By Nick Sheppard –
From The Sheppard Post –
Near the end of 2012, Hillary Clinton’s health made headlines as she finished her term as secretary of state. She developed a stomach virus, hit her head, suffered a concussion and subsequently developed a blood clot in her brain but was medicated and made a good recovery.
Ever since, with the 2016 Presidential contest looming on the distant horizon, Hillary Clinton’s health has been a minor but persistent talking point among the chattering classes.
Clinton’s greatest challenge may not be her own health status, however. The most troubling issue may be the health of her husband.
Bill Clinton’s concerns have been regular, very public and have necessitated numerous lifestyle changes. Some are genetic, others can be attributed to aging. Whatever the case, as Bill Clinton approaches 70, and prepares to commit his usual energy to his wife’s likely presidential campaign, there is a more than reasonable likelihood of a serious and possibly prolonged hospital admission and all the ensuing disruption and dysfunction, emotionally and politically, for his wife, the Democratic nominee.
Clinton’s cholesterol level, and, more generally, his overall cardiovascular risk, were a concern as early as 1992. There is a history of heart disease in his mother’s family — his Grandmother died of a stroke aged 62. As a young man and well into his five terms as Arkansas governor, Clinton’s eating exploits were legendary — including such feats as eating an entire pie at a single political event. At a famous 1994 lunch at an Italian restaurant in Washington, Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were estimated by White House reporters to have consumed more than 4,000 calories each.
By his final presidential physical, Mr Clinton’s weight had risen to 214 pounds, his cholesterol level had increased, and his blood pressure was climbing. In response, the White House’s senior physician prescribed Mr Clinton cholesterol-lowering medication.
On September 2, 2004, Clinton experienced chest pains while campaigning for Democratic nominee John Kerry. He had an episode of angina, and was evaluated at Northern Westchester Hospital. It was determined he did not suffer a coronary infarction, and he was sent home, returning the following day for an angiography, which disclosed multiple vessel coronary artery disease.
Clinton underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. Doctors took blood vessels from elsewhere in his body and grafted them onto his heart to circumvent four blocked heart arteries. Some of the four arteries bypassed had well over 90 percent blockage. Dr. Allan Schwartz, chief of cardiology at the hospital, said that given the extent of Clinton’s blockage there was a “substantial likelihood that he would have suffered a massive heart attack in the near future.” Doctors stopped Clinton’s heart for 73 minutes and put him on a heart/lung machine.
The former president’s heart had suffered no damage, and he was credited with making a full recovery; but even in patients who do everything right; eating a healthy diet, exercising and reducing stress to maintain heart health, new vessels can become blocked again, simply because heart disease is a progressive condition that is not cured by surgery.
As a complication of his operation, Clinton underwent a follow-up surgery on March 10, 2005 for a left pleural effusion, removing scar tissue and fluid from his left chest cavity and inserting stents.
There are other issues: In 2013, Clinton opened up about a little tremor he’s dealt with in his hand over the last few years.
“I have a condition that sometimes you get with aging. You may have noticed it; my hand has a little tremor when I’m tired and a lot of people do when they’re older.”
Beyond the prognostic history, there are simply the optics. Having followed Bill Clinton fairly consistently, it is apparent he has physically changed in recent years. The dedication, energy and mental sharpness are all still there, but the six-foot-two, two-hundred pound, full-faced figure of the presidential years is now noticeably skinnier, the face is drawn and the eyes somewhat receded. In talk-show interviews he seems smaller in the chair, the instantly recognizable croaky timbre of the voice has coarsened slightly; he has a habit of never quite satisfactorily clearing his throat during interviews or during discussions at events linked to the Global Initiative.
A cursory look at a handful of forums indicates a general theme where the former president’s health is concerned:
“Is Bill Clinton sick? He looks so frail…”
“I saw him in a news clip this morning and I thought he looked gaunt. There is no other word for it…”
“He does look much much thinner almost like he is sick or something. Looks very bad to me…”
“Bill Clinton looks awful. He’s pale, visibly withering away, and the bags under his eyes have become more pronounced, outlined by dark lines…”
In an interview with Gwen Ifill, during which Karl Rove’s infamous ‘brain damage’ quote about his wife was raised, Clinton suggested that Republicans will continue to focus on his wife’s health and her age — she is 66 years old — as the election draws closer. (Her 69th birthday is a week before the election; a potentially awkward consideration).
“You can’t be too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just the beginning. They’ll get better and better about it. It’s just part of the deal.”
His health will also be part of the deal. During the campaign, his presence will help reinforce a narrative of gravitas, competence and experience; but to an equal or greater degree it might reinforce a narrative of age and vulnerable health for the Clintons as a pairing. The corollary, of course, is how he would be managed — limited appearances would simply reinforce the latter theme. Persevering in spite of exhaustion, and pushing his constitution to the limit might reinforce another old Clinton trope, the perception of an incorrigible preoccupation with politics, which a decade and a half of exemplary post-presidential life and service hasn’t quite allayed for many on the Right.
The Clinton camp will quite rightly be able to push back against such attacks — reminding everyone of the ages of Bob Dole and John McCain, the mental wanderings of Reagan, who was 69 when he was first elected, and Dick Cheney’s dodgy heart. But the point is they all got through.
What if Bill Clinton experiences a recurrent bout of chest pains and is admitted to hospital to have more stents inserted, or has severe coronary artery issues, two days before Hillary’s address at the Democratic Convention?
Democrats might want to consider the health issue when choosing a nominee.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.