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Just how serious is former President George H.W. Bush's condition?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's been more than a month since former President George H.W. Bush was admitted to the hospital for a bronchitis-related cough.

Doctors and family members had hoped he would be home before Christmas, but that didn't happen, and on Wednesday, we learned he has actually been in an intensive care unit since Sunday.

So how serious is the former president's condition? We talked to an ICU director at one of Houston's busiest hospitals for her thoughts on what the move to ICU may mean for President Bush.

The former president is said to have a "stubborn" fever.

"Any kind of persistent fever can mean either the patient is not responding well to the infection or that they have a new infection," said Dr. Bela Patel, the director of critical care at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Dr. Patel says the persistent fever plus his age, at 88, would make doctors more likely to move the former president to the intensive care unit, where he can be more carefully monitored.

New reports say the former president is also on a liquid diet.

"It could be clear liquids, which is different types of jellos or juices, or it could be full liquids, which are soups," Dr. Patel said.

Dr. Patel doesn't read anything ominous into his admission to the ICU. She says sometimes it just takes people who are in their 80s longer to recover, and the ICU's 24-7 monitoring keeps them safer.

"Obviously I'm not the treating physician. However, any patient who is able to tolerate a clear liquid diet is able to feed themselves and likely not on a breathing machine," she said. "That is a good sign, because the patient is able to maintain their respiratory status without needing aggressive intervention."

Dr. Patel says a liquid diet doesn't mean Bush's condition has worsened. She says liquid diets are easier to digest, and the diet actually tells her something positive about the former president's condition.

"It doesn't necessarily mean a poor prognosis or something of great concern; it just means that minor setbacks may require additional care and additional monitoring," she said.

Doctors we spoke with say they figure the former president's bronchitis is gone and he is likely battling a secondary infection. They think his move to the ICU was made out of extreme caution.

Bush's spokesperson Jim McGrath says he will give an official update on the former president's condition if there is a change.

If you would like to send a get well card to President George H.W. Bush you can send it to:

    George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
    Attn: President George Bush
    1000 George Bush Drive West
    College Station, TX 77845

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