Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Sixty years ago today, May 23, 1955, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts resumed his duties in the United States Senate after spending six months of recuperation from major back surgery at the Palm Beach home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
The Senator arrived here in Washington by plane with his wife, Jacqueline, and his sister, Jean. When Mr. Kennedy arrived at his office, he found on his desk a card which read..."Welcome home!" It was signed... "Dick Nixon"
According to Chris Matthews, JFK "found himself staring into the face of mortal danger" in the spring of 1954 when X-rays revealed his fifth lumbar vertebra had collapsed. By late summer his weight dropped forty pounds and his back pain was so severe he could not bear to get up out of his Senate seat between votes.
Some of JFK's doctors advised against surgery, but he was not about to follow that advice saying...."I'd rather die than be on crutches the rest of my life."
The back surgery was done at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York on October 21, 1954. It took over three hours and a metal plate was implanted in the spine, but JFK developed a urinary tract infection and went into a coma. Doctors said he most likely would die.
Miraculously, Senator Kennedy rallied, but he was, according to Ken O'Donnell, "at the lowest point of anytime I'd know him in his career..."
But then JFK was flown to Palm Beach and his war buddy Red Fay came down to lift his spirits along with brother-in-law Peter Lawford. JFK also began work on Profiles In Courage.
After returning to New York for a second surgery, and "with the help of physical therapy, a corset and a rocking chair," JFK was well on his way to resuming his Senate duties as well as a future run for the presidency.
"Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero," by Chris Matthews, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2011.
JFK at the 1956 Democratic Convention