"What's wrong with Dave Reichert's brain?" That's the question media and political types keep asking each other about the three-term congressman after a string of canceled appearances and a handful of disastrous ones. And the longer Reichert keeps avoiding editorial boards and other interviews, the more this speculation is going to grow.
Of course, we all know about Reichert's head injury, which required surgery last March to relieve pressure on his brain. At the time of his hospitalization, Reichert's office attempted to minimize the incident:
"Congressman Dave Reichert was admitted to George Washington University Hospital yesterday after feeling ill. Following an evaluation, doctors performed a procedure to address a chronic subdural hematoma that was likely the result of a minor head injury. The procedure was successful, and he is expected to make a full and complete recovery."
"Feeling ill," "minor head injury," "complete recovery" and all that. Nothing to be alarmed about.
Yet in one of his rare recent interviews, Reichert remarkably revealed to KING-5's Robert Mak that the injury was far from minor. In fact, according to Reichert, he almost died.
"The right side of my upper body went numb, my right arm went numb, right side of my cheek and neck went numb, and so the macho male and I think the cop thing in me is trying to (say) 'come on, you can, come back to life here,' and I thought maybe I'll just go to the doctors. So I went to the doctor, they said let's go to the hospital, the hospital did a C-T scan, this is at G-W, George Washington University in D.C., CAT scan discovered a blood, a pool of blood on the left side of my brain about the size of my hand, it had pushed my brain to the right side, quite a bit, and so they had to do emergency surgery. They drilled, I think, four holes in my head, and so I had some titanium plugs in my skull."
A pool of blood the size of his hand? Inside his skull? And the muscle-bound Reichert's hands are kinda big.
But perhaps the most startling revelation in Reichert's KING-5 interview is that...
... rather than being the result of a recent injury, as I myself had inferred from the initial reports, the accident actually occurred months before his emergency surgery. Indeed, despite a persistent headache, Reichert had been blithely walking around—and casting votes—with a bleeding, compressed brain for at least two months. You know, at least until the right side of his body went numb.
Now just try to visualize that for a moment. Imagine taking your hand and inserting it inside your skull, just to the right of your brain. I'm guessing you might suffer from quite a bit more than just a little headache.
In fact, according to the Neurosurgery FAQ on the UCLA Health System's web site, headache, memory impairment, confusion and paralysis are just a few of the many possible symptoms of a "chronic subdural hematoma" like Reichert's, an often serious condition UCLA describes as such:
A chronic subdural hematoma (SDH) is an old clot of blood on the surface of the brain beneath its outer covering.
These liquefied clots most often occur in patients age 60 and older who have brain atrophy, a shrinking or wasting away of brain tissue due to age or disease. When the brain shrinks inside the skull over time, minor head trauma can cause tearing of blood vessels over the brain surface, resulting in a slow accumulation of blood over several days to weeks.
Because of the brain atrophy, the liquefied blood clots can become quite large before they cause symptoms.
Less than half of patients remember the traumatic event itself because even relatively trivial trauma, such as a minor bump on the head, can produce these slow hemorrhages.
Sixty-year-old Reichert, it should be noted, does not recall the accident that caused his injury.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Reichert's hand-sized cerebral blood clot is necessarily an indication of prior brain atrophy or wasting, or that such a severe head injury, untreated as it was for two months, would have certainly caused permanent impairment. As UCLA notes, recovery after brain injury varies widely, and...
Overall, 80 percent to 90 percent of patients have significant brain function improvement after drainage of a chronic SDH.
Those strike me as pretty damn good odds of "significant brain function improvement." Not "total," not "complete" but "significant." And sure enough, Reichert's paralysis quickly receded along with the pressure on his brain, as did, presumably, his persistent headaches.
But extended or even permanent impairment is far from out of the question, especially considering, as the UCLA website notes elsewhere, that factors known to diminish recovery include:
"... older age (after age 50 or 60) ... and prolonged and difficult to control pressure on the brain."
Thus it is not unreasonable to expect that a brain trauma as severe as that described by Reichert, in a man of his age, and untreated for so long, could very well have resulted in some degree of permanent neurological impairment.
Which brings us to Reichert's sparse public schedule this campaign season, and his less than reassuring performance at those few events and interviews he hasn't canceled at the last minute. Perhaps, as Reichert staffers have told some members of the press, they see no reason to put him out there when he already enjoys such a comfortable lead in the polls. I mean, Reichert was never the brightest bulb in halls of power, so why give him an opportunity to make a mistake, right?
Or perhaps, like many patients recovering from a severe brain trauma, Reichert has his good days and his bad days, and in recent weeks, the bad days have been more numerous?
For example, one of those bad days was surely the day Reichert sat down with the Seattle Times for a pre-primary editorial board interview. In their stunning rejection of Reichert in favor of Democrat Suzan DelBene and a little know also-ran, the Seattle Times emphasized the need for a "capable ... representative with vision, a sharp grasp of the issues and the ability to lead."
On issues ranging from the wars to the economy, three-term Republican incumbent Reichert is unstudied and comes up short. After six years in office, this is unacceptable. Reichert opposed financial reform, but was unable to explain what he did or did not like about the legislation. The 8th District deserves someone who is faster on their feet.
Is this really the same Dave Reichert the Seattle Times enthusiastically endorsed the last two elections? Well, perhaps not. For six weeks after being blasted by the Seattle Times for being unable to explain his opposition to Wall Street reform, Robert Mak asked Reichert the same exact question, and once again Reichert appears to have drawn a blank.
Let's be honest... Dave Reichert has never been the most articulate or coherent congressman ever to grace the stage in either Washington, but this? From a three-term incumbent? On an issue his experienced staff would have been negligent to fail to extensively prep him on following his disastrous response to the Seattle Times ed board? Man... if I were Reichert's handler, I wouldn't let him give anymore interviews either.
And that might explain why they haven't. And it also might explain an August recess—traditionally a six-week stretch of intense campaigning for time-crunched incumbents—in which Reichert repeatedly disappeared from public view for a week or more at a time.
Congress recessed on Aug. 2, and for the first few days back in town Reichert held a couple private "roundtables" and unannounced public appearances, but from Aug. 7 through Aug. 15 he held no events save a brief visit to the Seattle Yacht Club. Reichert then campaigned lightly the next few days, with events on Aug. 16, 17 and 19, only to completely disappear again for another twelve days, before popping up at a US-Korea Chamber of Commerce meeting on Aug. 31.
Reichert then took another six days off from his ungrueling schedule before making appearances at the Auburn Little League homecoming on Sept. 6, and at Auburn Riverside High School and REI corporate headquarters on Sept. 7. Recess ended on Sept. 12.
Altogether that's 11 days of campaigning over 42 days of summer recess, and even these few events often lasted only an hour or less. Furthermore, Reichert's campaign provided almost zero advanced notice before these events (if you happened to have been at the Ashford Food Bank on Aug. 4 when Reichert showed up, you might have had a chance to ask him a question) and for the most part, no press releases after. If you wanted to figure out where Reichert had been, you had to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
But his scarce public presence makes Reichert look downright extroverted compared to his almost nonexistent media availability.
After his pantsing by the Seattle Times, Reichert goes radio silent for the next 14 days, emerging on Aug. 19 to talk to the Seattle P-I's Joel Connelly, who describes him as "vague, nonspecific." Thirteen days later the Puget Sound Business Journal corners him at the US-Korea Chamber event. And then there's Reichert's unsettling KING-5 interview on Sept. 10.
As far as I can tell that's it. So far Reichert hasn't sat down again with the ed boards at either the Seattle Times or the Tacoma News Tribune (I'm told he canceled the TNT interview at the last minute after he heard DelBene would be there), and he hasn't yet agreed to any debates. His pattern seems to be to not say "no," but not to definitively say "yes," only to cancel due to "scheduling conflicts" at the last minute.
And so far our media seems to be willing let him get away with this, without public comment or criticism.
But privately, that's another matter. Nobody wants to go on the record with their speculation, but speculate they do, and long time observers are starting to wonder if Reichert's diminished schedule and his apparently diminished performance may have something to do with a brain injury that now appears to have been much more severe than anybody first imagined. In other words, they're wondering: "What's wrong with Reichert's brain?"
Which leaves me wondering if the 8th CD is on the verge of reelecting a congressman with an... um... intellectual disability.
Of course, Reichert could put these rumors to rest by releasing his medical records and comporting himself well in a public debate or two with DelBene. But unless and until he does this, I expect these rumors to grow.