The battle of wounded knee takes toll on golfing Clinton

Click to follow
It was to be a president's perfect Florida spring break: sunshine, some gentle fundraising, and lots and lots of golf. For Bill Clinton however, it ended in the agony of a torn knee tendon, a premature return home in a wheelchair and the prospect of a month or more on crutches.

The calamity occurred at 1.20am yesterday, when Mr Clinton stumbled going down steps on the West Palm Beach estate of Greg Norman, friend and golfing superstar, with whom he played a round during his recent official visit to Australia. The President "felt something go pop", according to his spokesman. He was taken to hospital, where he was given painkillers - "non-narcotic", aides noted, mindful of the man who once smoked dope ... but did not inhale.

After being ferried back to Washington on Air Force One yesterday, a wincing Mr Clinton was helped in to a security-service van for the short trip to the Naval Hospital in suburban Bethesda, where presidents traditionally are treated. Surgery to re-attach the tendon to the right thigh bone was carried out during the afternoon. The prognosis is full recovery, but not before much inconvenience. Aides said he was in good spirits and determined to keep a summit date with Boris Yeltsin, and dreaming of golfing and jogging again.

For the operation only local anaesthetic was used, meaning Mr Clinton remained conscious and did not have to transfer power temporarily to the Vice- President, Al Gore, under the 25th Amendment. But he will be using a knee brace and crutches, doctors say, for four to six weeks, and his immediate work schedule is in much doubt.

For the moment at least, the summit with Mr Yeltsin next week is still on, as is Mr Gore's important trip to China later this month. "You bet," was Mr Clinton's reply when asked if he would still be going to Helsinki for what now bodes to be an invalids' reunion.

By the standards of recent presidential stays in Bethesda, Mr Clinton's is small beer - nothing to compare with Ronald Reagan's colon cancer or near- assassination, or George Bush's heart fibrillation in 1991, which fleetingly raised the spectre of Dan Quayle in the Oval Office. Even so, this most golf- addicted of presidents will not be swinging a club for a good while thereafter - be it in Finland, Florida or anywhere else. Rupert Cornwell, Washington