Medical Problems of Charles H. Doerflinger

Capt. C. E. Estabrook, Milwaukee, July 30, 1908

Dear Comrade:

        Nearly four months have elapsed since the re-amputation of my thigh was performed. Now a cushion of muscle covers the end of the thigh-bone which was shortened by about 2 inches, where for 45 years the unprotected bone had protruded beyond the thin rim of cuticle grown fast to its sides. The latter had to support the whole strain of my bodyweight (155 lbs) at every step during more than an average lifetime. My present surgeons, Dr. A. J. Herschmann and Dr. H. Reineking found very little flesh available within reach, so that the present new muscular cushion is not thick, but it seems to suffice for protection against the electromagnetic and other influences of the atmosphere and partly against suffering from pressure and tension. When using an artificial limb, though the new cicatrice is nearly five inches long.
        This new seam unavoidably remained very sensitive for about three months; but during this last month, July, the external sensitiveness and the internal painful nervous irritation and twitching have rapidly diminished, and I am now experiencing what almost seems a miracle: a very gradually increasing calmness of my whole nervous system, signs of some degree of rejuvenation of mental working capacity, a not, exuberant but ap­preciable awakening of hopefulness.
        Endowed with a large inherited fund of will power and energy, I de­termined after returning from the war in a permanently maimed condition, to make every effort, in the face of most unfortunate economic environments and prospects to neutralize the disadvantages of my physical con­dition and other circumstances. When not absolutely prostrated by the frequent attacks of excruciating stump pain, I endeavored by continued strenuous exercise to strengthen my physical powers and skill; endeavors that my friends sometimes called superhuman and foolhardy, such as the ascent of mountains on foot or on mule or horseback. In ordinary every day life, I suppressed all outward signs of suffering as far as possible. I hardly every spoke of my tortures except to my own family, unless I was questioned, and I accomplished feats (such as the ascent of the Saentis Mountain (8300 ft.) in 7 hours on a route for which able-bodied al­pinists require 4 hours) which I was assured by the press in Switzerland, had never been consummated before. But I did it under tortures and repeatedly risked total exhaustion, as in the case named and many others, for instance in crossing and recrossing the Sierras in Mexico on mule back with my blood thickened by the heat on the torrid lower levels.
        Contrasting my present condition brought about by the recent successful amputation which relieved my whole nervous system from the never­ ceasing dull, twitching or acute pain of the past 45 years, I am convinced that the total miscarriage of the operations I was subject to in1863 was not only the direct cause of the more or less severe tortures. I had to suffer at nearly every step (many thousands of steps per day when not laid up) for 45 years, but also of mental and physical overstrain in consequence of almost continuous painful irritation of the whole nervous system, and resulting there from a number of prolonged periods of nervous and mental affliction and depression which several times obliged me to give up public offices and business enterprises, and required years for cure and recuperation.
        I was not responsible in any possible way for the failure of the first amputation and the subsequent operations performed by the surgeons in the employ of the United States in 1863. I never objected to the amputation of the let, because I was convinced that an artificial foot would be much preferable to a stiff ankle. I remember distinctly that I expressed a wish to be relieved of the torturing leg which was swollen and discolored up to the knee, long before the surgeons were forced under hurried preparations, to hastily perform the amputation, when, June 27,1863, the nurse or steward reported that the lymphatic vessels on the inside of the thigh were inflamed nearly to the groin, threatening death within a few hours.
        My painful and irritated thigh-stump with the unprotected bone pro­truding could never "be compared in quality either for comfort, or for use in walking, with a stump of less than half the length of the femur covered with a normal cushion of muscle and well healed, for which the pensioners received $120.00 more per year than I did for {?} years until {?} under a ruling giving patients whose thigh stumps were longer than half the length of the femur ten dollars ($10) per month less than those patients whose thigh stumps were only half the length of the femur or less, without considering the fact that an ill-shaped, irritable and painful long stump is much less comfortable and useful than a sound painless shorter stump.
        My life during a large part of these past 45 years was unnecessarily made a failure by the said bad operations as to comfort, pleasure, health and the acquisition of money, a home and competence for old age for myself and my aging wife; a bad condition of my health was caused a number of times by long and frequent severe attacks of stump-pain and the nar­cotics necessarily used to alleviate them. I was obliged by the failures of health so caused to resign several business situations, and public offices, and give up business enterprises in which I had been giving sa­tisfaction, thus losing my income wholly or largely during about 16 years (1869-75, to 1887 to 93, 1905 to 1908). This loss computed at an average of $1,500.00 per year (a low estimate for literary and managerial work of a high grade) amounts to $24,000.00. - The erroneous classification of my pension to the extent of $120.00 per year for about 37 years I believe, gives me a claim on the pension fund of $4500.00, amounting to a total claim for losses inflicted upon me unnecessarily and without any fault of my own, of about $28,400.00.

Author/Creator: Wisconsin History Commission.
Title: Papers, 1861-1865, 1884-1918.
Quantity: 1.6 c.f. (5 archives boxes)