Most of the trouble was caused by Kennedy ’ s unstable back, which gener- ally ached at the best of times and throbbed excruciatingly at the worst. Planting a tree while on a state visit to Canada early in his term, he threw out his back so badly his doctor wanted to have him carried off Air Force One in Washington. Kennedy adamantly refused, imagining the pictures that would reach the newspapers. But he was forced to deplane using crutches, and with the help of a cargo lift that obviated his need to use the stairs. He sometimes got around the White House with the aid of crutches discreetly secreted throughout the executive mansion. He also wore a nonmetallic back brace. On one occasion, CBS newsman Robert Pierpoint spotted Kennedy in a wheelchair during a trip to Florida. It must be said that Kennedy bore the pain stoically, never complaining publicly and — only very rarely — privately. Anyone who has ever suffered from chronic pain, however, knows how desperate the desire for relief can be. His initial White House physician was Dr. Janet Travell, a specialist in muscular disorders, but all Travell really did was inject his back muscles with nerve-deadening procaine. But Kennedy ’ s body soon became tolerant of the drug and Travell was forced to inject him with greater frequency (as often as six or seven times per day) and with higher doses, to less effect. In the celebrity circles in which Kennedy moved, the use and abuse of chemical stimulants was far more widespread and tolerated than in American society at large. Frank Sinatra apparently introduced Kennedy to Dr. Max Jacobson, a New York – based physician who counted stars such as Eddie Fisher, Alan Jay Lerner, Truman Capote, as well as Sinatra among his ‘‘ pa- tients. ’’ In fact, Jacobson was, as the tabloids later dubbed him, a ‘‘ Dr. Feel- good. ’’ (He ultimately lost his license to practice medicine.) Jacobson shot
216 John F. Kennedy on Leadership his clients up with amphetamines ( ‘‘ speed ’’ ) and other wild concoctions that made them feel better for a time. Known as Miracle Max, he began treating Kennedy during the campaign and continued to do so during Kenne- dy ’ s presidency. That was bad enough, but worse was the fact that Kennedy kept this information from his other physicians. The German-born Jacobson soon became a fi xture around the White House, even accompanying Kennedy to the disastrous Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev and injecting him right before his fi rst meeting with the Soviet dictator. Did the injection prevent Kennedy from performing at his best? That is only speculation, but Kennedy ’ s uncharacteristically tongue- tied performance lends credence to the theory. There were people around Kennedy who tried to pry him away from Jacobson, notably his brother Bobby. But Jack would have none of it. Ken- nedy kept seeing Jacobson, sometimes as often as twice a week, until his death.