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I Survived What Killed George Washington

Last Spring I learned some new things.  One was a bit of history, because until last spring I had no idea what George Washington died of.   Old age, eating some poisonous plant, a spider bite.  (I’m not good with remembering history, unless it’s classical music or plants.)

The other lesson was a new illness, and came in the form of a huge abscess in the back of my throat.  The condition is known as Quincy, medically titled Peritonsillar abscess.  The cause can be viral or bacterial, but is most noted for being a result of tonsillitis or strep.

While most people would be horrified by this illness and it’s treatment, (the method of resolution is barbaric) I found the learning experience to be fascinating, and my doctor visits a source of amusement.  I do not, however, want to go through it again.

A week prior to my doctor visit, I thought I was coming down with strep, so I began taking tons of herbs.

Here is the tincture formula written to 3o ml.: 5 ml. of poke root, w/equal parts goldenseal, usnea, calendula and cleavers, with 5 drops of high quality cinnamon leaf essential oil.

It’s a massive formula, but I was beginning to feel massively bad.  I took 60 drops of this 4-5 times a day.  The infection seemed to get better.  I stopped taking it after 5 days.

But things got worse, and not in a strep way, but in a way I have never experienced before.  I decided to see a doctor.

I called and told the nurse I thought I had strep, but that my only symptom was my throat.  The appointment was made for that day.

Nurse comes in, takes temperature, pulse, talks to me about my symptoms and leaves.  The doctor walks in and looks at me suspiciously and quietly.

He says, “You don’t look sick and you have no fever.”

He checks my lymph nodes along my neck, and gives me this, “What the heck are you doing here?” stare.  I point to my mouth.  He gets his magnifying glass, he looks in and literally backs away!

I ask, “What?  Do I have strep?”

His reply is nervous and tense, “What you have is way worse then strep, and you need to go the the specialist right away.”

At this point he picks up the phone, panickly dials a number and begins answering questions.  One reply he gives is, “Yes, she is still breathing.”

Wow, I’m thinking, this is just like on those doctor shows.  He hands me an address, and sends me on my way.

(I’m still, to this day, reveling in the fact that the doctor back away from me.  About 4 feet away.  It was great.  I love that part.)

I get to the Ear Nose and Throat specialist who sees me with no waiting.  He walks in and does the same thing.  With a skeptical stare he says, “You don’t look sick.  And you have no fever.”  I point to my mouth.  He peers in, and he says in a too calm voice, “We need to open that up right away.”

Apparently, what they can see is an enormous abscess in the back of my throat.  I have a big mouth (seriously) so it hides in there quite nicely.  I am in a good deal of pain, and have trouble swallowing, but I have no other symptoms.  No raging fever, large swelling in my neck, no swollen lymph nodes, ashen gray skin color, headache, muffled voice or facial swelling.  And given the fact that this specialist says it could rupture at any moment, it is a fairly advanced abscess.  One that, he claims, that puts some people in the hospital.  But there I calmly sit, showing no overt signs of illness.

I ask him, “What’s the big deal anyway?”

He turns to me, and in a grave voice says, “This is what killed George Washington.”

“No way?”  I reply.  “That’s cool.”  Okay, not cool that GW died of this, but that I have what he had and am not dying of it.

The doctor does his deed.  Within minutes of me walking in the abscess is open.  I will give no details of this, only that it hurts like you don’t know what, and is horrible and barbaric.  But he tells me I did great.  That most people throw up, scream or bolt from the chair.  I tell him I can’t imagine anyone doing those things knowing the doctor is in the back of their throat with a scalpel.

I am put on high doses of antibiotics, which makes me nervous because I am allergic to so many, and because I have Chrons Disease, which I treat without Allopathic intervention.

And now we come to why I like this doctor.  He is fascinated by my ability to control my Chrons naturally, and by the fact that I showed no signs of severe infection.  He wants to know what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk.  The back of my throat had just been sliced open, and it hurt like hell.  Besides, I was/am quite guarded when talking to any doctor who is not my GP about my condition and how I manage it.  It made me feel good, though, that he was impressed by my health and ability to manage it.

Recovery:  I took the antibiotics for 4 weeks with mega doses of probiotics. Keep in mind you cannot take the two at once, for the meds will kill off the probiotics.  This is a tough time dance to do when you are dosing antibiotics 4 times daily, but it is the work.

I also kept taking the same herbal formula, but I changed the formula equation to be lower in goldenseal, and higher in lymphatics (calendula and cleavers).

After 5 days of this, I went for a checkup.  My doctor was not in.  I had a very chatty (not good listener) PA.  She was nice, but seriously, she didn’t stop talking.

She tells me,”You are the water cooler conversation.”

A woman with an abscess who is tough in the chair and shows no signs of serious infection is big talk around the ENT office.  I tell her I used to be a classical musician, and pushed out 2 kids.  You learn some physical discipline from those experiences.

The PA told me I was healing very quickly.  She said that most people in my position after 5 days are still extremely ill.  That it looks better by nearly 2 1/2 weeks, not by 5 days.  This was good news.

I leave, and vow to never have to revisit that illness.  Though I do find abscesses fascinating, I don’t want one in the back of my throat again.

The healing I attribute to the lymphatics.  They worked wonders.  I had other health issues while taking the antibiotics.   My intestinal tract was in an uproar.  It took about a month to get it back in shape.  But if put in this position again, I would do everything the same way.  The nature of this infection was such that it warranted the use of antibiotics.

I learned a lot in from that illness.  I learned a piece of history, that doctors can be our allies, and to more deeply trust my body when given a challenge.


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  • amber pixi

    Whew…well done! That is one hell of a potent brew you were treating yourself with…poke root is no joke, nor is Usnea and Goldenseal!  

    • Thanks.  And you are right.  It is a potent brew.  It tastes nasty, too.  But I like the way it works when in a bacterial pickle. : )


      • greenhomestead

        Interesting. i was just at mount Vernon yesterday, and heard about the bacterial infection that killed George Washington. the guide said antibiotics could have saved him.
        Randomly i ran into George’s “physician” a little later in the day, he was taking questions in the greenhouse. i asked him if they grew echinacea in the gardens there. He said no, and i told him they should, it’s very good stuff. When i was a kid my mom used to give us echinacea and golden seal in the winter when we started to get sick .
        And i was thinking that since it’s kind of an old remedy, it might have been in use in George Washington’s day. And if his doctor’s knew of it, it might have strengthened his immune system, killed the infection and saved his life.

        • I love those historical towns, and have visited some myself. They are an excellent way to learn about history. Medicine was very different in the 18th century. They had no knowledge of sterilization, virus, or bacteria. Their perspective was not to strengthen, but to purge and bleed. Perhaps George’s “doctor” mentioned this. Interestingly, part of the remedy for this particular infection is as barbaric as doctors were then. That is, the tonsil must be cut open to purge itself of puss. Painful? Oh, my, yes. But in George’s day, they would have bled his external body, and made him puke. Alas, wrong place to open. Thanks for your note. I enjoyed your input, and that you got to talk to George Washington’s dr. Indeed, echinacea is a potent immune stimulant. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Megan

    Great story! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to studying with you.

    • Hi Megan!  Thanks, and I’m excited to learn from you, too.  Best, Kathy


  • Mallrocks123

    that must of hurt (duh) o and happy valintines day

  • SilverscreenLeah

    I just got home from the hospital after having had 2 Peritonsillar Abscesses in one and a half months. Had to get my tonsils out as a result, and as an adult…ouch. Your article is fantastic and your strength makes me feel strong too. Thank you. 

  • 8Pi

    If you had not had a gross manifestation, you would have been sent home.  For me, the conundrum is utilizing herbs as I know how to use them, and then trying to explain to a physician that the lack of fever in my case, may not be sufficient justification to dismiss my symptoms.  Being febrile is so much THE standard.

    Several months ago this rather backfired, and I remain uncertain if my continued lessened health  is due to the fact that the physician refused to believe I had a cellulitis because I was afebrile, despite the other clinical evidence.

  • Hurtin4Certain

    I currently have one and it seems to be going away. I am taking steriods and antibiotics. Freaked me out when the person below said they got two in 1.5 months. Don’t want to go through this again. It’s been painful to say the least. Obviously, mine was not bad enough to have to lance it and hopefully it won’t get there. I’m pretty scared about the whole deal and hope it gets better.

    • It stinks to go through this, and I do hope your clear up. You might consider taking a few of the herbs mentioned during and post treatment. Thankfully, knock on tons of wood, it has been years since I had to deal with this, and it has not recurred. Though I do notice that my tonsils are more sensitive when I become ill. That always makes me nervous, so I take lymphatic herbs often. They make a huge difference. No one wants to go through this more than once. Warm wishes, and a speedy recovery.

  • Holly

    Oh wow, I’m actually going through what you did. I was actually researching what to do if it ruptured and found your article. I’ve dealt with this a few times and soon I have to get my tonsils taken out or I’ll die, or something.. But anyhow my usual doctor wasn’t in when I went for my appointment so I had to see a different one. And the man did just what you said! Looked in my throat and jumped back. Then called in another guy who just shivered at the sight. This amused me. Glad you’re feeling better and that we both survived what killed George. Haha

    • It’s crazy, right? These things make some doctors squirm. It is a powerful experience for the patient when he makes a doctor backup. I’m sorry you’re loosing your tonsils. As you know, it is better than, you know, dying the way George Washington died. We are tough. And I love that you have such a great sense of humor about the whole thing. I hope that you heal quickly. Yarrow, calendula and echinacea tea gargles are great for tonsil removal. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • acalltoherbs

    Hm. It may be historically recorded that GW died from a throat infection, but I had learned that his doctors bled him a wee too much (126 ounces in a 10 hour period). He actually died from the old barbaric treatment of bloodletting.