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Healing Richard Nixon

Healing Richard Nixon: A Doctor's Memoir

John C. Lungren
John C. Lungren
With a Foreword by Rick Perlstein
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jhch
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  • Book Info
    Healing Richard Nixon
    Book Description:

    Richard M. Nixon remains an enigma even thirty years after his resignation. Of the many portraits of this complex man, none have been more intimate or revealing than this memoir from his personal physician, friend, and confidante of more than forty years, John C. Lungren, M.D. Dr. Lungren, with his son and co-author John C. Lungren Jr., portrays Nixon as a paradoxical man -- intense, compassionate, guarded, intelligent, resilient, deeply religious, enormously successful but ultimately tragic.

    Lungren describes his battle to restore the president's health after his resignation and reveals previously unknown details about Nixon's two intensive hospitalizations, his near fatal vascular collapse, and his depression. Lungren experienced firsthand Nixon's thoughts and feelings during the public scrutiny of federal prosecution for his role in the Watergate break-in. Accused of shielding his friend, Lungren himself came under fire; his private office was even burgled in an apparent attempt to copy Nixon's private medical records.

    Using previously unpublished sources, original correspondence, and private photographs,Healing Richard Nixonplaces Nixon in a new light. No future research or conclusions about Nixon -- the man or the president -- will be complete without consulting this fascinating memoir.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5953-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Rick Perlstein

    DR. JOHN C. LUNGREN BEGINS HIS BOOK with an epigraph from his subject. “But I have found that leaders are subject to all the human frailties,” Richard Nixon wrote in his 1962 book Six Crises. It is a good choice, for the sentence suggests that Nixon once believed, remarkably, that somehow he could render himself invulnerable and that, well into his adulthood, he had to learn to live with the fact that he could not.

    This quote also helps explain why Dr. John C. Lungren—not a biographer, not a historian, not a professional writer, certainly not an unbiased observer...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    John C. Lungren Jr.
  5. Preface
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
    John C. Lungren
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  7. 1 The Cease of Majesty
    (pp. 1-8)

    IT WAS HIS SEVENTH AND FINAL CRISIS. Like Dante, he had descended into hell. Whether Richard Nixon would return was unknown to him, to God, and to me, his personal physician. On Thursday, August 8, 1974, at 9:00 P.M., Richard Milhous Nixon addressed his fellow citizens from the White House for sixteen excruciating minutes. Concealing inner dread, the thirty-seventh president of the United States uttered a sentence never before pronounced in two centuries of the American republic: “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” When he finished speaking, the president, exhausted, anguished, and limping slightly, walked to...

  8. 2 From Pharaohs to Phlebitis
    (pp. 9-20)

    IN THE TURBULENT AFTERMATH of the resignation, on two occasions in late August and early September 1974, Dr. Walter Tkach, Nixon’s White House physician, contacted me by telephone. Major General Tkach was a career U.S. Air Force physician who had been assigned to the White House when Nixon became president. My relationship with him was highly professional. Dr. Tkach was a caring physician who served the White House well during the Nixon years.

    Dr. Tkach had called me because he was seriously concerned about the former president’s health. He described the swollen condition of Nixon’s left leg and asked me...

  9. 3 Dread Unconcealed
    (pp. 21-28)

    AT 3:00 P.M. ON SEPTEMBER 16, I arrived at La Casa Pacifica as previously scheduled to reexamine the former president. I was greeted by Manola Sanchez, who led me to the swimming pool area. Here I found Nixon, casually dressed and seated at the edge of the pool in a chaise lounge with his left leg elevated. Pat Nixon was sitting beside him.

    We exchanged greetings, and I asked about the leg. “I believe the damn leg is worse—more pain and swelling,” he said. He appeared irritable and depressed, and the left leg was painful to pressure. I insisted...

  10. 4 The Plot Thickens
    (pp. 29-40)

    THE NEXT MORNING I REVIEWED a transcript of Ziegler’s portion of the news conference. As I read Ziegler’s responses, I became aware that he was often attempting to answer complex medical questions without adequate knowledge. I was upset that reporters were taking advantage of him in this situation and creating a circuslike atmosphere that was distorting Nixon’s true medical condition and my decisions as his personal physician. Ziegler was conscientious in his replies, but I could see that some reporters were already raising the specter of mental dysfunction, psychiatric illness, and a cover-up “plot.” One reporter even suggested that Nixon...

  11. 5 On the Campaign Trail I
    (pp. 41-60)

    I SHARED NIXON’S ANGUISH OVER lost opportunities because I witnessed during the 1950s his potential for great leadership. In 1952, I joined the Nixon campaign in Washington, D.C., in mid-October to cover the final three weeks as campaign physician. I was entering the world of politics, a colorful, vibrant, kaleidoscopic world filled with a cast of characters who could just as likely be found in a novel by Charles Dickens. There were aspiring true believers and self-appointed confidantes, hangers-on, rogues and sycophants, potentates and genuine paladins. It was also a special universe where committed men and women sacrificed privacy and...

  12. 6 On the Campaign Trail II
    (pp. 61-74)

    THE YEAR 1960 WAS A WATERSHED in American political history. Two young men, whose lives were shaped by World War II and had entered Congress together in 1946, ran against each other for the presidency. The lives and careers of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy would intertwine often but never so much as during the election of 1960. The campaign was the most dramatic, the most issue-oriented, the most intense, and the closest in modern American politics. Nixon and Kennedy mesmerized the nation.

    In 1960, I was to cover the last three weeks of the campaign. When I joined...

  13. 7 The Haldeman Enigma
    (pp. 75-82)

    WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF H.R. Haldeman stood as the last of a long line of ambitious Nixon aides who achieved power by ingratiating themselves and gaining unadulterated favor with him. Once ensconced in a position of power, they maintained their privilege and influence by curtailing access of other Nixon staff oranyonethey perceived as a rival.

    A devout Christian Scientist, Haldeman was an ambitious perfectionist who ingratiated himself to Nixon with aggressive efficiency: “every president needs a son of a bitch, and I’m Nixon’s. I'm his buffer and his bastard.”¹ Haldeman even harshened his handsome features by wearing...

  14. 8 Defeating Death
    (pp. 83-92)

    DURING THE FALL OF 1974, in the days when Nixon had invited Lorain and me to dinner and expressed his feelings of remorse over Watergate, I consulted with him by telephone at regular intervals about his recovery. It was during this period that I received a phone call from Nixon’s lawyer, Herbert J. Miller, regarding the Watergate trial. He told me that William H. Jeffress Jr., one of his associates, would be calling me to take an affidavit for my signature on the state of Nixon’s health and physical condition.

    Jeffress called me on October 2. I swore an affidavit...

  15. 9 Judge Sirica’s Medical Panel
    (pp. 93-112)

    ON NOVEMBER 5, HERBERT MILLER, Nixon’s lawyer, called me regarding Nixon’s availability to testify under subpoena at the Watergate trial. On September 4, John Ehrlichman had issued a subpoena to Nixon to testify on all matters related “to the concealment or cover-up of the break-in” into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. I told Miller that Nixon would not be able to engage in any substantial mental or physical activity for two to three months and that it would be an indeterminate time before he had recovered sufficiently to travel long distances. Miller submitted an affidavit to this...

  16. Photos
    (pp. None)
  17. 10 Nixon, Sinatra, Dreyfus
    (pp. 113-118)

    THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY I was to return to La Casa Pacifica at 3:00 P.M. I received a call from Colonel Brennan asking if I could come a half-hour later since Nixon had scheduled a lunch with Frank Sinatra. Arriving at 3:30 P.M., I immediately noticed Sinatra’s private helicopter on the pad whereMarine Onehad landed so many times. In the parking area, I saw a blue Cadillac with the initials PWK. The initials belonged to Paul Keyes, an aggressive and likable Hollywood television producer with whom I was acquainted through mutual friends. Manola Sanchez, after greeting me, told me...

  18. 11 Habeas Corpus: Nixon on Watergate and Vietnam
    (pp. 119-126)

    WATERGATE AND VIETNAM—these cardinal events ultimately destroyed Richard Nixon’s presidency. I discussed Watergate and Vietnam innumerable times with Nixon for several months of grave illness beginning in September 1974 and through the years of rehabilitation and recovery at La Casa Pacifica (1974–1980). On occasion, Pat Nixon would join in the discussions.

    In early January of 1975, I drove to San Clemente to give Nixon a physical examination and visit with him. I found him adhering to my prescribed regimen of a few hours of concentration followed by a rest period. Nixon told that me he tired easily. Nevertheless,...

  19. 12 Nixon and the Jews
    (pp. 127-130)

    NIXON HAD STRONG FEELINGS and often privately expressed them in profane ways; when these comments became public on the Watergate tapes, his reputation for tolerance and fairness was damaged. One area of sustained debate and controversy that pursued Nixon during his political life was his relationship with Jews and the Jewish community.

    While Nixon never made any remarks that could be construed as anti-Semitic in my presence, I know that he believed that he had been treated unfairly by some members of the American Jewish community. Nixon also asked similar questions regarding the unfairness of other groups who opposed his...

  20. 13 Nixon and Kissinger
    (pp. 131-136)

    MY NEXT VISIT TO LA CASA PACIFICA was on January 24, 1975. I was directed by Secret Service to the office compound of the former Western White House, where I found Nixon dressed in a sports outfit and looking better than he had in a long time. Nixon’s color was returning; his physical stamina and mental attitude seemed much improved. However, I was very seriously concerned about the ultimate outcome of Nixon’s turbulent inner struggle and shattering confrontation with the dark forces of despair.

    For even after my vindication by the Sirica panel, which meant that Nixon did not have...

  21. 14 Regimen for Recovery
    (pp. 137-144)

    ON THE AFTERNOON OF KISSINGER’S VISIT, I noted Nixon’s immediate interest and renewed vigor in answering my questions, indicating that he was beginning to recover. In fact, my impression was that Nixon had shown the greatest amount of improvement in the shortest period of time since his serious illness began. Under these favorable conditions, I assessed that it was time to plan his future rehabilitation program.

    “Dick,” I began, “I feel it’s time to outline your longterm recovery program.” He answered: “Okay, Jack, let’s have it.” I replied, “My main priority is your health, both physical and mental. This means...

  22. 15 Dreadful Summoners
    (pp. 145-150)

    NIXON’S FINANCIALLY DIFFICULT SITUATION continued, even though he had received a large advance on his memoirs. His legal expenses were enormous, so out of necessity he agreed to do a series of televised interviews with the English journalist David Frost. Such major media undertakings demand underwriting by international insurers. The insurer indemnified the project investment and its successful conclusion, contingent on Nixon remaining healthy throughout the project.

    On January 9, 1976, my son Brian drove me to La Casa Pacifica, primarily for my regularly scheduled visit to examine Nixon but also to meet Dr. Morey Blocker, medical director of the...

  23. 16 Nixon in China
    (pp. 151-158)

    ON FEBRUARY 21, 1972, George Washington’s birthday, it was very cold in Beijing. The airport was closed to all air traffic except for the arrival of the President of the United States. Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao Zedong’s personal physician, observed the momentous meeting of Nixon and Mao from the entrance hall next to Mao’s study. The “Red Flag limousine” pulled up with Nixon and Zhou Enlai inside. Nixon entered the residence first. Kissinger followed. According to Dr. Li Zhisui, Nixon was escorted so quickly into the residence that the Secret Service lost contact with him and did not know where...

  24. 17 Pat Nixon and The Final Days
    (pp. 159-166)

    MIKE WALLACE, THE CBS TELEVISION reporter who has covered most of the world’s great personalities during the second half of the twentieth century, once told evangelist Billy Graham that of all the people he had ever met, he admired Pat Nixon the most.¹ Wallace’s testimony is not surprising to those who knew Patricia Thelma Ryan Nixon. As her personal physician, I had the privilege of witnessing Pat Nixon’s extraordinary, courageous conduct at close range, especially during ten years of physical illness and severe emotional distress from 1971 to 1980.

    Four days after the nation’s bicentennial on July 8,1976, I admitted...

  25. 18 New Glory
    (pp. 167-182)

    FATE’S WHEEL OF FIRE brought Richard Nixon to the far radius of human anguish and exile. Andre Malraux wrote to Whittaker Chambers after readingWitness,Chambers’s classic autobiography of a soul in conflict: “You are one of those who did not return from Hell with empty hands.”¹

    Neither did Richard Nixon.

    The former president’s life is the biography of a soul in spiritual and moral conflict emancipating itself. Nixon never yields—though severely tempted and pushed—to the dark, destructive forces of alienation and despair. It is as if Nixon had a primal understanding of what he had to do...

  26. Appendix
    (pp. 183-190)
  27. Notes
    (pp. 191-196)
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-202)
  29. Index
    (pp. 203-220)