It’s been more than a week since U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye was admitted to the hospital, yet his status as of Thursday remained closely guarded.
On Monday, Inouye was quoted in publications across the country as saying he was “for the most part” OK.
But since then, the public has received little information about Inouye, who is without question Hawaii’s most powerful political leader and, as the man third in line to be president, also an important national figure.
Reached late Thursday in Washington, Peter Boylan, Inouye’s deputy chief of staff, said there were no updates to the senator’s status. He said it was not known when Inouye might be released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the senator is now a patient.
Indeed, news of Inouye’s hospitalization did not surface until four days after he first entered George Washington University Hospital on Dec. 6 after fainting.
What we’ve learned since that time is that Inouye has been using an “oxygen supplement” for nine months and sometimes using a wheelchair to get around the Capitol for even longer.
These details were not known widely prior to Inouye’s hospitalization, and in many ways highlight the fact that the 88-year-old is showing his age.
“I will update everybody when there is more,” Boylan said. “There is nothing new from the last time the press had a report.”
Boylan confirmed that Inouye has had wheelchair assistance around the Capitol for nearly a year. He said doctors advised Inouye to use a wheelchair to preserve his knees.
The “oxygen supplement,” meanwhile, is not an oxygen bottle and mask as are used commonly outside of hospitals, but rather a device similar to an air purifier.
“It is concentrated oxygen from a separate unit that the senator uses whenever he has trouble breathing,” said Boylan.
The device is needed because Inouye was misdiagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1960s and had “a sizeable portion” of his left lung removed, according to Boylan.
Civil Beat called Walter Reed several times Monday to check on Inouye’s condition, and was directed to medical ICU on each occasion.
Subsequent attempts to check on his status were directed to the hospital’s public affairs office. A spokeswoman said she was unable to release any information Thursday.
Asked if the senator had been in intensive care, Boylan said, “Not that I know of.” He directed inquiries on the matter to hospital public affairs. He also said he didn’t know why Civil Beat was referred to ICU.
It’s the second time in recent weeks the senator has needed medical care. Last month, Inouye slipped in the bathroom of his Maryland home and required stitches to his head.
In Inouye’s absence, the business of Washington continues.
Earlier this week, the senator was reappointed chairman of the Appropriations Committee and will again serve on the committees for Rules and Indian Affairs. Committee assignments will be finalized by the full Senate when the 113th Congress convenes in early January.
But Inouye is not voting. He was not present Thursday when the Senate confirmed Lorna G. Schofield of New York to be a U.S. District Court judge.