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Questions Shadow Dukakis Anew

November 10, 1989|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Massachusetts First Lady Kitty Dukakis is expected to return home to Brookline today amid ongoing speculation as to the real cause of her three-day emergency hospitalization this week.

Was the "very small amount" of rubbing alcohol that the 53-year-old wife of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis ingested at home sometime Monday a relapse of the alcoholism that sent her to a Rhode Island treatment center for 31 days last spring?

Was it "a desperate cry for help," as the director of a local alcohol detoxification center suggested?

Was Dukakis suffering from suicidal depression? Or were her symptoms more consistent with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a recurring depression that worsens as the light fades with autumn?

Or was the fact that Dukakis swallowed the potentially poisonous substance on the eve of the anniversary of her husband's presidential defeat evidence that the Dukakis family has never fully recovered from Gov. Dukakis' blistering loss a year ago to George Bush?

"I don't think anybody knows," said Anne Harney, a close friend of the Dukakis family who has served as Kitty Dukakis' personal assistant since last January.

Harney was with Kitty Dukakis on what was described as a "confidence-building" Outward Bound expedition in Utah in the last week of September. In an interview with the Boston Globe soon after she returned from the rafting excursion, Dukakis enthusiastically described the trip to Utah as an opportunity "to shun . . . some of the negative urban weight that's a part of so many of us during our everyday work day."

Harney also traveled with Dukakis on her 10 speaking engagements in October. Since her release from the Edgehill Newport treatment center in Rhode Island last March, Dukakis has established an active career as a public speaker, often discussing her own longtime problems with substance abuse.

Early in her husband's presidential campaign, it was disclosed that Kitty Dukakis had been treated in 1982 at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota for a 26-year addiction to diet pills. In announcing that his wife had entered Edgehill Newport for treatment for alcoholism last February, Gov. Dukakis blamed his wife's latest troubles on the crashing disappointment of his defeat in his 1988 Democratic bid for the presidency.

But in an interview with The Times soon after she left Edgehill Newport, Dukakis discounted her husband's explanation. Conceding that the loss of the presidential campaign was a "crisis," Kitty Dukakis added that "one event does not make one an alcoholic," and declared that "I was an alcoholic before Michael lost."

While her disclosure stunned many of those who were closest to her, Dukakis appeared to have turned the issue to her own advantage when she signed with a New York speakers' bureau, the Harry Walker Agency, and embarked on a heavily scheduled speaking tour. She also received a $175,000 advance from Simon & Schuster for a book that would include a section on her substance addictions.

The October series of speeches was grueling, Harney said. It included Dukakis' keynote address in Athens to the World Congress of Psychiatrists, where Dukakis was introduced by the actress and Greek social leader Melina Mercouri.

"It was certainly very strenuous," Harney said.

"But I was with her, and I was just as tired as she was, and I didn't take rubbing alcohol."

A carefully worded statement released Wednesday evening by Dr. Gerald R. Plotkin, Dukakis' physician for the last 17 years, said that she was "completely out of danger" after experiencing a "severe reaction" from imbibing the rubbing alcohol.

The statement, said by one hospital source to have been supervised "very personally" by Gov. Dukakis himself, said it was "clear from tests that no drugs, medication or alcoholic beverages were involved" in the latest incident.

Plotkin refused to take questions directly, referring further inquiries to the governor's office. A spokesman there, however, would comment only that "the statement speaks for itself."

But the printed remarks from Plotkin that were distributed to the press posed new questions about what had happened to Dukakis and revealed new information about what has been happening to her.

The statement was the first indication, for example, that Dukakis had been treated with "an occasional prescription" of anti-depressant drugs by her psychiatrist. The type of medication she was taking was not disclosed, nor was her psychiatrist identified by name, but it was said that she was taking the drugs "immediately prior" to her hospitalization on Monday.

Plotkin's statement also made a connection between Dukakis' long struggle with depression and her battle with chemical dependency. Noting that "these two problems often are related," Plotkin's statement said that "autumn has been a particularly bad season for her."

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