Del Quentin Wilber: ‘Rawhide Down’: The (almost) death of a president

Source: Politico, 3-11-11

Nancy and Ronald Reagan stand together in a room at the George Washington University Medical Center. | AP Photo

A new book documents decisions to downplay the severity of Ronald Reagan’s wound. | AP Photo Close

Ronald Reagan barely survived in 1981.

A book out Tuesday paints a much direr picture of the president’s prognosis in the hours after John Hinckley shot him than the White House or his doctors acknowledged at the time … and in the decades since.

In “Rawhide Down,” Washington Post reporter Del Quentin Wilber reports that the then 70-year-old Reagan lost more than half his blood after arriving at George Washington University Hospital.

Eager to avoid panic at home and not embolden enemies abroad, Wilber documents decisions to downplay the severity of the unconscious Reagan’s wound.

Some medical professionals who initially saw Reagan thought he was a goner, Wilber reports. The nurse trying to take Reagan’s blood pressure when he arrived at the hospital couldn’t hear a pulse. The surgeon struggled to locate the bullet lodged an inch from Reagan’s heart, which had collapsed his left lung.

Told via press and official accounts that Reagan walked into the hospital of his own volition and told funny jokes to the doctors, the public didn’t grasp how close to dying he came. If the Secret Service had taken Reagan back to the White House, instead of rerouting to the hospital, he almost certainly would have died.

Reagan’s closest advisers didn’t want to temporarily transfer power to Vice President George H.W. Bush because they feared it would raise bigger questions about Reagan’s age and ability.

Lyn Nofziger, a longtime Reagan aide, didn’t want the surgeons who had operated on Reagan to brief the press because he thought they’d look too tired and emotional in front of the cameras. So he picked a hospital administrator, who lied to reporters when he said the president “sailed through it” and “was at no time in any serious danger” during a press conference five hours after the shooting.

The administrator, Dennis O’Leary, also lied when he said the bullet never came close to “any vital structure,” and he failed to mention that Reagan collapsed soon after he walked into the hospital. He understated the amount of blood Reagan lost by 1.5 units and told reporters that Reagan received three fewer units of blood than he did.

The book’s publication coincides with the 30th anniversary of the March 30, 1981, shooting and the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth. It’s also timely in the wake of the January shootings in January that critically injured Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and took the lives of six others…READ MORE: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/51173.html

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: