Medicine: Shuttle Fatigue

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Haig tests his endurance He's breaking my heart," said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger last week about his current counterpart. "I used to do 200 miles . .. he's doing 8,000." Alexander M. Haig Jr., 57, is also breaking records: nearly 30,000 intercontinental air miles since April 8, shuttling between Washington, London and Buenos Aires. In one grueling eight-day period he could have adjusted his watch 22 times, far exceeding Kissinger's single-zone hops between Syria, Israel and Egypt. Following an 18-hr, flight from Argentina, Haig, who underwent triple coronary bypass surgery two years ago in Houston, plunged into eleven hours of talks with British officials.

That pace led some observers of the diplomatic community to wonder if the Secretary's health and judgment in the crucial Falkland Islands negotiations could withstand the stress of such globe-hopping. The London press thought not. Noting Haig's drawn, tired features after one meeting, the Daily Mirror trumpeted, HOW MUCH MORE CAN HAIG'S HEART STAND? Haig's heart is not the only questionable factor. Virtually all of the thousands of the body's neural, hormonal and metabolic processes are also taxed in global jet travel.

Circadian dysrhythmia, the medical name for jet lag, is a recognized disorder. Zooming through time zones upsets biological clocks and desynchronizes functions such as sleep, hunger, elimination and sex. The body resists its forcible relocation in the external world with numerous warning signals: sleepiness, insomnia, dimmed vision, throat discomfort and irritability. A pack-a-day smoker, Haig also would be affected by high altitudes more than the nonsmoker. Some studies indicate more disturbing effects of jet megatravel: a diminution in mental ability, and mild amnesia about recent events. The heart undergoes a special series of reactions during intercontinental travel. Levels of the stress hormones rise—nor-adrenaline and adrenaline, as well as fatty triglycerides. Reacting to the increase in ozone and lowered air pressure in airplane cabins, the stress of takeoffs, the prolonged periods of inactivity in flight and the excitement of landings, heart rate and blood pressure may also change.

So far, Haig, devoted tennis player and disciplined military man, has experienced only fatigue. He has even been pa tient with reporters, which is rather unusual for him. Says an aide: "Sure, it's very exhausting. Sure, he admits he's tired. Wouldn't you be?"

Haig's operation, from which he recovered quickly, should not affect his health adversely. According to Dr. W. Gerald Austen, chief of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, who performed a similar operation on Kissinger, "Patients who have successful coronary bypass surgery have very good blood flow restored to the heart. It is not surprising that those patients can do anything that any other healthy person can do."

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