Bush’s Doctor Dismisses Reports Questioning Health : Medical: The President has ‘small ups and downs’ and faces great pressures, but he is in good condition, physician says.


President Bush’s personal physician on Thursday dismissed increasingly pointed reports questioning the state of Bush’s health, but said the President has his “small ups and downs on the job like anyone else” and is under pressures more intense than any foreign leader must endure--especially from the press.

Dr. Burton Lee III said he had been “playing around with the drug dosage” to control Bush’s chronic thyroid condition, Graves’ disease, and that the effort has proved successful. He said the President still occasionally uses the controversial sleep-inducing drug Halcion when he is on long, arduous trips. Overall, Lee said, his health is good.

Faced with potentially unsettling reports about the issue of his health, Bush himself, as well as another White House physician, the President’s wife, Barbara, and White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater also addressed the issue Thursday.


“My health is good,” Bush declared in a pep talk to Republican congressional candidates. “I am blessed with a strong family and good health.”

Mrs. Bush called the rumors “nutty,” saying of her husband, “He’s the strongest man in the world.”

The immediate cause of their remarks was news stories in the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine in recent days. But the published reports only brought into the open an issue that had been swirling beneath the surface for months among Washington officials and political operatives.

Close associates and even some foreign leaders have talked privately about episodes in which Bush looked bad and seemed distracted, nervous or not entirely focused on the subject at hand. A senior Bush official recently told the Los Angeles Times that the President seemed to be “disengaged.” Another prominent Republican who has observed Bush up close said: “Something’s happened to the man in the past year, he just doesn’t seem to be on top of things. Some of the time he’s pretty good, but sometimes his reactions are difficult to explain.”

The White House moved forcefully Thursday to counter such reports, with Dr. Lawrence C. Mohr, a Lee associate, issuing a statement calling Bush’s health “excellent overall” and reporting that each day he continues to take 0.15 milligram of 1-thyroxine, “the standard regimen for individuals who have received radioactive iodine treatment for Graves’ disease.

“He also takes one baby aspirin each day, which is a standard measure for individuals who have had a previous episode of atrial fibrillation,” Mohr’s statement said.


Asked about his treatment of Bush’s thyroid condition, Lee said: “I’ve juggled his medicine, I have fooled with it, I have played with it in concert with his thyroid physicians,” and “the normal thyroid replacement seems to have brought this man back to a steady normal state.”

“And believe me, we have tested it in very great detail.”

The Journal said Lee had come under fire for giving Bush Halcion, “which can cause nervousness and short-term memory impairment,” the newspaper said, and is banned in Britain and a number of other countries.

But Lee pointed out that Halcion has been endorsed as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and said Britain is in the process of legalizing its use. The President, he said, “uses it only rarely, like if he’s going on one of these long trips with a major jet lag and he has a heavy schedule the following day.”

The White House refused reporters’ requests to release Bush’s medical records. Dr. Lee said: “Once you start with that, there’s no end to it.”

Fitzwater, calling the reports about Bush’s health “dirty tricks,” said: “My advice to the President is you shouldn’t release anything. You just keep going and don’t worry about it. The people of America see how active he is and see he is in good health.

“These rumors won’t die, and I don’t think there’s anything you can say to make them die,” Fitzwater said. “Here’s a guy who runs miles every day. His health is documented in every form.”


Mrs. Bush said she “was really amused when I heard the rumors,” including one suggesting the President would undergo open heart surgery after the campaign. “Do you think I would let the person I love more than life run for public office when he has open heart surgery after the campaign?

“But the one I really loved, was when they said he had lupus. The dog has lupus, not the President. The President is in great physical shape.”

Like Fitzwater, Dr. Lee said stories and rumors questioning Bush’s health are the result of “dirty tricks” or irresponsible reporting. In a 40-minute telephone interview with The Times, he attributed “a big part of the pressure” on Bush to the press.

“I think you people have got a lot nastier in the past 20 years,” he declared. “I don’t think (President John F.) Kennedy was exposed to this kind of stuff. Lyndon Johnson or Harry Truman weren’t done that way. People respected people’s privacy then.”

Bush has been bothered by news reports on subjects he considers an invasion of his privacy, Lee said.

While recent unsubstantiated reports that Bush had an affair with a former aide did not upset the President, he said, Bush was distressed by reports questioning the business practices of his sons.


Asked why he thought Bush appeared so grim at his press conference Thursday announcing Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s appointment as chief of staff, Lee said: “The press has been on his case very severely and very extensively over the last several months. You can’t ask this guy to turn the other cheek indefinitely and say, ‘Gee whiz, I’m glad to see you.’ The reporting is not helpful to his attitude toward the press.

“President Bush is not Superman. He’s got to have small ups and downs on the job like anyone else. Some days he feels better than other ones. The pressure of the job is great and you have to give him a little respect and back off a little bit.”

“That’s the court of last resort in that Oval Office,” Lee said. “And the guy is owed a little respect for having to think about things, for not being in a great mood or thinking of something else. Over-interpretation of every move and every gesture and every expression doesn’t get you anywhere.”

The Wall Street Journal article questioning Bush’s health also raised questions about Lee’s drinking and personal conduct at social functions and reported that some doctors and people close to the President question whether Lee has the judgment and professional experience to serve as chief White House physician.

The article, said Lee, “obviously slandered and insulted” him and made no mention of the positive aspects of a medical career that has included 30 years’ service at New York City’s Memorial Hospital.

Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.