During the age of Enlightenment, Franklin was driven by curiosity. He experimented for the sake of learning, and then he found practical applications.

His experience with the smallpox outbreak in 1721 led him to promote inoculation. Physicians of his day didn’t grasp that virus infection spread by inhalation (discovered by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek). Franklin understood this connection.


Pleurisy is caused by inflammation of the pleura, which is the thin lining around the outside of the chest and lungs. It can cause a pain in the chest that gets worse with breathing and may feel like a sharp, burning pain. The lining can also get thick, and this can lead to a build-up of fluid around the lungs, called pleural effusion.

Sometimes, the pleural fluid has pus or blood in it, and it can be difficult to drain. If the fluid is infected, doctors will prescribe antibiotics. If it is not, doctors will try to reduce the swelling with corticosteroids.

During his life, Franklin had repeated attacks of gout and a large bladder stone, which contributed to his decline and eventual death from a pulmonary disease. He also had a painful case of empyema, which was probably brought on by his pleurisy. He died on April 17, 1790 at age 84. He was a printer, postmaster, freemason, politician, inventor, scientist, statesman and humanitarian.


Although Franklin had a gouty condition that could cause severe pain, and he was also plagued by large kidney stones, he was able to remain incredibly active for his age. He worked on his autobiography, took an active part in the Constitutional Convention, built five houses, and authored a number of philanthropic and political papers.

Even in his ailing health, Franklin kept up with advances in medical science. He read widely, and corresponded with many physicians in America and Europe. Thomas Sydenham, a doctor who suffered from gout, wrote a treatise on the disease and published his findings.

Franklin himself compiled a set of health tips that he published in Poor Richard’s Almanack. He recommended eating fatty meat and fish, and drinking beer. He also advised his readers to observe poor peasants who trudge miles after a long day. They “have a good deal of uric acid in their bodies, yet they live longer than the rich.”2


The onset of pneumonia may be triggered by bacteria or virus. Some people are more prone to the condition, such as infants, seniors and those with weakened immune systems due to illnesses like cancer or AIDS. The phlegm in pneumonia can be rusty or green-colored and is typically accompanied by fever, fatigue, muscle pain and cough.

Franklin was part of the Enlightenment, an international conversation of ideas that took place in the eighteenth century to increase knowledge and classify natural phenomena through experimentation and reason. He created a debating society and founded a library company in Philadelphia to promote civic virtue and literacy.

He also founded a museum and authored several books. He was an advocate for fresh air, slept with his windows open and enjoyed daily “air baths.” He even used a typesetting method that did not use warm lead, as this caused stiffness and sore hands in many typesetters. A sociable English widow, Margaret Stevenson, rented him a room and quickly became his landlady, taking him to dinners, concerts and plays.

Chest Infection

Toward the end of his life, Franklin had a lingering chest infection called empyema. This condition was a result of pneumonia and pleurisy and left pus in the space between his lungs and chest wall. He also had gout, which kept him from moving and led to his bedridden status.

This condition caused him pain and made it difficult for him to breathe. It is also possible that it contributed to his death from pneumonia and pleurisy.

Throughout his lifetime, Franklin was fascinated with electricity. He devoted much of his time to researching its properties and used some of his discoveries as tricks to amuse others. He was able to use his electrical inventions to treat people who had convulsions. In one instance, he gave electrical treatment to a woman known only as C.B. She had hysterical epilepsy. She was cured of her convulsions and later wrote about her experience. She was described as “a special good housewife” and a woman who took care of her husband’s interest.

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