Originally created 09/14/99

Thurmond returns to Senate duties



U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond banged his gavel and brought the Senate to order at noon Monday, two hours after being released from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he spent the weekend.

The two-night stay under observation was the South Carolina Republican's eighth hospital visit in three months, his staff confirmed. This time, he was admitted with complaints of feeling fatigued.

But the 96-year-old senator showed no sign of frailty Monday, aide John DeCrosta said. He called from Walter Reed at about 10 a.m. to say he needed a car sent around to bring him to work.

He also asked for a razor to spruce up on the way, and during the day he took a steam bath in the Senate gym.

He also dropped by the Senate physician's office to check his blood pressure, a daily habit. And he dropped into the office of Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., to speak to the receptionist.

While the Senate was in session he was there, however, including during a series of stacked votes at 5 p.m.

The senator and his staff were nonplussed by the flurry of press inquiries about hospital visits that were not reported in recent weeks.

There were five of short duration, a few hours at most, on weekends, Mr. DeCrosta confirmed. But he said they were all for minor complaints.

"The senator is gratified that people are concerned for his welfare," he said. "But he is 96. He sometimes has aches and pains, and like the health-conscious person he is, he checks them out. If these things occur while the Senate is in session, during the week, he drops in to see the Senate physician. On the weekends, his doctors are at Walter Reed, and that's where he goes."

This weekend, the senator was admitted only because his doctors wanted to be sure they hadn't missed anything in the aftermath of his recent prostate surgery.

"They want to know why he is feeling fatigued," Mr. DeCrosta said. "Despite his age, fatigue is unusual for him. But no one thinks he is seriously ill."

The senator was not available for comment because he was in the Senate.

Mr. Thurmond repeatedly has said he plans to finish this term, which ends in 2002.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.