As he has criss-crossed the country for the past year, routinely putting in 16-hour days on the campaign trail, the 71-year-old John McCain has shown the physical endurance of a much younger man. But in the great microscope of American democracy, it's not enough for him to simply announce, with the support of his doctors, that he is in good health. Like any presidential candidate, he is expected to run for office as an open book, and prove it.
So it was that McCain, who, at 72 on Election Day, would be the oldest person elected President, was pressured to release more than 1,000 pages of his medical records, presumably every doctor notation of his well-being created since 2000. The unveiling took place Friday for about 20 reporters amid a spread of bagels and muffins in a back room at the Copperwynd Resort and Club in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
The documents showed what McCain has long maintained: He is in remarkably good health for a man of his age and experience, despite a history of skin cancer, an enlarged prostate, some non-cancerous polyps in his colon, as well as lingering troubles with bladder and kidney stones.
"There is no way to accurately predict anyone's future health," observed Dr. John D. Eckstein, McCain's personal physician in a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon. But Eckstein said he found no evident signs of medical problems that would prevent McCain from running the country. "We can find nothing in his history that would preclude him from serving as president of the United States with vigor," he said.
The documents, which were reviewed by a pool reporter from the Washington Post, spelled out the details of this prognosis in excruciating detail. They described ear wax removal, a fungal infection on his toe, and his occasional experience of blood in his urine, which was treated as an enlarged prostate and stones in his bladder. They noted that McCain reports sleeping five to six hours a night, drinks two alcoholic beverages a month, and occasionally experiences vertigo when he stands, a common condition his doctors said did not put him at increased risk for stroke. A doctor's visit in March showed that he weighed 163 pounds, down six pounds from a year earlier, which he attributed to the campaign trail's "long days and frenetic pace."
"Buttocks unremarkable except for some very light tan freckling," wrote his dermatologist, Suzanne Connolly, in her records after one examination of his skin. "Delightful gentleman," observed his surgeon, Michael L. Hinni, after another examination.
A stress test of the heart earlier this year showed McCain to have the cardiovascular health of a younger man. A colonoscopy earlier this year resulted in the removal of some non-cancerous polyps. An examination of his skin in February, which he repeats every few months, discovered on his leg a non-invasive form of skin cancer, called a squamous cell carcinoma, which was "destroyed" earlier this month using liquid nitrogen. It was the fifth incidence of skin cancer for McCain. Only one of those cancers, a 2000 invasive melanoma on his left temple, was considered seriously life threatening. That cancer was removed in 2000, leaving a scar on his face. Connolly said that the chance of that cancer's recurrence was thought to be less than 10%, since so much time has passed without any new problems.
McCain regularly takes four medications: aspirin to prevent blood clots; Hydrochlorothiazide, for kidney stone prevention; Amiloride, to preserve potassium in the blood stream; and Simvastatin to lower his cholesterol. He also sometimes takes Ambien CR to help him sleep and Zyrtec, an antihistamine for nasal allergies.
In the past when asked about his health, McCain has said that he expects his performance on the stump to determine how much his age becomes a factor in the coming contest, where he is likely to be matched against Barack Obama, who at 46 is young enough to be McCain's son. (Obama has planned his own medical release for next week.)
McCain's personal physician, Eckstein, said he hoped that the standard would be even more generous. "Age," he said, "should not be a limiting factor in this day and age."