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THE NATION

Bush's Colonoscopy Shows No Polyps

Procedure: Doctor says the president is in 'outstanding health.' Vice President Cheney held the reins of power for 2 hours, 15 minutes.

June 30, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON -- President Bush received a clean bill of health Saturday after a colonoscopy, during which he transferred the powers of his office to Vice President Dick Cheney for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

During the 20-minute procedure, physicians found no polyps, which can be precursors of cancer, in the president's colon. In two previous colonoscopies, in 1998 and 1999, Bush's doctors each time found two small noncancerous polyps and removed them.

''The president continues to be in outstanding health,'' said Air Force Col. Richard J. Tubb, Bush's physician. He said the president does not need another colonoscopy for five years.

The procedure took place early Saturday morning at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.

Cheney spent his time as acting president in his own West Wing office, doing routine work, which included meeting with staff and receiving his daily intelligence briefings. He left the White House about noon.

''I'd have to ask his staff if they addressed him as 'Mr. Acting President,' " said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. ''I don't think they did; it's a mouthful.''

When asked whether Bush teased Cheney about his brief stint as acting president when he called to let him know he was back in charge, Fleischer said, "No, I think it was pretty straightforward, boring conversation."

After the procedure was completed and Bush reassumed his powers, administration officials at the White House recounted the highly choreographed sequence of events.

The transfer of power took effect soon after Bush invoked Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which governs the transfer of presidential power.

As physicians began administering anesthesia to the president, who quickly fell asleep, White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales took a signed document, hopped into a golf cart and drove to another building within the Camp David compound.

There, he faxed the document to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate President Pro Tem Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the men next in line of presidential succession after Cheney.

At the same time, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. telephoned Hastert and Byrd. Upon confirmation of the letter's transmission, Gonzales also faxed a copy to Cheney's office in the White House.

In addition, Gonzales said, ''we made a call to the vice president's office to make sure that he understood that he was now acting as president.''

The official transfer began at 7:09 a.m., the moment of the faxed transmission. Anesthesia began at that minute as well, and it put Bush to sleep within 30 to 60 seconds, Tubb said.

The transfer of power was prudent, Tubb said, because ''medically, the president would be at least momentarily unable to answer issues that arose.''

About midway through the colonoscopy, following standard procedures, physicians began easing up on the intravenous anesthesia and then discontinued it altogether shortly before the procedure ended. Bush ''woke up'' about 30 to 60 seconds after the anesthesia was stopped.

Although Bush's colonoscopy was over in just 20 minutes, the president did not revoke the transfer of power until 9:24 a.m. In the interim, physicians examined the president and monitored his vital signs. Bush also called Cheney and First Lady Laura Bush to let them know that the procedure had ended.

''I think out of an abundance of caution, we wanted to reassure everyone that the president was not going to be making a decision, a hasty decision to rush back into and assume authority and power,'' Gonzales explained.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Bush returned to his cabin. Before sitting down for a breakfast of waffles, the president hit some tennis balls with a racquet for his dogs, Barney and Spot, to chase. After breakfast, he went on a 4.5-mile walk, joined by Mrs. Bush, his brother Marvin, Card and Card's wife.

Then Bush hit the gym for ''a light workout,'' Fleischer said.

''The president said he feels great, and he has already resumed his normal routine at Camp David,'' he added.

Tubb described Bush as an inquisitive patient. ''He wants to know exactly what's going to transpire and afterward,'' the doctor said. He also said Bush joked about the procedure and expressed a desire to return to a normal diet. He was required to restrict his intake before the procedure.

Saturday's transfer of power was only the second time in U.S. history that the 25th Amendment to the Constitution has been invoked. The first time was on July 13, 1985, when then-President Reagan underwent colon cancer surgery.

Tubb and Fleischer took the opportunity Saturday to urge Americans older than 50 to have a colonoscopy. The procedure, they said, should be repeated in 10 years, in the absence of abnormalities.

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