Thomas Wolfe was stricken with an influenza while traveling in the Pacific Northwest. Wolfe told his doctors he believed that he became sick while on a July 4th cruise to Vancouver on the Canadian Pacific steamship, Princess Kathleen. On the ship, he shared a drink of whisky with a shivering man, whom he would later call “a poor shivering wretch.” The next day he became very sick and decided to make his way back to Seattle.
The illness eventually developed into pneumonia and he was initially treated by Dr. E. C. Ruge, the physician of the Stevens, a Seattle literary couple Wolfe had recently met. Wolfe was terrified of hospitals, so instead of going to one when he should have, he went to recover at Dr. Ruge’s sanitarium, Firlawns. Wolfe was not healing as the doctor expected he should. Ruge was a former TB specialist and realized that there was something else wrong.
Dr. Charles E. Watts was brought in for consultation. Wolfe was taken to Providence Hospital where he was given x-rays and tests. A large spot was revealed on Wolfe’s right lung. The two doctors both had different diagnoses. Ruge thought the spot was an old tubercular condition, but Watts did not think it showed tuberculosis. Ruge, certain that it was TB, told Wolfe what he thought. Wolfe, angry and afraid, removed Dr. Ruge from his case and put Dr. Watts in charge.
The case began to get worse. Wolfe suffered from fevers and his headaches were severe. The doctors could not determine what was wrong with him. They decided that in order for Wolfe to receive the best treatment, he should be moved to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. His new doctor, Dr. Walter E. Dandy, saw that it was a very serious case and his preliminary diagnosis was either brain cancer, tuberculosis, or a brain tumor.
The decision was made to operate. Once the procedure was begun, the doctors realized that his case was hopeless, because his brain was covered with tubercles, and the best they could do was try to ease his suffering and hope that he did not recover from the operation. Wolfe had had TB when he was a young man. It had healed, covering over the tubercles in his lungs. The doctors believed the tubercles in his lung were aggravated and opened again by the pneumonia, and made their way into his bloodstream, where the disease traveled to his brain.
He lingered in and out of coma after the operation and died three days later on September 15, 1938, just short of his thirty-eighth birthday. His funeral was held in the First Presbyterian Church in Asheville and he is buried in the family plot in Riverside cemetery.
W.O. AND JULIA E.
A BELOVED AMERICAN AUTHOR
OCT. 3, 1900 — SEPT. 15, 1938
“THE LAST VOYAGE, THE LONGEST, THE BEST.”
-LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL
“DEATH BENT TO TOUCH HIS CHOSEN SON WITH MERCY, LOVE AND PITY, AND PUT THE SEAL OF HONOR ON HIM WHEN HE DIED.”
-THE WEB AND THE ROCK
Visit The Wolfe Memorial
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial
PO Box 7143
Asheville, NC 28802
Visit The Thomas Wolfe Website
The Thomas Wolfe Website
A great site about Thomas Wolfe
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