Yet another fine piece of journalism from Jimmy Breslin in the aftermath of 11/22/63...
A Death in Emergency Room One
By Jimmy Breslin
New York Herald Tribune
November 24, 1963
-- The call bothered Malcolm Perry. "Dr. Tom Shires, STAT," the girl's
voice said over the page in the doctor's cafeteria at Parkland
Memorial Hospital. The "STAT" meant emergency. Nobody ever called Tom
Shires, the hospital's chief resident in surgery, for an emergency. And
Shires, Perry's superior, was out of town for the day. Malcolm Perry
looked at the salmon croquettes on the plate in front of him. Then he
put down his fork and went over to a telephone.
"This is Dr. Perry taking Dr. Shires' page," he said.
"President Kennedy has been shot. STAT," the operator said. "They are bringing him into the emergency room now."
hung up and walked quickly out of the cafeteria and down a flight of
stairs and pushed through a brown door and a nurse pointed to Emergency
Room One, and Dr. Perry walked into it. The room is narrow and has gray
tiled walls and a cream-colored ceiling. In the middle of it, on an
aluminum hospital cart, the President of the United States had been
placed on his back and he was dying while a huge lamp glared in his
John Kennedy had already been stripped of his jacket,
shirt, and T-shirt, and a staff doctor was starting to place a tube
called an endotracht down the throat. Oxygen would be forced down the
endotracht. Breathing was the first thing to attack. The President was
Malcolm Perry unbuttoned his dark blue glen-plaid
jacket and threw it onto the floor. He held out his hands while the
nurse helped him put on gloves.
The President, Perry thought. He's bigger than I thought he was.
noticed the tall, dark-haired girl in the plum dress that had her
husband's blood all over the front of the skirt. She was standing out
of the way, over against the gray tile wall. Her face was tearless and
it was set, and it was to stay that way because Jacqueline Kennedy,
with a terrible discipline, was not going to take her eyes from her
Then Malcolm Perry stepped up to the aluminum
hospital cart and took charge of the hopeless job of trying to keep the
thirty-fifth President of the United States from death. And now, the
enormousness came over him.
Here is the most important man in the world, Perry thought.
chest was not moving. And there was no apparent heartbeat inside. The
wound in the throat was small and neat. Blood was running out of it. It
was running out too fast. The occipitoparietal, which is a part of the
back of the head, had a huge flap. The damage a .25-caliber bullet
does as it comes out of a person's body is unbelievable. Bleeding from
the head wound covered the floor.
There was a mediastinal wound
in connection with the bullet hole in the throat. This means air and
blood were being packed together in the chest. Perry called for a
scalpel. He was going to start a tracheotomy, which is opening the
throat and inserting a tube into the windpipe. The incision had to be
made below the bullet wound.
"Get me Doctors Clark, McCelland, and Baxter right away," Malcolm Perry said.
he started the tracheotomy. There was no anesthesia. John Kennedy
could feel nothing now. The wound in the back of the head told Dr.
Perry that the President never knew a thing about it when he was shot,
While Perry worked on the throat, he said quietly, "Will somebody put a right chest tube in, please."
The tube was to be inserted so it could suction out the blood and air packed in the chest and prevent the lung from collapsing.
things he was doing took only small minutes, and other doctors and
nurses were in the room and talking and moving, but Perry does not
remember them. He saw only the throat and chest, shining under the huge
lamp, and when he would look up or move his eyes between motions, he
would see this plum dress and the terribly disciplined face standing
over against the gray tile wall.
Just as he finished the
tracheotomy, Malcolm Perry looked up and Dr. Kemp Clark, chief
neurosurgeon in residency at Parkland, came in through the door. Clark
was looking at the President of the United States. Then he looked at
Malcolm Perry and the look told Malcolm Perry something he already knew.
There was no way to save the patient.
"Would you like to leave, ma'am?" Kemp Clark said to Jacqueline Kennedy. "We can make you more comfortable outside."
Just the lips moved. "No," Jacqueline Kennedy said.
Malcolm Perry's long fingers ran over the chest under him and he tried
to get a heartbeat, and even the suggestion of breathing, and there
was nothing. There was only the still body, pale white in the light,
and it kept bleeding, and now Malcolm Perry started to call for things
and move his hands quickly because it was all running out.
began to massage the chest. He had to do something to stimulate the
heart. There was not time to open the chest and take the heart in his
hands, so he had to massage on the surface. The aluminum cart was high.
It was too high. Perry was up on his toes so he could have leverage.
"Will somebody please get me a stool," he said.
was placed under him. He sat on it, and for ten minutes he massaged
the chest. Over in the corner of the room, Dr. Kemp Clark kept watching
the electrocardiogram for some sign that the massaging was creating
action in the President's heart. There was none. Dr. Clark turned his
head from the electrocardiogram.
"It's too late, Mac," he said to Malcolm Perry.
The long fingers stopped massaging and they were lifted from the white chest. Perry got off the stool and stepped back.
M.T. Jenkins, who had been working the oxygen flow, reached down from
the head of the aluminum cart. He took the edges of a white sheet in
his hands. He pulled the sheet up over the face of John Fitzgerald
Kennedy. The IBM clock on the wall said it was 1 p.m. The date was
November 22, 1963.
Three policemen were moving down the hall
outside Emergency Room One now, and they were calling to everybody to
get out of the way. But this was not needed, because everybody stepped
out of the way automatically when they saw the priest who was behind
the police. His name was the Reverend Oscar Huber, a small
seventy-year-old man who was walking quickly.
turned to leave the room as Father Huber came in. Perry remembers
seeing the priest go by him. And he remembers his eyes seeing that plum
dress and that terribly disciplined face for the last time as he walked
out of Emergency Room One and slumped into a chair in the hall.
that was inside that room now belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy and
Father Oscar Huber and the things in which they believe.
"I'm sorry. You have me deepest sympathies," Father Huber said.
"Thank you," Jacqueline Kennedy said.
Huber pulled the white sheet down so he could anoint the forehead of
John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy was standing beside the
priest, her head bowed, he hands clasped across the front of her plum
dress that was stained with blood which came from her husband's head.
Now this old priest held up his right hand and he began the chant that
Roman Catholic priests have said over their dead for centuries.
"Si vivis, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen."
prayer said, "If you are living, I absolve you from your sins. In the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, amen."
priest reached into his pocket and took out a small vial of holy oil.
He put the oil on his right thumb and made a cross on President
Kennedy's forehead. Then he blessed the body again and started to pray
"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord," Father Huber said.
"And let perpetual light shine upon him," Jacqueline Kennedy answered. She did not cry.
Huber prayed like this for fifteen minutes. And for fifteen minutes
Jacqueline Kennedy kept praying aloud with him. Her voice did not
waver. She did not cry. From the moment a bullet hit her husband in the
head and he went down onto his face in the back of the car on the
street in Dallas, there was something about this woman that everybody
who saw her keeps talking about. She was in shock. But somewhere, down
under that shock some place, she seemed to know that there is a way to
act when the President of the United States has been assassinated. She
was going to act that way, and the fact that the President was her
husband only made it more important that she stand and look at him and
When he was finished praying, Father Huber turned and took her hand. "I am shocked," he said.
"Thank you for taking care of the President," Jacqueline Kennedy said.
"I am convinced that his soul had not left his body," Father Huber said. "This was a valid last sacrament."
"Thank you," she said.
he left. He had been eating lunch at his rectory at Holy Trinity
Church when he heard the news. He had an assistant drive to the
hospital immediately. After that, everything happened quickly and he
did not feel anything until later. He sat behind his desk in the
rectory, and the magnitude of what had happened came over him.
been a priest for thirty-two years," Father Huber said. "The first
time I was present at a death? A long time ago. Back in my home in
Perryville, Missouri, I attended a lady who was dying of pneumonia. She
was in her own bed. But I remember that. But this. This is different.
Oh, it isn't the blood. You see, I've anointed so many. Accident
victims. I anointed once a boy who was only in pieces. No, it wasn't
the blood. It was the enormity of it. I'm just starting to realize it
Then Father Huber showed you to the door. He was going to say prayers.
came the same way to Malcolm Perry. When the day was through, he drove
to his home in the Walnut Hills section. When he walked into the
house, his daughter, Jolene, six and a half, ran up to him. She had
papers from school in her hand.
"Look what I did today in school, Daddy," she said.
made her father sit down in a chair and look at her schoolwork. The
papers were covered with block letters and numbers. Perry looked at
them. He thought they were good. He said so, and his daughter chattered
happily. Malcolm, his three-year-old son, ran into the room after him,
and Perry started to reach for him.
Then it hit him. He dropped the papers with the block numbers and letters and he did not notice his son.
"I'm tired," he said to his wife, Jennine. "I've never been tired like this in my life."
is the only way one felt in Dallas yesterday. Tired and confused and
wondering why it was that everything looked so different. This was a
bright Texas day with a snap to the air, and there were cars on the
streets and people on the sidewalks. But everything seemed unreal.
10 a.m. we dodged cars and went out and stood in the middle lane of
Elm Street, just before the second street light; right where the road
goes down and, twenty yards further, starts to turn to go under the
overpass. It was right at this spot, right where this long crack ran
through the gray Texas asphalt, that the bullets reached President
Right up the little hill, and towering over you,
was the building. Once it was dull red brick. But that was a long time
ago when it housed the J.W. Deere Plow Company. It has been sandblasted
since and now the bricks are a light rust color. The windows on the
first three floors are covered by closed venetian blinds, but the
windows on the other floors are bare. Bare and dust-streaked and high.
Factory-window high. The ugly kind of factory window. Particularly at
the corner window on the sixth floor, the one where this Oswald and his
scrambled egg of a mind stood with the rifle so he could kill the
You stood and memorized the spot. It is just another
roadway in a city, but now it joins Ford's Theatre in the history of
"R.L. Thornton Freeway. Keep Right," the sign said.
"Stemmons Freeway. Keep Right," another sign said. You went back
between the cars and stood on a grassy hill which overlooks the road. A
red convertible turned onto Elm Street and went down the hill. It went
past the spot with the crack in the asphalt and then, with every foot
it went, you could see that it was getting out of range of the
sixth-floor window of this rust-brick building behind you. A couple of
yards. That's all John Kennedy needed on this road Friday.
he did not get them. So when a little bit after 1 o'clock Friday
afternoon the phone rang in the Oneal Funeral Home, 3206 Oak Lawn,
Vernon B. Oneal answered.
The voice on the other end spoke
quickly. "This is the Secret Service calling from Parkland Hospital,"
it said. "Please select the best casket in your house and put it in a
general coach and arrange for a police escort and bring it here to the
hospital as quickly as you humanly can. It is for the President of the
United States. Thank you."
The voice went off the phone. Oneal
called for Ray Gleason, his bookkeeper, and a workman to help him take a
solid bronze casket out of the place and load it onto a hearse. It was
for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Yesterday, Oneal left his shop early. He said he was too tired to work.
Perry was at the hospital. He had on a blue suit and a dark blue
striped tie and he sat in a big conference room and looked out the
window. He is a tall, reddish-haired thirty-four-year-old, who
understands that everything he saw or heard on Friday is a part of
history, and he is trying to get down, for the record, everything he
knows about the death of the thirty-fifth President of the United
"I never saw a President before," he said.
Labels: 1963, A Death in Emergency Room One, Dallas, Jimmy Breslin, John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, Parkland Hospital