Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are Our Presidents a Picture of Perfect Health?

By Glenda Westerfield, Esq.

I found the Newsweek article, “Picture of Health” (referenced below), extremely interesting, and I also have empathy. I have never done anything as important as lead a nation, but I do fully understand the concept of having to hide illness and trying to function in a professional setting while on heavy doses of narcotic that it was necessary to have just to be able to stand up. Been there, still doing that. I think the question is, when does it become ones moral obligation to step aside when too sick? I gave a majority of my cases to other attorneys back in March when I came to the realization that I could not in good conscience call myself an advocate if I was taking pills and getting shots just to be able to function at a pedestrian level each day....much less having to do my best at fighting for someone's life and liberty. I was late for court, losing what little hair I had, looked like a walking skeleton, and had judges pulling me to the side asking if there was a problem.

These Presidents made the choices to hide their illness "in the name of the country" but I believe, because once again, been there done that, that there is also selfishness involved. I hid my sickle cell until I could no longer because I wanted to finish college and law school (a dean once asked me why I kept coming back to school if I was ill...not knowing that my alternative was to lay down and die), and then again because I wanted to keep my shiny new law firm job, and I did not want anyone to doubt that I could do it.

Hell, I hid my illness during my grade school to high school years (many of my friends never knew until I was about grown, but now say that it answers a lot of strange things that they were wondering about me...kinda the "OHHHH, so that's what that was about, makes sense to me now") because I did not want others to think less of me, or ask questions.

I hid my degenerative disks in my back and taught my law classes seated or wearing house slippers to avoid my classes being cut back or taken from me. Some days I was in so much pain, I had to go in the bathroom, cry, compose myself, and come back out to teach.

Even now, I am hiding my cancer from my neighbors to avoid the stares, the "pity parties", the questions, and the barrages of bad potato salad, pies, etc. brought to the house like I am dead (my daughter slipped and told one neighbor who told everyone else, I no longer go outside unless I have to). In the beginning stages of my treatment, I hid my cancer from my kids to keep them from worrying, but also selfishly to shield myself from their worry about me.

Sometimes, like the past few days, I even avoid going to the doctor when I am ill because I get tired of being poked and prodded, but also because unfortunately, due to what I believe can only be racism. If a sickle patient needs meds, they are given a speech about narcotics addiction and not given refills on the scrip (which in turn leads to me having to call the doctor for each refill, which makes me look like a fiend begging for drugs). Whereas, since I have been a cancer patient, I can ask for those same exact drugs with no questions asked, no speeches about addiction or questions about if I really need the meds, and there are refills on the bottle. Both are horribly painful diseases, with some of the same symptoms (which is why I believe my cancer was not caught earlier...the docs all thought it was the sickle cell), yet the one that affects minorities only is the one with the drug addict stigma attached to it. To have an illness is tough by itself, but to admit to it is even harder...

Newsweek Article: Picture of Health

Some U.S. presidents have gone to great lengths to hide their physical and mental illnesses. Is that kind of deception necessary—or even possible today?

By Anne Underwood

Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 2:05 PM ET May 24, 2008

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, released 1,173 pages of personal medical records this week. Such candor in politicians is a recent development. Dr. Jerrold Post—director of the political psychology program at George Washington University and author of "Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World" (Cornell University Press, 2004)—has studied the history of presidents and their health problems. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Anne Underwood.


NEWSWEEK: John McCain has been candid about his health. Does that represent a break with the past?

Jerrold Post: There has been increasing pressure for candidates to reveal information that was once considered a personal matter. Today, you have to give up that privacy to run for the highest office.

But even in recent years, not all candidates have been that honest. I'm thinking of Sen. Paul Tsongas, who competed against Bill Clinton to be the Democratic nominee in 1992. That was a cover-up. He indicated that he had had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He and his doctor attested that, because of his bone-marrow transplant, his prognosis was as good as anyone else's. But at the time the statement was made, he had already had a recurrence of the cancer that wasn't made public. That kind of information needs to be revealed.

The public is demanding more information today. But are people also more forgiving, now that better treatments exist?

Yes and no. Part of the distinction has to do with what kind of illness it is. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955, an abdominal operation in 1956 and a stroke in 1957. People were sympathetic after the heart attack, because it was clear that it was mild and he would survive it. But the stroke, which temporarily affected his speech, raised the specter of a president who was unable to communicate. People look to their leaders for wisdom, strength and clarity of speaking.

What about cancer?

In France, François Mitterrand was an interesting example. When Mitterrand came to office, he swore that his would be an open presidency. But on his first day in office in 1981, he called in the presidential physician, Dr. Claude Gubler, and told him that his prostate cancer had spread to his bones. Mitterrand solemnly declared, "We must reveal nothing. These are state secrets." He led for 14 years with the constant and painful companion of metastatic cancer. How could that not have affected his decision making?

What about depression? There used to be such a stigma attached.

Depression is interesting. In 1924, just after Calvin Coolidge's nomination to a second term, his favorite son, Calvin Jr., developed a blister after playing tennis on the White House grounds without socks. He developed septicemia and died three days later [at the age of 16]. This was before antibiotics. Coolidge was called a do-nothing president, but it was probably as a consequence of a severe grief reaction from which he never recovered. After that, he spent 11 hours a day sleeping. His work day shrank. He was irritable and disinterested in affairs of state.

Today much of the country seems to be on anti-depressants. Aren't we more tolerant now?

In 1972, George McGovern [the Democratic candidate] chose Sen. Thomas Eagleton as his running mate. But when it was revealed that Eagleton had had electroconvulsive therapy for depression years earlier, it created a huge uproar. There was such a fear of shock therapy and the possibility of a mentally ill president [if McGovern should die in office] that Eagleton had to step down. Interestingly, Eagleton returned to the Senate, where he had an excellent reputation. We can tolerate a history of depression in the Senate, but not in the highest office.

What are some of the more intriguing cases of presidents who have concealed information about their health?

Grover Cleveland [who served as president 1885-1889 and 1893-1897] was brushing his teeth one morning, when he noticed a lump in the roof of his mouth. He called in his dentist, who summoned a head-and-neck surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed the lump as a carcinoma of the roof of the mouth. Cleveland thought it would cause an economic crisis if the information was released that he had cancer, so during the night, he smuggled an anesthesiologist, nurses, his dentist and the head-and-neck surgeon onto the presidential yacht under the guise of a pleasure trip on the Hudson River. During the trip, they removed the roof of his mouth up to his left eye, and inserted a rubber prosthesis internally. People were suspicious, but it wasn't revealed until 15 years after his death what had happened.

In more recent years, after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, how cheered we all were when he waved from his window at George Washington University Hospital. But what people didn't know was that Reagan was only alert for one hour a day. The nightly news regularly showed clips of a vigorous Reagan in good spirits. But in fact, these moments were carefully chosen. When he went back to the White House—Bob Woodward conveyed this vividly in his book "Veil"—he showed only brief intervals of lucidity and vigor. This was only the beginning of the Reagan presidency, but according to Woodward, his aides were afraid it would end up as a crippled presidency, like Wilson's caretaker presidency.

You're referring to Woodrow Wilson after his stroke. In the fall of 1919, Wilson had a disabling stroke while he was on a train trip across the country to mobilize support for his cherished League of Nations. The public knew he was ill, but they didn't know how ill. Only Edith Wilson, chief of staff Joseph Tumulty and his personal physician, Cary Grayson, were allowed to see him. Issues were brought in, and decisions would come out. We talk today about the possibility of having the first woman president, but we effectively already had one in Edith Wilson. After her husband partially recovered, Mrs. Wilson said, "I don't know what you men make such a fuss about. I had no trouble running the country when Woody was ill."

I guess Franklin Roosevelt would be the most famous example of a president who concealed information about his health. His polio was well known—and it humanized this aristocratic man—but the press was respectful. There were only two or three pictures of him in a wheelchair. What wasn't so well known was how ill he was when he went to the Teheran summit with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in 1943. He came back quite ill. The White House doctor, [Vice] Admiral Ross McIntire, directed cardiologist Howard Bruenn, a Navy [lieutenant] commander, to examine Roosevelt. Bruenn was alarmed at the gravity of Roosevelt's illness. He diagnosed congestive heart failure, hypertension, acute bronchitis and longstanding pulmonary disease. McIntire told Bruenn, you must not tell the president and his family the extent of his illness, and you certainly cannot tell the American public. He issued a reassuring communiqué to the effect that, for a man of his age, Roosevelt was in remarkably good health. But Franklin's son, James Roosevelt, later said he'd never been reconciled to the fact that his father's physicians allowed him to run for a fourth term. It was his death warrant. At the Yalta summit in 1945, Churchill's physician said that Roosevelt looked old and drawn and sat staring ahead with his mouth open. He intervened little in the discussion. He died shortly after the summit of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

President Kennedy had Addison's disease. Yes, but it was only in Robert Dallek's 2003 biography of John Kennedy that we learned the extent of Kennedy's illnesses, which he concealed and which his family continued to conceal after he was assassinated—colitis, duodenal ulcers, osteoporosis and Addison's disease, which is a life-threatening insufficiency of the adrenal glands, requiring twice daily steroids. By 1950, he had constant back pain from vertebral collapse. From the mid-1950s, he was taking powerful narcotics like Demerol and methadone. He took barbiturates for sleep and tranquilizers for anxiety—as many as eight medications a day. There's some indication that he may have abused amphetamines. Before press conferences, he often required injections in the back to control his pain. Throughout his career, he concealed his illnesses.

If elected, John McCain would be 72 when sworn in. Is age an issue?

The first generalization is that one shouldn't generalize. There are some highly creative individuals who function well into their 90s. Konrad Adenauer [who served as German chancellor until the age of 87] was one. Having said that, the danger is that one may attempt to force a new situation into a template from the past and draw false parallels. With the passage of years, there can also be an increased sense of urgency that makes you want to accelerate the pace of change and fit a political timetable to your own. In China, the Cultural Revolution was related to Mao's realization that his time was short and his desire to fully consolidate the revolution before he died.

Legal Disclaimer: This site provides information about the law designed to keep readers informed of pertinent legal matters affecting the African-American community. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer in your specific location if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Day of Reckoning for the Juice

By Leland C. Abraham, Esq.

O.J. Simpson, a former NFL great and Canton-enshrined National Football League Hall of Famer, was convicted of 10 counts on October 3, 2008 and sentenced on December 5, 2008. Most of the counts that Simpson was convicted and sentenced will run concurrently. Perhaps, the most serious of the counts was attempted armed kidnapping. Nevada State judge Jackie Glass expressed that the sentencing would not reflect Mr. Simpson’s prior case in California. If you did not know, 13 years ago, O.J. Simpson was tried and acquitted of double murder in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Most media outlets have been calling for his head ever since. Many felt that the 9-33 year sentence that he received last week may be retribution for the acquittals 13 years ago.

An examination of the case speaks that O.J. Simpson, along with five other people, robbed Bruce Fromberg and Alfred Beardsley at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in September 2007. Simpson is alleged to have taken items including footballs with his autograph on them. Simpson claims that he was attempting to retrieve personal memorabilia. Whatever the story, a gun was introduced at some point which elevated the attempted retrieval to a punishable felony. Simpson stated during his sentencing that he was not aware that he was committing a crime. Unfortunately for Simpson, the reports from the incident state he, along with the other men who accompanied him, locked the door to the hotel room and then introduced a gun. Because the alleged victims did not have a way to escape the situation, this is considered to be kidnapping in most prosecutorial circles. Many may think that the sentencing of Simpson is retribution for the acquittal in the murder case. However, a review of the sentencing guidelines for kidnapping alone would lead to a different conclusion. In some jurisdictions, kidnapping is considered a capital offense. These crimes usually carry the traditional “25 to life” sentence. In most of these cases, the defendant will have to serve at least 15 years before he is eligible for parole. The minimum that Simpson may serve on this count alone is five years.

The next question may be “should there have been a first-degree kidnapping charge in the original indictment?” According to authorities, once Simpson and the men who accompanied him burst into the hotel room, Simpson is heard on an audiotape saying, “Don’t let nobody out of this room.” This is undoubtedly where the kidnapping charge stems from. This would be all the prosecution would need to secure a conviction of kidnapping because Simpson and his acquaintances entered the room with a weapon and Simpson is heard directing the others to not let anyone out of the room. Because members of Simpson’s team were armed and because he secured five other people, the events that occurred were premeditated, meaning Simpson planned them. The next mistake was directing his team to not let anyone leave the room.

The notion that he thought he was taking what was rightfully his reminds me of the traditional law school scenario. It typically goes, “You lend your favorite watch to your friend with the understanding that he is supposed to return the watch on Wednesday. It is now Sunday and the friend has not returned the watch. You go by his house and no one is home but you peek through the window and see the watch on the coffee table in your friend’s living room. Is it okay to go into your friend’s house to retrieve your watch?” The answer of course is “no.” This would be breaking and entering your friend’s house and depending on the prosecutor, it could be larceny as well. The proper thing to do would be to speak with the friend to get the property back. If that does not work, call a sheriff or other law enforcement officer to see if you can retrieve the property that way. If all of these things fail, you can sue your friend for the return of your property. As the latest Simpson case has shown, when you take matters into your own hands and have your own form of vigilante justice, you end up serving the time.

Legal Disclaimer: This site provides information about the law designed to keep readers informed of pertinent legal matters affecting the African-American community. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer in your specific location if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.