In sickness and in health: A world governed by sick Presidents (Part 3)


Frederic Chopin, once opined that as long as I have health and strength, I will gladly work all my days. Based on this, we continue our discourse on world’s sick presidents.


Zachary Taylor, was the 12th President of the United States, serving from March 1849 till July, 1850.

Before his presidency, Taylor was a career officer in the United States Army, rising to the rank of major general. On July 4, 1850, Taylor reportedly consumed copious amounts of raw fruit and iced milk while attending holiday celebrations and a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument. He later became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. His doctor “diagnosed the illness as “cholera morbus, a flexible mid-nineteenth-century term for intestinal ailments as diverse as diarrhea and dysentery, but not related to Asiatic cholera”.

The latter was a widespread epidemic at the time of Taylor’s death. Despite treatment, Taylor died on July 9, 1850 at 65.


Some US Presidents were terribly sick while in office. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), for example, suffered a severe stroke that had him paralyzed during his entire presidency, which ended in 1921. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933- 1945), was diagnosed with Polio in 1921, at a mere 39.

He served for twelve good years, could not stand or walk without support. John F Kennedy (1961-1963) (JFK), suffered from a chronic bone disease.

He was hospitalized nine times in his short two and a half year presidency, before his assassination.

This was hidden from the American people. He appeared in public only with the support of others. He never disclosed the full extent of his health condition, as he used a wheel chair in private. George Bush (1989 – 1993), during his presidency, vomited and then fainted in front of cameras in 1992, while on a visit in Japan. Dwight Eisenhower (1953 – 1961), in 1955, suffered heart attack which sent him to the hospital for several weeks. He later underwent surgery to treat Crohn’s disease in 1957, Eisenhower suffered another stroke that temporarily halted his speech.

Surprisingly, he later still campaigned and won. During the British Prime Minister’s second term of office from 1974-76, Harold Wilson suffered symptoms that were later diagnosed as colon cancer.

He may, like Reagan, also have suffered from Alzheimer’s while in office. Neurologist Dr Peter Garrand analyzed Wilson’s changing speech patterns and found evidence that the Prime Minister might well have been suffering from Alzheimer’s without knowing it.

Tony Blair as British Prime Minister in 2004, was rushed to Hammersmith Hospital in West London for emergency treatment after he complained of chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.

No 10 immediately played down the incident, but the image of the youthful Prime Minister (born 1953), struck down by a heart condition, sent shockwaves through the government. He was found to be suffering from supraventricular tachycardia; and the following year, was treated for a heart flutter.

Blair said later. “I’ve had it for the last couple of months and it’s not impeded me doing my work and feeling fine, but it is as well to get it done.”

At the time, Blair placed a great deal of emphasis on being fit and healthy.

He told interviews that, at 51, he weighed about 83kg (13st), less than he did a decade before. In part, this was due to his healthy lifestyle – playing tennis regularly and insisting his aides ensure time for workouts in his daily diary. Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985), the fifth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was terminally ill when he took office in February, 1984.

He began smoking aged nine and continued the habit as an adult, suffering emphysema and heart failure as a result.

A year before he succeeded Yuri Andropov, he had been absent for three months because of bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia.

Despite these seeming disqualifications for office, he still managed to serve, albeit in name, as the leader of the Soviet Union for 13 months. Winston Churchill (1874-1965), gave the name “Black Dog” to “the prolonged fits of depression” from which he suffered”.

Churchill who was clinically depressed, acknowledged in his book, “Painting as a pastime”, that he was prey to the “worry and mental overstrain [experienced] by persons who, over prolonged periods have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale”.

Churchill therefore took solace in whisky and cigars, especially during the darkest days of the second world war.

He suffered a heart attack at the White in 1941, and contracted pneumonia a few years later.

Ageing and increasingly unwell, Churchill often conducted business from his bedside.

He had suffered a stroke while on holiday in 1948 and, while in office in 1953, suffered another.

Despite being paralyzed down one side and doctors fearing he might not survive the weekend, he conducted a cabinet meeting without anyone noticing his indisposition.

News of this stroke was kept from parliament and the public, who were told that he was suffering merely from exhaustion.

He left office in 1955. A year after his retirement, he suffered another stroke. Prime Minister Gordon Brown (born 1951), gave a detailed description of his difficulties with his eyesight. He lost the sight in one eye after a teenage rugby accident and has a retinal detachment in his other eye. He labored under the “same fear” that he will completely lose his sight.

“Although I have problems with my eyes and it has been very difficult over the years, I think people understand that you can do a job and you can work hard.

And I think it would be a terrible indictment of our political system if you though that because someone had this medical issue, they couldn’t do the job. I feel that I have done everything to show people that I can do the job even with the handicap that I’ve had as a result of a rugby injury.”

Fidel Castrol (1926-2016), in 2006, the Cuban leader, underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding.

The then US President, George W. Bush, was not thrilled about the news of Castro’s recovery: “One day, the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away.”

Castro retorted”: “Now I understand why I survived Bush’s plans and the plans of other Presidents who ordered my assassination: the good Lord protected me.”

Instead of being taken down by America hitmen, Castro at almost 90 voluntarily step down in 2008, writing: “It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion that I am not in a physical condition to offer.”

It was said that Fidel suffered from diverticulitis, a digestive disease in which pouches within the large bowel wall become inflamed. (To be continued).



The National Assembly that has the sole prerogative to accept or reject the President’s letter under section 145 of the Constitution, can actually reject the letter from Mr. President which referred to Osibanjo as “Coordinator of National Affairs”.

In that case, a needless constitutional crisis would have arisen, as a big vacuum in governance would have been created. In my humble opinion, in these times that try our souls, task our patience and sap our energy, matters like this are better left to lie low.

There is nothing like “Coordinator of National Affairs” in our Constitution.

That is a strange importation of an unknown term into our Constitution. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution specifically refers to “Acting President”, who “shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President” whenever “the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office”. PMB may have used the term jokingly, to represent one who is fully in charge in his absence. Certainly, it is not legally or constitutionally corrent.


“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless and intelligence cannot be applied”. (Herophilus).


Hope all Nigerians are reading, digesting and praying for the full recovery of PMB as we await the next tranche of this Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by Chief Mike A.A Ozekhome,SAN, OFR, FCIArb.

• Follow me on twitter @ MikeozekhomeSAN

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