Clinton in high spirits on return home Summit with Yeltsin is put off by a day


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton returned to the White House in a wheelchair yesterday, two days after surgeons repaired his damaged right knee. His spirits were high, but he delayed by one day a scheduled summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

The trip to Finland will begin Wednesday in order to give the president extra time to rest -- and to practice the delicate art of moving via crutches and wheelchair. A state visit to Denmark was postponed until July.

Clinton began a regimen of physical therapy that will take many weeks, both to rehabilitate the torn tendon in his knee and develop his upper body. His Navy doctors praised his progress and noted his ability to endure pain and his decision not to take brain-slowing narcotics.

"He's had some tough times with some spasms, etc., but he's done remarkably well," said Dr. Marlene de Maio, who said even Marines and Green Berets request narcotic painkillers.

"In my period of time as being an orthopedic surgeon, I've never had a patient that was able to go through this without narcotics of some sort," she said.

In the days to come, for a chief executive accustomed to working hard and sleeping little, the toughest challenge for Clinton will be to slow down, said Dr. Connie Mariano, his personal doctor.

"Knowing him after almost five years now, he's so determined to do a lot of things. He's so energetic, and he wants to do everything at once," Mariano said.

The president, whose pleasure in eating is well-known, has asked the doctors to help him watch his weight, since he'll be giving up his regular morning jogs and his golf game.

Hillary Rodham Clinton greeted her husband when he arrived after the drive from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Later yesterday, she and daughter, Chelsea, departed for Senegal and a two-week trip to Africa.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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