Doctors Put Reagan on Liquid Diet : Esophagus Tube Out; 'Christmas in July,' He Says

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan, progressing to a clear liquid diet and moving about his hospital suite, conferred for 45 minutes Wednesday with Vice President George Bush and Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and was described by Nancy Reagan as "flying high."

Doctors removed from the President's nose and esophagus a tube used to eliminate gases and liquids secreted in the stomach. Freed of the uncomfortable device, Reagan declared: "This is Christmas in July."

White House aides and Bush, offering details of Reagan's life at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, said the President was working, at least briefly, on budget and foreign policy issues. Four days after surgeons removed a two-inch malignant tumor from his colon, he was strong enough to stroll down the 70-foot corridor of his suite.

Instructions on Budget

Reagan gave his aides instructions to pass along to Congress on the budget: "We have to show real dollars in domestic spending savings. That's the only way to go. Tell them that." He also signed a new U.S.-British treaty governing extradition of terrorists.

The budget discussion took place before congressional negotiations on the subject were recessed acrimoniously late Wednesday.

Bush, emerging from the hospital, told reporters: "He was clearly read-up and concerned about the various problems, just as if he were sitting there in the Oval Office. So I was impressed with the recovery, with his obvious strength."

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan, alerted to Bush's arrival by the sirens of a police escort, surprised the vice president "by popping out of bed and coming into the sitting room" to greet him.

'Looked Very Well Indeed'

Bush said later: "I got up there prepared to wait, and out came the President to greet me, walking, and sat in a straight-backed chair and looked very well indeed."

He said that Reagan "clearly needs some more time" to mend and that the President "hurts from time to time" from the major surgery. But he said Reagan showed "no indication" of depression over the diagnosis that the tumor was cancerous.

And, according to Speakes, First Lady Nancy Reagan said after a telephone conversation with her husband: "He's flying high." But the President also spent much time resting and reading, Speakes said.

The spokesman said Reagan, who began a fast last Wednesday in preparation for an examination of his colon and lower intestine, was placed on a diet of clear liquids by his chief surgeon, Dr. Dale Oller. Speakes said such diets generally include such liquids as bouillon, apple juice, tea, gelatin and Popsicles. "The President's digestive system is beginning to return to normal function," he added.

The resumption of normal bowel activity is a key indication of progress and is one of the steps that has to be achieved before Reagan would be released from the hospital. The digestive activity was interrupted when surgeons removed a two-foot section of the President's lower intestine while excising the tumor.

The spokesman said that there are no plans to cut short Reagan's hospital stay and that it would continue for the full seven to 10 days projected by doctors when the surgery was performed.

Vital Signs Called 'Solid'

Speakes said that the President's vital signs are "solid" and "normal" and that his temperature, which was elevated shortly after the operation, "is entirely normal and has been for the last day or so."

"The President is certainly going to recuperate in a normal fashion, which would require rest each day over a period of weeks," Speakes said. Doctors have said that recuperation would take six to eight weeks.

When asked whether Reagan would be able to eat at the state dinner planned for President Li Xiannian of China next Tuesday, the spokesman replied: "I think he'll eat. He'll probably be looking for a good meal."

'Stream of Upbeat Mail'

The spokesman also said that "a steady stream of upbeat mail" is arriving at the White House with get-well wishes for Reagan and that Chief of Staff Regan brought to the hospital letters from friends of the President.

In addition, he said, Reagan was given a potted plant from Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, who attached a note that read: "Someone as tough as you are should have something besides posies in the hospital room." The plant was a cactus.

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