LAST year, in a military hospital in the Washington area, a house officer was rounding with four medical students. It was his daily custom to ask a cultural question. "Today," he said, "I'll give an A to the one who can tell me what Walter Reed died of." Brief silence. Then one of the students ventured, "Sir, I believe he died of peritonitis after an appendectomy." "Wrong," said the instructor, "He died of yellow fever." I told this story to a friend, senior in years and wise beyond those years. My story was interrupted at the house officer's question: "Yellow fever!"
Yellow fever is not the answer. The student was correct, precisely correct. Walter Reed did die of peritonitis following an appendectomy. But his death remains a mystery. What ailed him and his appendix is not known.
'I Am Dreadfully Melancholic'
Walter Reed, Major, Medical Corps, US Army, died in
Crosby WH, Haubrich WS. The Death of Walter Reed. JAMA. 1982;248(11):1342–1345. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330110038022