorrow, an eyewitness account of one of Jackson’s duels. Rita Bay