WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Any layman remotely acquainted with thyroid disease should have been able to diagnose George Bush's problem long ago: an over-active thyroid revs up the metabolism body and mind, producing a patient who just can't sit still.
My first-hand experience with an abnormal regulatory gland was the opposite of the president's, hypo- rather than hyperthyroidism. It made my weight climb, my steps drag, my arms heavy as lead, my face puff and my brain function at about one-third normal speed. If the flip side of the ailment affects Mr. Bush just as drastically, it explains a lot we have wondered about.
Why else would a sane person combine golf with the 100-yard --? Why would an executive with a nice rent-free house and weekend getaway spot prefer to spend his time on an Air Force jet jerking back and forth between time zones? Why would a man in his 60s run three or four miles at a time instead of taking a dignified stroll, stopping now and then to smell the roses? Why would a man of substance come across so often as a flibbertygibbet?
Why would a president with the weight of the world on his shoulders seem to make flat and final decisions so often on the spur of the moment?
Since his heart fibrillation was disclosed last weekend, we have learned gradually that the president experienced a similar shortness of breath a couple of times earlier. But the public was not told about those passing episodes at the time. Finding out about them well after the fact reminds of how the seriousness of Woodrow Wilson's stroke in 1919 was kept from the people for the remaining 17 months of his presidency, and how Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack in 1955 was described at first as just a digestive upset.
Obviously there is no reason to suspect that anything so serious is being withheld about our current president. But such things have happened, and if this episode could have been handled quietly on the scene, without rushing the president to Bethesda naval hospital, we wonder whether it would have been disclosed to the public.
While speculating, we can wonder semi-seriously whether the president's hyperthyroidism has caused him to respond too quickly, too aggressively, to casual questions and therefore to lock himself and the country into policies that required deeper thought.
Had he taken time to consider what it would mean to the American economy, to our children, to education and infrastructure, would he have grabbed so avidly at the line, ''No new taxes!'' and repeated it so often?
If he had listened carefully to his military chiefs about how much it would cost, how many casualties and refugees would result, would he still have said so insistently, ''This invasion will not stand!'' and thus committed the nation to offensive war in the Persian Gulf?
Had he thought of the country, and conferred with serious advisers, would he have made his surprising choice for vice president, and insisted so many times that it was right?
On this last matter, more than the others, it is reasonable to ask whether the president would have been so dogmatic about retaining his vice president for another term if he had not been pressed on it so often by reporters. Just as on taxes, each time Mr. Bush is asked whether he will keep his No. 2 man, he becomes more adamant. He takes those questions as challenges. Even if he were privately reconsidering the vice-presidential decision, his quick, absolute answers have painted him into a corner so tightly that any other move in 1992 seems impossible.
Of course, if he really wanted to change his mind, the doctors' diagnosis of hyperthyroidism would offer the perfect excuse. He could say he was ill when he made the original decision, and when he repeated it again and again. He could say his thyroid made him do it, but thanks to modern medicine he now realizes his mistake and wants to correct it.
Fortunately, science can change a person that drastically. Most thyroid disease is easily controlled by medication. For the rest of my life I will take a little pink pill each morning, and will have to find some other excuse for the muddiness of my thought processes. Mr. Bush, if he and we continue to be lucky, will be brought down to earth by some equally miraculous pill.
C7 *Ernest B. Furgurson is a syndicated correspondent.