A Dim Murmur of the Heart

What the President might have said to the doctors who put that de-fi-brill-a-tor in Dick Cheney's chest

By Ciro Scotti

WASHINGTON -- Vice-President Cheney was expected back at work in his West Wing office this morning after a dual-purpose pacemaker was implanted in his chest Saturday as an "insurance policy" against irregular heartbeats....President Bush, who talked with Cheney by phone from Camp David after the surgery, said he didn't expect the Vice-President to moderate his workload. -- USA Today, July 2

You might imagine that the call to Cheney wasn't the only one that the President made to George Washington University Medical Center that day.

In a very private ward, starched nurses, earnest young doctors, and large men with wires hanging from their ears rush about going nowhere. An urgent voice over the public-address system drowns out whatever whispered sounds can be heard.

"Doctor Reimer, Doctor Reimer, if you are out of surgery, please pick up Red Phone One, Red Phone One. Red Phone One for Doctor Reimer"

A hand still encased in a red-tinged surgical glove lifts the receiver of a red phone. A slightly panting voice says: "Mhifh ish octor Remr."

"What's that?" demands the drawl on the other end.

The hand rips off a forgotten surgical mask still damp from the heat of battle.

"This is Doctor Reimer," the exasperated heart surgeon half shouts.

"That's better. I didn't catch you at lunch with your mouth full or something, did I, 'cause I can call back later. I'm just here shootin' the breeze with the Japanese Prime Minister about GLO-BAL WARM-ING."

"No, sir, this is a fine time."

"Well, you know who this is, right?"

"Yes, Mr. President. I imagine you're calling to see how the Vice-President is doing.

"You got that right, doc. This is George W. Bush. I am the President. And I am calling to see how my buddy Dick Cheney is makin' out."

"Well, Mr. President, I just left the operating room, and Mr. Cheney seems to have come through with flying colors. He's a strong man."

"Yes, he is. And he's a good man."

"That, too, Mr. President. We inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in his chest that will speed up the heartbeat if it's too sluggish and slow it down if it's racing too wildly."

"So, he's going to be O.K., right?

"Yes, Mr. President, he should be fine."

"Will he be back to work Monday?"

"This is only Sunday, sir."

"How about Monday afternoon?"

"It's up to Mr. Cheney, but I guess he could come in Monday if he has to."

"And this here DE-FI-BRILL-A-TOR, you just stuck that right in his chest?"

"Yes, sir, on the left side, near his shoulder. We only caution that he avoid any vigorous exercise until the incision heals, that he not drive, and that if he talks into a cell phone, he holds it to his right ear."

"Is that DE-FI-BRILL-A-TOR gonna be pickin' up radio signals? I mean some Martians or Ruskies or somethin' aren't going to be beamin' into the old boy and tellin' him to do weird stuff or anything, are they? Heh, heh."

"No, no sir. The ICP doesn't pick up radio waves, but there is the possibility that the two devices -- the cell phone and the ICP -- could interfere with each other."

"So I couldn't like call him on his heart? You know, like your little conscience sittin' on your shoulder. I couldn't whisper stuff into his chest that only he could hear?"

"Oh, I don't think so, Mr. President," the doctor says, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "We'll probably be able to do that about the same time that Star Wars works."

"What's that? What about Star Wars?"

"Just a little joke, sir."

"Oh, yeah, Heh, heh. Hey, doc, you wannt to say hello to JUNI-CHIRO KO-I-ZUMI, the Prime Minister of Japan?"

"Well, I....Hello, Mr. Prime Minister, how are you. Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken is good, and Georgie is funny guy."

"So...this is me again...so he will be back in the saddle on Monday?"

"Yes, sir, knowing the Vice-President, he will."

"Good, good. You did a good job, doc. You're a good man, and your country thanks you."

"Thank you, Mr. President."

"But maybe someday I'll be able to have a heart-to-heart talk with him, heh, heh, heh."

"Yes, sir, maybe someday."

"OK, doc, you take care now. Monday for sure. Bye."

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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