By Dr. Marc Siegel
A seasoned physician will tell you that she can’t tell that much about a person’s health just be looking at a video. Don’t get me wrong, yellow skin or eyes can mean a failing liver, pale skin can signify anemia, and sweating can be a sign of infection.
But these are vague clues. Bowe Bergdahl’s rapid blinking in the video the Taliban released is not medically meaningful. Politicians saying he looked sick or drugged or at death’s door is also not medically relevant. Without specific medical “intel” in the form of a physical exam, X-rays, EKG, urine and blood tests, blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature, it is impossible to make a diagnosis or determine that a person is in imminent medical danger from infection, malnutrition, or dehydration.
President Obama’s (and Defense Secretary Hagel’s) statements earlier this week that “we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health” is at best dangerous speculation and at worst a deliberate smokescreen to provide political cover.
This is why President Obama’s (and Defense Secretary Hagel’s) statements earlier this week that “we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health” is at best dangerous speculation and at worst a deliberate smokescreen to provide political cover.
As a physician with many years of experience it is easy for me to look at the latest videos of Bergdahl since his release from the Taliban and tell you that he is awake, alert, and in no acute distress. He appears to be in good health, but I would need to examine him and review his test results to confirm this.
President Obama is not a physician and should not have traded for a prisoner based partly on health reasons without real physicians examining the patient and relaying medical facts.
Of course, there is no way an American physician could have examined him and no way our government could have obtained actual health records, which is precisely why our leaders should not have been speculating about Bergdahl’s health, either as a trumped up justification for the prisoner exchange, or again now.