Pinky Pie

President Taft & Me

Posted on: October 30, 2009

The president during his 1909 visit to La Crosse is shown fourth from left. Photo from La Crosse Public Library Archives.When President William Howard Taft came to La Crosse in 1909 to dedicate the city’s new YMCA, the rotund president had a delicate condition requiring medical attention.

As the story was told in my first history book, Medicine: The Gundersen Experience, Taft was referred to Dr. Adolf Gundersen as the best doctor in town.

The Norwegian immigrant surgeon conducted an exam and then tried to use professional language to explain the president’s need. But there was this communication problem. I quote from the book:

“Father used some professional language with him, talking about his bowels having moved and Taft didn’t understand what he was talking about,” Adolf’s son, Gunnar recalled. “Finally, he just thumped his head and said, ‘Well, you need to shit, that’s all. You need an enema.’”

The story went around La Crosse. Some local people were offended that “a high man in public office was being treated by a rather, crude, down-to-earth doctor.”

Talk about the intersection between person and history in personal history.

I don’t know the cause of President Taft’s problem, but I have what I shall delicately call President Taft’s Disease (PTD).

Everyone talks about the side effects of chemotherapy: hair loss and nausea (well under control with drugs). But with each cycle, I swear I get plugged from my nose to my toes.  And I’m taking fiber, eating prunes, drinking lots of water, etc., etc., etc.  Really, you don’t need more details, do you? Let’s just say I’m considering a blow torch and Roto-Rooter.

When I described my blight, friends made such comments as, “So it’s official: you’re full of crap.” Oh, yeah.

President Taft probably had yes men surrounding him through political and personal decisions that he made while in office.

Last night, I had yes friends. Mary Ellen, Dorothy, Chris and Ruth (who I don’t know very well) plus Carol on Wednesday decided what I needed most was to have a clean house for my birthday.

With my brother coming to visit from Oregon on Saturday, they decided that the timing could not be better.

I want to confess from the onset that I can’t blame the state of my house on breast cancer. My mother was a perfect housekeeper. Everything was neat and orderly. Somehow I missed that gene.

Mom used to come and visit in the early days and say, “I love you guys, but you’re slobs. Would you mind if I organize just a bit?” So she did.

Andy, my only sibling, is more like my mom. And the fact that he is wiling to come here despite the risk of board of health condemnation at any time is a tribute to his love of me or insanity. You choose.

So my friends came over and started washing and vacuuming. They stayed hours, finding places to clean that I had no idea existed. Mary Ellen, who loves gardening, has this thing for bunnies, dust or otherwise. She did not miss any.

In cancer treatment thing there are good days and bad days and Thursday was not a good day, what with my PTD and absolute exhaustion. Having my friends around was a real bonus, even if I was totally useless, lying on the couch playing Facebook Scrabble and complaining about my insides.

Do you want to know who real friends are? You might think they are folks who will come and clean your house. No, they are buddies who will cheer every time you pass gas while they clean your house.

And they even discussed willingness to know when my PTD passes. I could send a message like the “eagle has landed.”

So far, I can say only that shortly after they left, the “egret landed.” I’m still mighty plugged.

I’ll keep you informed, including whether my brother shows up after reading this blog entry.

While our house is cleaned, the real problem is that Andy is not coming until Saturday. My husband suggested we move into a hotel until then.

I cannot thank my friends enough for their support and their willingness to give the ultimate gift to me. I told them how much I appreciate their willingness to come each week to clean my house.

Chris raised her eyebrows and responded, “That’s the chemo brain talking.”


10 Responses to "President Taft & Me"

Funny, I never noticed ‘clutter’ on my previous visits.

Do you mind if I straighten up a little???

Love ya, Sis – see you tomorrow!

My Dad would have said, “I hope everything comes out okay.”

You, your dad & me. 🙂

i just read an article by the BBC re: the importance of cumin in one’s diet to kill cancer cells… i think cumin would be a nice odiferous addition! go for it…

Sue, I called one day just as you were leaving for chemotherapy and will call again. You are in my thoughts and I hope “everything comes out well” soon. Dhyan

I remember having the Taft problem when I went through my cancer saga ten years ago. Then it was replaced with the inverse. Ever since, my daily routine includes vitamins and Imodium AD. My doctor said that radiation is the gift that keeps on giving because side effects can crop up 25 years later. Some day you may even look back and wish for a day when things weren’t so free-flowing. Ahhh, the power of poop!

Hey, Sue.

I have IBS, which alternates between frequent bathroom visits and PTD. I have also experienced PTD as a side effect of medications and procedures.

One trick that worked really well was to take one tablespoon of mineral oil, mixed with oj or a beverage of your choice, before bedtime. It lubricates your insides and helps stuff glide out.

Hope this helps, my friend.


Where is Dr. Gunderson when you need him? But, on the other hand, you sound like your friends are helping you in all sorts of ways, and with friends like that, who needs enemas?

That is just great. Only from you, Arthur. I love it.

Didn’t PT also plug himself in the White House bathtub? Hmmm… maybe you can pass that nugget along. 😉

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