Is There a Dr. in the House? Try the Senate

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Did you hear the one about the Washington lobbyist who suffers cardiac arrest on Capitol Hill? And is revived by a U.S. senator with electroshock to the heart? The first thing the lobbyist does after thanking the senator for saving his life is--BADAH-BOOM--lobby him for some pork.

True story.

It's just one episode in the adventures of Bill Frist, heart surgeon and U.S. senator.

"I can beat any emergency team on arrival," says the Tennessee Republican.

There was a time, maybe 150 years ago or so, back when spittoons were still useful on the Senate floor, when you couldn't fire a wad of tobacco across the room without spritzing some sawbones-turned-statesman. That was long before the chamber suffered a fatal outbreak of lawyers.

Frist, 45, is a true citizen-legislator, the first practicing physician elected to the Senate since 1928.

Press your face against the television screen on C-Span some night and try to spot the nameplate on his Senate floor desk, the one that begins with Dr. You might catch sight of a few members sidling over to Frist, making like they're negotiating a capital gains tax cut proposal. More often, Frist confides, the conversation goes something like this: "What about this mole on my back?" "Am I taking the right heart medicine?" "Hey Bill, it hurts when I do this."

Frist keeps medical records on a few colleagues in his desk. They ask him for a second opinion now and again, presumably between floor votes.

"You know some of these fellows are getting a little up there in years," Frist says.

A conservative freshman, Frist has performed 250 heart and lung transplants. With the emergency gear he keeps handy back in his Senate office, Frist can crack open a chest and reach an ailing pump in 45 seconds--a liberal bleeding-heart notwithstanding.

In addition to resuscitating the lobbyist in a Senate hallway, Frist saved a choking woman after the GOP convention in August and last month, he administered oxygen to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein when she had difficulty breathing. It was an asthma attack, and she said he was "terrific."

He was just doing his job.

"I love curbside consultations," Frist says. "I am principally a physician who has dedicated my life to the practice of medicine. And I am only temporarily a United States senator."

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