May 23rd, 2008
08:43 PM ET
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
As a doctor, I have never reviewed medical records quite the way I did today. Senator McCain's staff gathered a handful of reporters to Fountain Hills, Arizona at a small hotel. It was sort of a strange day. For starters, it was raining today, and from what they tell me, it hardly ever rains here in May. Then, after days of getting specific rules and regulations about how exactly this would work, the McCain staff decided to leak the records ahead of time to the Associated Press. Nice. Gather reporters from all over the country on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend for a super secret document release, and then leak them beforehand. Needless to say, a few of the reporters were pretty frosted.
At promptly 7:30 a.m. PT, we were taken to a conference room and handed three stacks of paper, nearly 1,200 papers in all and told we had exactly three hours to review them. I am still not sure I understand why there was so little time given to review so many papers. Having said that, I am pretty convinced there was no "smoking gun" about the Senator's health. I reviewed his cancer history carefully, as well as his cardiac, lung, prostate, kidney and liver history.
He takes 6 medications, including a multivitamin, which is actually a little less than average for a man his age. He has been extremely diligent about getting skin exams, which is important given his history of malignant melanoma. Back in 2000, he had an extensive dissection of his left neck and the removal of 34 lymph nodes, along with a stage 2A melanoma. That was the worse of his at least 5 skin cancers. He was told at the time that it had a 66 percent chance of recurrence over 10 years. That was 8 years ago, and he has done pretty well.
His heart seems to be in good condition, as evidenced by two stress tests, the last of which was this year. And, he even lost 6 pounds while campaigning. Many candidates put on weight with the crazy schedule. He was a 2 pack a day smoker for 25 years, and quit in 1980. He has received chest x-rays and CAT scans, which showed no evidence of lung cancer. His prostate seems to be alright, and aside from kidney stones, I could not find much else wrong with him.
There was mention of his time as a prisoner of war. It was hard to read about the time he was tortured and beaten to the point of breaking both of his shoulders. I read that they never set properly, which is why to this day, he cannot reach above his head. Someday, one of the doctors wrote, he will likely need to have his shoulders replaced.
I looked diligently for any mention of his mental health, and found hardly any. Every doctor's note began, "he is a pleasant and cooperative"gentleman. No doctor's note included a question about depression or substance abuse. He apparently does have trouble with sleep, and occasionally takes ambien. Today, I even saw pictures of a presidential candidate's colon. Now that is some detail. His height, at one place in the chart, was listed at 5’6”, and a year later it was listed as 5’9”. Hmmm.
So far, Senators Obama and Clinton have not released their medical records. Let's hope when they do, the day is not nearly as strange.
Candidates and Presidents for that matter are not required to release their medical records, but almost all of them do. Is it important to you that they do? Do you worry about cover ups or do you take everyone at their word?
Programming note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Special Investigations Unit presentation “The First Patient – Health & the Presidency” this weekend on CNN. The program airs at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.