Clinton off feet but he's still going Doctors say 6 months to heal knee injury

Yeltsin trip confirmed

March 15, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Doctors said last night that President Clinton faces a recuperation period lasting at least six months after tearing a tendon above his right knee in a fall early yesterday at the Florida estate of golfing pro Greg Norman.

Sounding weary but game after surgery that lasted two hours and four minutes, the president vowed he was still going to Helsinki for his long-awaited summit next week with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

As reporters at the Bethesda naval hospital peppered the team of doctors who repaired Clinton's knee with questions about his trip across the Atlantic, the president's voice was suddenly piped into the room.

"Well, I'm enjoying this press conference but I want you to quit giving my doctor a hard time about letting me go to Helsinki," Clinton said. "We're all going to Helsinki. We've got to go to Helsinki!"

The rest of the president's schedule was thrown into chaos.

A planned appearance tonight at the annual dinner of the Gridiron Club, in which journalists satirize the president and other political figures, was impossible, said White House press secretary Mike McCurry. The president is expected to remain at the hospital in the Maryland suburbs at least until tomorrow.

A visit to Washington on Tuesday by Jordan's King Hussein was postponed by mutual consent. On Monday, Clinton is still hoping to be host to Irish Prime Minister John Bruton at the White House, though he might not be able to accompany him to St. Patrick's Day parties, officials said.

But his doctors made it clear that the injury he suffered will put a crimp in Clinton's style, no matter how gung-ho he is about getting back to work.

Dr. David P. Adkison, chief orthopedic surgeon at Bethesda naval hospital, said the president would be on crutches for eight weeks, not be able to begin to strengthen his muscles for three months and probably be unable to play golf or go running for six months.

Already, the president seemed anxious about this timetable, aides said.

"He wants to know when he can swing a golf club," Adkison said. "We'll see."

Asked about potential complications, Adkison replied, "The main thing is that he not fall."

That is how 50-year-old Clinton hurt himself in the first place.

The big trip

Clinton and Norman were up late talking in the pro golfer's mansion in Hobe Sound, Fla., where the president had gone for a private, two-day golf tournament that Norman organized.

As Norman was escorting the president to a guest cottage on the 80-acre estate, shortly after 1 a.m., the president fell while descending four dark-wood steps to a stone landing. In the darkness, he apparently misjudged the final step, McCurry said.

"He remembers his right knee buckling out," added Navy Capt. Connie Mariano, the president's personal physician, who was staying nearby. "He heard a very loud pop."

Norman heard it, too, Clinton said.

"I was very fortunate that Greg Norman, being a better athlete than I am, immediately heard my knee pop and turned around and caught me before I fell on the ground," the president said. "I just had an unlucky break."

Mariano also stressed that alcohol was not a factor in the president's fall because he had not been drinking.

Paramedics checked Clinton's vital signs, put ice and a splint on his leg and rushed him to nearby St. Mary's Hospital. The president was given an anti-inflammatory painkiller called Toradol after undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, examination. The diagnosis: a tear in the quadriceps tendon connecting the kneecap to the upper thigh.

Shortly after 8 a.m., the president left St. Mary's to return to Washington. He was carried onto Air Force One in a wheelchair, a white cast sticking out of the leg of his black jogging suit.

Pain was evident on his face, but Clinton flashed a thumbs-up sign and shouted, "I feel good," to reporters traveling with him. En route home, Clinton managed to make a 10-minute phone call to disappointed students at a Jupiter, Fla., school he was scheduled to visit yesterday morning.

"I'm so disappointed," the president told students at Lighthouse Elementary School. "Please forgive me for not being there and give me a rain check."

At Andrews Air Force Base, Clinton was met by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is postponing for a day -- until tomorrow -- her planned departure on a two-week, six-nation tour of Africa.

The president was immediately driven to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, arriving just after noon. He was prepped and wheeled into the operating room at 2: 39 p.m.

The surgeons re-attached the tendon to the kneecap with surgical thread. The operation was performed under a spinal anesthesia, leaving the president conscious.

Not your average patient

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