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Doctor Curmudgeon® First Lady

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

The title of this week’s column was not intended to be misleading.

Here in the United States, when we hear ‘first lady,’ we usually think of the wife of the president.

However I am remembering a different first lady, Dr. Janet Travell.

Dr. Travell was the first woman to be personal physician to a president of the United States.

How did Dr. Travell arrive at this position?

In 1955, John F. Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts. At that time, he had undergone a second back surgery. The young senator had endured chronic back pain subsequent to an injury he had received during his service in World War II. Unfortunately, that surgery did not completely relieve his daily pain.

Dr. Travell was well known for her research and treatment of skeletal muscle pain and so it was no surprise when, in 1951, the president met the doctor.

From her research into the Myofascial Pain Syndrome she was able to alleviate much of the pain from which the young senator suffered.

And so, a few days after Kennedy’s inauguration as President, the announcement was made of the appointment of a very special first lady.

This would be the first time since the 1920’s that a military physician was not the doctor caring for the president and his family.

But a more noteworthy significance was that Dr. Travell would be the first woman to hold this position.

Part of her treatment program consisted of work on the president’s trigger points; areas in his soft tissue that were like knots and caused pain. There is still controversy in this area of treatment.

But Kennedy found that his pain was alleviated.

When Dr. Travell realized that the president had a leg length difference, she recommended custom made orthopedic shoes.

Kennedy also wore a back brace which was selected by Dr. Travell.

Standing at press conferences did not help the president’s back pain. And so his physician redesigned his lectern.

From @JFKlibrary

It is a bit strange that this physician, widely remembered as the president’s doctor, is known for an unusual recommendation. It was at the behest of his physician that the president was often found in his old oak rocker with its high back and interwoven cane seat.

There are many photos of her famous patient in his rocking chair.

Dr. Travell found that rocking back and forth helped lighten his pain, as it kept his back muscles in motion, with relaxation and contraction.

Dr. Janet Travell, a trained cardiologist who became a specialist in pain management and the first woman to be the personal physician to the president and his family.
Indeed a first lady!

Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.

Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon
Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.

SERMO www.sermo.com “talk real world medicine”

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