Rare doctor's note offers glimpse into Napoleon's agonized final years

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EXCERPTS: Napoleon Bonaparte ricocheted to power in the early 19th century, rapidly rising through the ranks during the French Revolution and crowning himself emperor in 1804, when he was 35 years old. Comparatively, the statesman and military leader’s death was a subdued affair: Exiled on Saint Helena, a rocky island in the South Atlantic Ocean, the former emperor suffered agonizing symptoms for years before finally succumbing to illness in 1821, at the age of 51.

A rare doctor’s note recently sold at auction offers a new glimpse into Napoleon’s fragile health during his final years. As Sara Spary reports for CNN, Irish surgeon Barry Edward O’Meara handwrote the letter, which Heritage Auctions sold to an unnamed British citizen for $2,000. Dated to June 4, 1818, the letter outlines its subject’s “ill health” in detail. “I found [Napoleon] laboring under a considerable degree of fever, his countenance displaying anxiety and being evidently that of a man who was experiencing severe corporeal sufferings,” O’Meara observed.

He added that the politician’s symptoms included “great increase of pain in the Right side, rending headache, general anxiety and oppression, skin hot and dry, pulse quickened,” all of which signaled a “crisis of a serious natures.” O’Meara also noted that he had removed one of Napoleon’s wisdom teeth the previous fall.

Napoleon’s stay on Saint Helena marked his second—and final—exile. He’d first been exiled to the island of Elba but had escaped in 1815, only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo later that year and forced to abdicate once again.

[...] Today, the most widely accepted explanation holds that Napoleon died a slow and painful death due to stomach cancer -- a verdict agreed upon by the seven doctors who attended his 1921 autopsy. In 2007, a team of researchers reported that the emperor likely died of gastrointestinal bleeding caused by untreated stomach cancer... (MORE - details)

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