My Oct. 14 Surgery and Secret Stalker – Chiari Malformation

To my family, friends and book and TV news fans:

One day in June 2015 I stood in my kitchen trying to cook about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I had woken up with a severe migraine that morning, as I often did, but something was different. My face was tingling and I felt spacey, unable to remember things. Because I had spent most of the day in bed, I hadn’t eaten a whole lot. My husband and older boys were out of the house, at the library I think. My almost two-year-old son was napping.

While stirring eggs, shredded hash brown potatoes, sausage and cheese in a bowl, everything suddenly went black. As my knees buckled and I fell toward the floor, I woke up just as quickly as I had blacked out. My hands and arms caught my fall and fortunately I didn’t hit my head on the kitchen tile or nearby refrigerator.

Grabbing a water bottle and crawling in bed, I called my husband, who quickly returned home. The incident passed and I felt better soon.

I told two of my doctors about what happened. An earlier test had previously ruled out epilepsy. After consulting with some others about my case, one of my physicians put me on Lyrica, a nerve medicine that seemed to help some but my headaches continued to worsen.


Fast forward to the summer of 2016. In preparing for the launch of my new book, The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812, I knew I wasn’t feeling well and was worried about my physical stamina in meeting the demands of promoting my book, which I really wanted to do.

I want this nonfiction book (my ninth) to sell well, in part because I love this story about Dolley and James Madison. Both The Burning of the White House (Regnery History, Aug. 2016) and my book about John Quincy and Louisa Adams, American Phoenix (Thomas Nelson, 2013) will make great films and I have written award-winning screenplays for both.


To better manage my pain, I sought the help of a spine and pain doctor. In the midst of doing TV and radio interviews for my book, I found myself spending just as much time at a doctor’s office or at at an imaging center undergoing a variety of tests, several MRIs and CT scans of different parts of my body to try to figure out what was going on. By this point my headaches were 24/7 and I felt tingling all over my body.

A brain MRI revealed a condition called Chiari malformation, with Chiari pronounced as key-r-ee. Usually a birth defect, Chiari is often not detected until adulthood. This slow and insidious condition takes place when the tonsils of the brain – yes the brain has tonsils – slowly creep or intrude into the spinal cord. Occasionally significant trauma to the spinal cord can cause the herniation.

I visited three neurosurgeons, all with different opinions. The surgeon who listened most closely to my symptoms and thoroughly studied my brain MRI noticed that the shape of my brain tonsils was irritating my brain stem. He was also quite concerned when I told him about my near blackouts. Yes, I had a few more incidents but none were as scary to me as the one in June 2015.

As a result, I’m undergoing neurosurgery on Fri. Oct. 14, 2016. The surgeon will remove chips of bone from my skull to open up the space and insert a device to keep the space open.

I have to add, the hospital nurse in my pre-op interview scared me to death. I will be in ICU the first night. They will have to put an IV in one of my arteries, not just a vein, during surgery. Their biggest concern post-surgery is infection, especially an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. Because I tested positive for one of the colonies of concern, I have to go through a multi-day cleansing process before the surgery to minimize my infection chances.

The recovery at home will likely take between two and four weeks, but could last as long as eight weeks depending on how I do. Hopefully I will be back to normal by election day, which is important to the presidential historian side of my work, but for sure by Inauguration in January. Like it or not, this presidential election is historic no matter who wins.

My headaches began nine years ago and we thought they started because of a side effect from a medication I was taking for another condition. Though that was likely the case at the time, Chiari has been silently stalking me in the background. Over the years my headaches grew in frequency and intensity, despite my attempts to take preventive medicine and try a variety of treatments.

So chances are, if you’ve seen me on television on the Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, CBN and CNN, or heard me on the radio, I had a severe headache and was suffering greatly.  You only have to look or act like you feel good for about three to 10 minutes when doing TV or radio.

unnamedOn my trip to New York to talk about my book with Brian Kilmeade on Fox and Friends and his radio show, Kilmeade and Friends, on Aug. 24, 2016, I had to lie down in between interviews because lying down is easier on my head than being upright. I ended up taking over two seats on the train to and from New York to D.C. so  I could lie down. When I’m upright the headache floats to the top of my head like a hot air balloon unable to escape.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years different doctors have said to me, “I’ve never had a patient react like you do” to a medication or treatment or “you are so sensitive.” I’ve told one of my physicians several times that I am his petite Princess-and-the-Pea patient, because I am so highly sensitive. (One of my favorite TV shows is Once Upon a Time, Ginnifer Goodwin plays Snow WhiteIn the final season of the TV show Rizzoli and Isles, one of the main characters, Maura Isles played by Sasha Alexander, battles Chiari)

You probably remember the Princess and the Pea fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. The way to detect if a girl was a princess was to have her sleep on top of a stack of mattresses and place of pea in between two of the mattresses near the bottom of the stack. If she couldn’t sleep because of sensitivity, she was a true princess.

The Princess and the Pea is me. And in my case, the pea is called Chiari. (Key-r-ee)

But this Princess and the Pea hopes to awaken soon like Snow White, able to whistle while I work and sing a happy song again, fulfilling the purpose God has given me as a mom, wife, and writer.

In the Old Testament in the book of Joshua, God promised the people of Israel that He would be with them wherever they went and called on them to be strong and courageous. A friend of mine recently reminded me that God goes before us, is with with us through the trial and will be with us afterwards.

vzm-img_20160422_200642So please pray for my surgery on Oct. 14, my husband, our three children and my dad. And pray for a smooth and quick recovery.

I have thought about writing a book about all of this. My other books have mostly been about presidential history. This would be different, a memoir about the three health journeys I experienced through my years in the White House, then as an author, mother, and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel the past eight years.

So stay tuned and thank you for your support.

And oh, if you want me to sign a bookplate for one of my books while I’m recovering, send an email with your mailing address to info@janecookcom. I can personalize, sign and mail you a book plate for free.

Love to all,

Jane Hampton Cook

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Is Ebola the Modern-Day Yellow Fever? Medical Similarities and Differences

Early Philadelphia, Library of Congress

Early Philadelphia, Library of Congress

As of today, 4,493 people have died from Ebola, according to the World Health Organization. Two Dallas-area nurses, who treated a now-deceased infected patient who came to Texas from Liberia in West Africa, are hospitalized with the disease.

A similar number of casualties–as many as 5,000 people–died during the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 in Philadelphia, which was the capital city of the United States at the time. The number is staggering, considering that the population in Philadelphia in the 1790 U.S. Census was 28,522, making it the second largest city in the United States.

What are the medical similarities and differences between Ebola today and yellow fever back then? Let’s put today’s Ebola outbreak into historical medical context.

Medical similarities and differences
A rare hemorrhagic fever, Ebola symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain, severe headache, weakness, and abdominal pain. It features unexplained hemorrhage through bleeding and bruising.

Symptoms of yellow fever also include hemorrhage, such as blood oozing from the eyes, nose and mouth as well as black and red vomit. Skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow, which give the fever its name.

The major difference is how the diseases spread. Knowing how a disease spreads is critical for containing it, which distinguishes modern Ebola from yellow fever epidemics in the past.

Ebola spreads when someone comes into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has the disease. Hence, health care workers treating those infected are at the greatest risk and require protective gear when treating patients. Symptoms emerge between 2 to 21 days after Ebola exposure. Patients who survive develop immunity to the disease.

Unlike today, the problem with yellow fever 221 years ago was that people didn’t know how it spread. Fear of coming into contact with someone who had the disease was high. Residents of Philadelphia in 1793 didn’t know that yellow fever spreads through mosquitoes, not contact with those infected or their bodily fluids.

How did yellow fever become an epidemic back then? Several Caribbean Island refugees were infected with yellow fever when they arrived in Philadelphia by ship in 1793. Mosquitoes in Philadelphia bit the infected refugees and carried the disease to local residents through subsequent mosquito bites. The people of Charleston, South Carolina, experienced a similar outbreak of yellow fever in 1745. Baltimore and New Haven also later experienced outbreaks, but none compared to the 1793 epidemic in Philadelphia.

Discovering that mosquitoes carried yellow fever didn’t take place until 1881. Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor, made the discovery while U.S. Army Surgeon General Walter Reed confirmed it through experiments. This led to containing the disease by reducing mosquito populations. Max Theiler developed a vaccine for yellow fever in 1937 and later won a Nobel prize for it. Yellow fever exists today in South America and Africa in populations that lack access to the vaccination.

For more information:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
World Health Organization

Jane Hampton Cook is the author of America’s Star-Spangled Story and American Phoenix and six other books.

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iPhone 6–John Quincy Adams needed one 200 years ago today

Among the many attractive features of the new iPhone 6 is its speed. Some have touted it as “insanely faster” than the iPhone 5.

Two hundred years ago today, on Oct. 7, 1814, John Quincy Adams could have used an iPhone or any phone for that matter, even one with a cord.

Adams was serving as one of five members of the U.S. team negotiating a peace treaty to end the War of 1812 between America and Britain. The negotiations with three British delegates had been taking place in Ghent, Belgium.

The bad news literally arrived in his bedchamber. A messenger–his brother-in-law George Boyd –burst into John Quincy’s Belgium hotel room early in the morning on October 7, 1814. Married to a younger sister of Louisa (John Quincy’s wife), Boyd was fresh off the boat, having traveled as a government agent across the Atlantic Ocean to deliver the urgent—but now six-weeks-old—news to the U.S. commissioners.

The British army and Marine Corps had burned the White House and U.S. Capitol on August 24, 1814.

“The newspapers contain a great variety of details respecting the fall of Washington and the destruction of buildings and of property, public and private, effected by the enemy,” Adams gravely wrote to Louisa.

The destruction of the White House and U.S. Capitol seemed to give the British negotiators the upper hand in the negotiations. What would happen next? Would the British sever the United States into two, with New England returning to British rule?

What Adams didn’t yet know on Oct. 7 is that a victory had already taken place that would return the advantage to the Americans in the negotiations. The people of Baltimore–more than 15,000–had already driven out the British military, who fled the East Coast after the Battle of Fort McHenry on Sept. 13-14.

Though communication was slow, once Adams and the others learned about the victory in Baltimore, they were able to propose a plan for the boundaries of the United States and Canada to return to where they were before the war began. News of that proposal would also take six weeks to reach America, but when it did, it would signal that peace was at hand and the war was over.

No doubt that John Quincy Adams would have loved and valued the speed of the iPhone and any other phone. A lover of science and a penchant for quips, he would have tweeted about the treaty, saying it was the “happiest day of his life.”

Excerpted in part from American PhoenixJane Hampton Cook’s book about John Quincy and Louisa Adams and the War of 1812. Discover more through Jane’s C-SPAN speech.

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Dec. 27, 1776 George Washington writes t

Dec. 27, 1776 George Washington writes the Continental Congress about the victory in Trenton the previous day. “I have the pleasure of congratulating you upon the success of an enterprise, which I had formed against a detachment of the enemy lying at Trenton, and which was executed yesterday morning . . . Providence seemed to have smiled upon every part of this enterprise.”

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Dec. 25-26, 1776. Henry Knox writes his

Dec. 25-26, 1776. Henry Knox writes his wife about crossing the Delaware River under George Washington’s orders. “Accordingly a part of the army, consisting of about 2,500 or 3,000 passed the river on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty, with 18 field-pieces. The floating ice in the river made the labor almost incredible . . . However, perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible . . . We entered the town with them pell-mell.”

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Dec. 25-26, 1776. With most of his 6,000

Dec. 25-26, 1776. With most of his 6,000 men’s enlistments set to expire Dec. 31, George Washington needs a moral victory to convince them to stay in the army. He orders 2,500 of them to cross the Delaware River and conduct a surprise attack at the British outpost at Trenton guarded by hired Hessian or German soldiers. Crossing the Delaware River takes longer than George Washington expects. “But the quantity of ice, made that night, impeded the passage of the boats so much, that it was three o’clock before the artillery could all be got over; and near four before the troops took up their line of march,” Washington writes.

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Dec. 23, 1776 Thomas Paine’s pamphlet T

Dec. 23, 1776 Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The Crisis is read aloud to George Washington’s troops

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Dec. 19, 1776 Thomas Paine, the anonymou

Dec. 19, 1776 Thomas Paine, the anonymous author of the 1776 bestseller Common Sense that called for independence, publishes The American Crisis for the first time in the Pennsylvania Journal. Paine knew first hand that the army and independence were in crisis. “These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

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Dec. 18, 1776. George Washington worries

Dec. 18, 1776. George Washington worries about his army’s continuance in a letter to his brother. “Between you and me, I think our affairs are in a very bad situation . . . if every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up.” Between September and December, 11,000 military volunteers had given up the fight and returned home. Washington needed something to motivate his remaining men to stay. “However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot entertain an Idea, that it will finally sink, tho’ it may remain for some time under a cloud.”

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Dec. 13, 1776. In New Jersey American Ge

Dec. 13, 1776. In New Jersey American Gen. Charles Lee imprudently leaves his troops in the morning and travels three miles to a tavern to enjoy a relaxing breakfast. A local Tory tips off the enemy to Lee’s whereabouts. British scouts track, surprise, and capture him. He later reflects, “The Jerseys; it was really in the hands of the enemy before my arrival.”

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Dec. 1776. “I am going into the Jerseys

Dec. 1776. “I am going into the Jerseys for the salvation of America,” American Gen. Charles Lee proclaimed rashly proclaims. Seeking George Washington’s job and glory for himself, Lee stalls his half of the Continental Army in New Jersey and takes his time to meet up with George Washington, who leads the other half. #TBT Throwback Thursday

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Nov. 29, 1776, On this day Samuel Adams

Nov. 29, 1776, On this day Samuel Adams notifies his wife Betsy that he is on the king’s most-wanted list. “I am told that Lord Howe has lately issued a proclamation offering a general pardon with the exception of only four persons: viz Dr Franklin, Col Richard Henry Lee, Mr John Adams & myself. . . If it be a fact I am greatly obliged to his Lordship for the flattering opinion he has given me of myself as being a person obnoxious to those who are desolating a once happy country for the sake of extinguishing the remaining lamp of liberty . . and for the singular honor he does me in ranking me with men so eminently patriotic.”

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On this day Nov. 28, 1776 British Genera

On this day Nov. 28, 1776 British General Charles Cornwallis and his army take Newark, New Jersey, and pursue George Washington and his army to New Brunswick. “However, we were lucky enough to gain the bridge before them; by which means we saved all our men, but were obliged to leave some hundred barrels of flour, most of our cannon, and a considerable parcel of tents and baggage.”

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