Samuel Johnson's illnesses

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Abstract

The handwritten note of the post-mortem examination of Dr Samuel Johnson resides in the library of the Royal College of Physicians of London. Headed “asthma” it suggests that he had only one functioning kidney, probably had hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy and congestive heart failure. This article describes an imaginary presentation by Dr James Wilson, who did the autopsy, and alludes to Johnson's life, and medical history, including impaired vision and hearing, scrofula, abnormal limb movement, gout, abdominal cramps, melancholia and episodes of “asthma” which were, more than likely to have been episodes of left ventricular failure. Johnson's personality as a demanding patient who took things into his own hands are described based upon reports from his physicians.

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