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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 15, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY
                        Bethesda Naval Hospital
                           Bethesda, Maryland  

4:32 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: You all look like a bunch of caged animals that have had nothing to eat all day long.

Q Thanks for coming.

MR. MCCURRY: Let me give -- glad to be here. Glad to be here. Let me give you an update since we last met yesterday, and some of this I'm afraid many of you have heard already, but since this is the only opportunity to do soup-to-nuts since last night, I'll just tell you about what the President's been up to, which is not a whole lot to tell. He's been recuperating from knee surgery, and that's about the story as it is.

But I'll tell you a little bit about what's happened since last night. He slept comfortably, but intermittently, overnight, had some breakfast this morning when he woke up -- a little bit of cereal, and he successfully smuggled in a bagel that Nancy Hernreich, his assistant in the Oval Office, brought in for him. It's a tradition on Saturday mornings. He has a special kind of bagel that he likes to have before the radio address, so probably a little bit contrary to doctor's orders, she was able to get that in and he enjoyed that a lot.

He woke up, I guess, about 11:30 a.m., so he slept in later than normal and Dr. Mariano was pleased with that. She wants him, above all else, to rest up. The first thing he did today was they got him out of bed and he taped a little greeting for everyone he will miss at the Gridiron Dinner tonight, and I won't say anything more about that until after the occasion, even though it's technically an off-the-record occasion anyhow, but he had one or two little funnies related to that.

After he was done with that, he went back to his suite and watched the end of the North Carolina game and wanted me in particular to extend congratulations to Coach Dean Smith for his record-breaking number of wins now in the NCAA Division 1. As a great college basketball fan, he of course followed that with a great deal of interest.

But I will tell you that when he got back into bed, he experienced a fair amount of pain. He was taken off the epidural regional anesthetic that he had been on during the surgery around noontime, and by the time, I guess around 2:30 p.m. or so when he got back into bed, he was feeling the effect of being up and being jostled a bit as he went back into bed. He experienced one or two spasms in his right thigh, which is apparently, according to the doctors, a normal reaction, and it's quite normal, in fact, to have pain after surgery like this.

Mrs. Clinton, who got here, as you know, I guess, early this afternoon, said -- and I'll quote her -- "He now knows he had surgery." And apparently, the President let people know that he had had surgery. So I think he clearly was experiencing a little more discomfort. They put the leg back into bed and repositioned him, packed it in ice. They're treating him with two non-narcotic analgesic painkillers, and they are Toradol and Ultran. The other drug the President is currently taking is Robaxin. That is a muscle relaxant. They're prescribed in average doses and the doctors are adjusting between the two painkillers to ameliorate the pain the President is experiencing.

Q Mike, are those brand names, or --

MR. MCCURRY: These are, I believe, brand names. Those are not the clinical names. We've debated back and forth whether you should use brand names or clinical names, and I think it's a little easier for average folks to recognize the names of the drugs as they experience them if they have similar kind of post-surgical treatment themselves.

The President did read some clips today and got a good kick out of reading some of the stories and the extensive detail about his poor knee. He has not made any final judgments yet on schedule. Let me tell you a little bit about what Dr. Adkison and Dr. de Maio told me after they examined him around 3:00 p.m. They, of course, told me and reviewed with me and Dr. Mariano the issues related to some of the pain the President's had. They think that is normal; they do not project that affecting the President's plan to depart tomorrow, but they won't make that call until they see how the patient is doing tomorrow.

They suspect tentatively that probably sometime tomorrow afternoon, late afternoon would be the likely time the President might be able to depart, but they really want to hold that open until they see how he's doing tomorrow. That would put the stay here at somewhat below the average stay in terms of people recuperating from this type of surgery. So they'll just watch him and see how he's doing.

The President has been kind of napping intermittently during the day. When he's awake, he's talking to Mrs. Clinton, who has been with him most of the afternoon and plans to stay here until sometime this evening; she'll go back down to the White House later. He's doing a crossword puzzle. He was griping about the fact that I had not presented him with his advance copy of the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, so one of my instructions was to bring that to him forthwith, which I did.

He's watching some of the basketball tournament on and off, and he's reading that Jonathan Kellerman novel we told you about yesterday in the clinic. He's almost finished with that.

Mrs. Clinton, before she came up here today, gave a tour of the White House and the personal residence to one of the physical therapists that will be added to the White House Medical Unit team that will help the President convalesce when he leaves the hospital. And she described it as very interesting. They walked literally room by room through the personal quarters of the White House and located furniture that's going to have to be moved and rugs that are going to have to be taped down and some of the physical adjustments they'll have to make to the White House in order to accommodate a President on crutches. It's kind of an interesting aspect to the planning for the President's return.

And the only other thing I wanted to call your attention to, we have put out a corrected copy of yesterday's transcript. And I want to alert all news organizations, especially print, to this. When we were doing the briefing with the doctors yesterday, I think we got it wrong, and I apologize for the error, in the transcript. It was not Dr. Manalaysay, the anesthesiologist, who briefed you here; it was the other anesthesiologist, Dr. Robert Petty. Dr. Manalaysay is the chairman and program director of the anesthesiology department here at the National Naval Medical Center. But the fellow who was standing here briefing is actually another anesthesiologist and the department commander, Robert Petty, U.S. Navy. Dr. Petty. And of course we regret that error -- although I do think that Connie got them correct as she introduced them as they were standing here.

Not much else to say. The President has been getting some greetings. I understand from the State Department and from our situation room at the White House that we've got personal messages that have been received from Chancellor Kohl, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, from President Kim of the Republic of Korea, among others. It's also on the wire that President Yeltsin has sent a message of good wishes. And of course the President appreciates all of those good wishes and will respond to all of them as quickly as he can by being up and around and vigorous.

The President did get a nice expression of concern from Greg Norman, and he's heard from some others as well. A couple of people have called in and said that they have had similar experiences. Secretary Pena is the survivor of two knee surgeries, so he called to give -- he didn't get to talk to the President when he called in. In fact, the only phone call the President has taken today was from the First Lady earlier this morning before Mrs. Clinton came up here. But a number of people have called just to leave messages, including the Vice President, Erskine Bowles, and a lot of others have talked directly to Mrs. Clinton and she's been conveying good wishes that the President has been receiving.

That's about it.

Q Mike, any rethinking of the -- schedule, given the pain the President is experiencing?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the doctors still feel comfortable with the projected schedule. I think all of you know -- this issue arose yesterday -- all of you know that the President travels with a medical staff, travels on Air Force One with an equipped medical unit, and people are still comfortable about the arrangements that have been made for his international travel.

Q Mike, can you talk about the physical therapy --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you much about it. They start with some -- they start gradually, of course, in finding ways to test the knee and to test the tendon itself. It involves kind of beginning early and putting pressure on it, and then building up gradually to the ability to become somewhat more ambulatory. And they work with -- the President, of course, will be in a leg brace for most of the initial period that he's convalescing and they take that off when they do some of the therapy. I'm not sure of the exact regimen and of course it will depend on how well he's recovering. But the doctors pronounced themselves satisfied that he's doing well with his recovery. They haven't seen any complications develop. Experiencing pain is normal and it would be surprising if he hadn't had some pain.

Q -- that therapy today --

MR. MCCURRY: They did a little bit. Well, of course, they did a little manipulation of the knee area just to examine it, and then the President did get up to tape this little message today, so he was up for a short while today before going back into bed.

Q -- if you're going to get medical questions today, why would you not come with a doctor or two?

MR. MCCURRY: The doctors -- I talked to Dr. Adkison and Dr. de Maio and Dr. Mariano just before coming down, and they felt good and they're happy to hunt down any questions if you've got any specific questions you need.

Q How severe, Mike, was his pain that he experienced?

MR. MCCURRY: It was the kind of pain that makes you say "ouch." He's had what everyone knows is a very painful injury. That type of tendon injury causes a great deal of pain, and as they gradually take him off the epidural he had during the surgery and work in regular painkillers or drugs that you would use for pain, he's just experienced pain. Not that complicated.

Q How long was he on his feet, Mike, before --

MR. MCCURRY: Probably for a couple of hours.

Q Is there any -- how long is it going to be before he's able to be up and moving around --

MR. MCCURRY: He'll be up and around -- he really wants to go home tomorrow and plans to go home tomorrow, so he'll be up and around in that sense tomorrow.

Q Who is going to make the final decision on when he is released?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will do that, consulting with his doctors.

Q Did the doctors say how long this pain will last?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he'll experience pain on and off for some time. That is -- that was the Vice President's experience when he had his Achilles' tendon injury, and that's the normal experience with this type of injury. It will fluctuate depending on how active the President is and what kind of stress he puts on the wound itself. But that's why everyone will be insisting that he takes good care of himself. And the First Lady has been doing a good job of that already.

Q When you say he was up for a couple hours, you mean he was seated in a chair or something, right? He wasn't --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I just meant he was out of bed for a couple hours. He was actually seated in a chair when he taped this little deal that they did earlier today.

Q And he was up doing the crossword puzzle --

MR. MCCURRY: Doing the crossword puzzle, watching some basketball, that sort of thing.

Q Was there any business at all? Did he get any briefings, for example, anything on Albania, for example?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, I should -- I'm sorry I didn't mention that. He did, of course, get a written national security briefing. He relayed one or two questions that have been passed on. He reviewed a memorandum that he got about Albania to alert him to that situation. He was, of course, kept apprised of the evacuation efforts that are underway. And he got his customary other review of the world.

Q On Albania the letter -- to Congress? And did he do anything else?

MR. MCCURRY: That was formally transmitted today to the Congress. That's a notification that's required when you've got military personnel involved in that type of evacuation effort.

Q Mike, yesterday, it seemed -- and I assume this was somewhat deliberate on his part to put people at ease, but there was a lot of quips and levity and so forth. Today, he is in some pain and it's a day later. How is his mood? Is he a little dour?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. He is in very good spirits. He continues to joke around with people. I didn't want -- you know, I saw some of the stories today. I didn't want to pretend that this wasn't a painful injury because it was. And while he was joking around about it and in good humor and continues to be in good humor, it's also good to remind Americans that these things are painful and you got to treat an injury like this seriously. That's all we're saying today.

He has been continuing to crack jokes and was teasing various members of the staff who came up to work with him on his Gridiron remarks today about what they would have to go through this evening. And the pain that the Gridiron causes sometimes extends somewhat higher latitudinally than the knee.

Q Are any of these drugs addictive?

MR. MCCURRY: No, they are non-narcotic analgesics.

Q Is that your line or his line?

MR. MCCURRY: That's my line. That's too good to give to him for free.

Q Mike, the fact that they are non-narcotic, is that a complicating factor in treating his pain? Would it have been easier to treat the pain if he hadn't --

MR. MCCURRY: The doctors obviously could knock out all of the pain that he's experiencing pretty easily, but the President's choice was to elect to use non-narcotic drugs and also not to be sedated.

Q Did you say the epidural was removed around noon?


Q Was it in his spine?

MR. MCCURRY: That's what an epidural is, yes. Regional epidural.

Q So after that, you said it was removed at noon, he got out of bed, was out of bed for a couple of hours, but then realized he was in such great pain he went back into bed?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. He just experienced pain when they lifted him up and put him back in bed, which necessarily involved moving the thigh and the knee -- he experienced a little pain then.

Q After the epidural was removed, they administered those two other painkillers that you named --

MR. MCCURRY: They were beginning to work a different regimen of the drugs anyhow, and adjust those two painkillers as they began to take him off the surgery anesthesia and into post-surgery drugs.

Q Do you know if a normal person treated would stay on an epidural that long and -- I asked about the spine because we saw pictures of him laying on his back, which you normally can't do if you have a spinal epidural. I'm wondering how that --

MR. MCCURRY: They did keep him on the normal way. I'm not -- I'd have to check with the doctor and if you want me to I will, on exactly how they -- whether they kept it -- how long they had the spinal tap in. I don't know the answer to that.

Q Any congressional condolences?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been one or two members of Congress who were actually here, because this is a facility that they can use, and a number of them have stopped by and said they're going to be around, and if the President's taking any visitors, which he is not at this point, that they would let -- visitors beyond his immediate staff and family and some of the folks who have seen him.

Q Mike, he's made clear he intends to go to Helsinki, but is there any discussion of maybe kicking it back a day or anything like that -- wiggling with the schedule in any way?

MR. MCCURRY: Has been none that I've been alerted to. They are adjusting the President's schedule for Monday to lighten the load. They will recommend to the President -- they haven't -- they're going to wait and see how he's feeling tomorrow, but they will recommend to him that he confine his schedule on Monday to a brief meeting with Foreign Minister Primakov, who arrived today, and maybe a short photo opportunity with former Vice President Mondale and former Senator Kassebaum-Baker. And those will probably be the two things that we do on Monday. Short from that, we'll dish off most of the rest of the President's schedule to the Vice President.

Q Mike, on a political note -- today used the impeachment word -- not calling for one but referring to -- do you have a comment on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd say that he spoke in error when he said you're hearing it from serious people.

Q Mike, is the President going to have a daily therapy regime? Can you give any more detail on what --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I think when we talk to you tomorrow before -- you know, give you an update on the President tomorrow, we'll talk a little bit more about the regimen for physical therapy when he leaves the hospital. They're still planning that, thinking that through. Of course, they were looking today at the White House to look at the facilities, and they'll see how the patient is doing and what the recommendations are. They will design it -- every therapy program like that is custom designed, and they've got some general ideas of what they plan to do, but they'll await and make recommendations when they see how the President is doing upon arrival at the White House.

Q -- the White House --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Dr. Mariano plans to ask that they incorporate an additional member of her nursing staff, and then also add a physical therapist to the White House Medical Unit staff.

Q Do you have the name of the physical therapist who will be added --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have the name available right now.

Q Mike, will a therapist -- today -- the First Lady? I was unclear on what you said earlier.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It was -- I guess it was a member of the physical therapy staff here at Bethesda, and I think it's the same person who will go on the White House Med Unit staff, too.

Q Hadn't the President been scheduled to meet with the Irish Prime Minister on Monday? Is that likely --

MR. MCCURRY: The President had looked forward to seeing Prime Minister Bruton on Monday. We'll probably have the Vice President accept the traditional bowl of shamrocks, and the Vice President I imagine will have to preside at the St. Patrick's Day ceremonies on Monday.

Q -- meet with the President today?

MR. MCCURRY: He didn't. He called in at one point and I imagine they will talk a little bit later on today. I think the President, if he gets an opportunity, will, so to speak, tell the Vice President to shake a leg tonight.

Q -- Helsinki-California travel too far in the future? Have you made any decisions?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a little too far in the future. We've got some projected schedule out on the calendar and we'll take a look at that and make judgments accordingly. I wouldn't rule in or rule out any of those previously scheduled trips yet until we know more about how the President's doing.

Q He has not corresponded with Yeltsin at all?

MR. MCCURRY: He has correspondence with President Yeltsin all the time, but we have not sent back a thank-you for the get-well note.

Q Mike, I just wanted to make sure -- you said the wires reflected that there was a Yeltsin communication. Has he received one?

MR. MCCURRY: The wires reflected that they had sent one. I just didn't see it clocked in yet through our traffic down at the Sit Room and at the State Department. But no doubt it will show up soon.

Any other questions? We'll see how we're doing tomorrow. As soon as we have a definite idea what time the President is likely going to depart, if he in fact departs tomorrow, we'll try to give you a heads-up on that, and then we'll look to do some type of session just prior to his departure, maybe.

Q -- Greg Norman -- get well --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm a little reluctant. I mentioned some of the international leaders who have sent -- there are a number of people who are calling -- I frankly didn't get the whole list of people who had called and talked to the First Lady. I think Vernon Jordan, you know, some of the President's close friends have called in and spoken to the First Lady. We're not going to put out a list of all the people like sending flowers and things like that, frankly, to would discourage others from doing so, because the President is leaving tomorrow and we'd have such an ample supply of floral arrangements at the White House that the President appreciates the thought, but they would just hang around here.

Q When will the determination made between the President and his physicians on whether or not he'll leave tomorrow and the time that he'll depart?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they will do that sometime during the course of the day tomorrow. I imagine -- it looked to me like Dr. Adkison and Dr. de Maio took -- checked in on him this morning, checked in on how his overnight recuperation was. I imagine they will do the same thing tomorrow and then probably around the same time they saw him today, which was at 3:00 p.m, they'll probably see him tomorrow again and make some judgments accordingly.

Q Mike, is the White House releasing any stills from today or any pictures or video or --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure we even had anyone on duty today. We just kind of left the President to himself today and he's been spending time with the First Lady and, of course, you will get a picture of him tomorrow if he goes. But we had some additional stuff that was available last night, which kind of came out later than evening news time last night, so you might check and see if some of that is available.

Q Mike -- is there going to be a photo op here, or --

MR. MCCURRY: My guess is that if he leaves tomorrow, the place to really catch a glimpse of him will probably be more back down at the White House, kind of customary South Portico type deal.

Q -- alternative donation in lieu of flowers?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not doing that. That's usually associated with things that are far more mortal in significance than this.

Anything else? Okay. Very good. See you all tomorrow.

Q Is there a lid?

MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, can we have a lid? There's nothing going on down at the office. We have a lid, and I'm out of here. Five o'clock p.m.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:58 P.M. EST