Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The President's Gall Bladder

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had his gall bladder removed. After the surgery, he returned to the White House and held an informal press conference. When the reporters asked him how the operation went, he hoisted his shirt and showed them the stitches on his sagging middle-aged belly.

LBJ was a brilliant man, a master manipulator, hugely sympathetic, and very vulgar.

This was a famous photo at the time, and it changed the way we view our elected officials. LBJ destroyed a necessary barrier of privacy, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you have surgery, why hide the scars?

So, this summer, we were all delighted -- everyone but me -- to learn that President George Bush would be checking into Walter Reed Medical Center for a colonoscopy. All the newspapers proceeded to give full color illustrations of the whole procedure -- How wonderful, we all said -- except for me.

I think, personally, if the press and public had been told that the President had undergone a "routine medical procedure," that was all the information I needed to have.

I am not squeamish. I have worked as a nursing aide in a hospital and I have seen and cleaned up more nasty biological messes than you can imagination. I have been literally up to my elbows in corporal effluvia, and I don't mind at all. It's the truth. It's the job. It's what you do. It's how we take care of each other. But It's also a private matter, done under private circumstances.

Back to the President and the public. I only need to know if he's healthy or not. The rest is private.

I do not salute the courage of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate Senator John Edwards. She has revealed to the world her battle with breast cancer.

So? I do not know this woman. Our relationship is not personal, and I don't want to know about the intricacies of her lifelong struggle with death. I too face death, and might very well suffer a debilitating disease before I join the graveyard. I pray that the ones who love me stay by my side as it happens.

But I'm not going to make a TV show about it.

Think of the people who are qualified for public office, highly experienced and highly motivated, but they want to keep their private lives private. They don't want to hoist up their shirts to the world like LBJ did.

"Openness" should not be a requirement for public office.

Anyway, it all started in 1965 with LBJ's gall bladder.

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