Anybody who paid even the smallest amount of attention to the 2022 PA Senate campaign knows that John Fetterman had no business running for anything, not even a dogcatcher. The man is so unhealthy. But, if you said that during the campaign, you were called a terrible person for even suggesting this. Now, he’s in a hospital, suffering from dizziness and The New York Times is reporting that Fetterman is having a hard time dusting to life in the senate, and says when people talk, they sound like the teacher from the “Peanuts” show to him.
But his adjustment to serving in the Senate has been made vastly more difficult by the strains of his recovery, which left him with a physical impairment and serious mental health challenges that have rendered the transition extraordinarily challenging — even with the accommodations that have been made to help him adapt.
“What you’re supposed to do to recover from this is do as little as possible,” said Adam Jentleson, his chief of staff. Instead, Mr. Fetterman “was forced to do as much as possible — he had to get back to the campaign trail. It’s hard to claw that back.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Fetterman was hospitalized after feeling lightheaded while attending a daylong Senate Democratic retreat in Washington. Tests showed no signs of another stroke and his spokesman said he was in good spirits, talking to family and staff members. But he spent a second night in the hospital on Thursday as doctors monitored him for seizures.
The latest health scare convinced his staff that Mr. Fetterman needs a better plan to take care of himself, both physically and emotionally.
Mr. Fetterman declined to be interviewed for this story. But aides and confidantes describe his introduction to the Senate as a difficult period, filled with unfamiliar duties that are taxing for someone still in recovery: meetings with constituents, attending caucus and committee meetings, appearing in public at White House events and at the State of the Union address, as well as making appearances in Pennsylvania.
The most evident disability is a neurological condition that impairs his hearing. Mr. Fetterman suffers from auditory processing issues, forcing him to rely primarily on a tablet to transcribe what is being said to him. The hearing issues are inconsistent; they often get worse when he is in a stressful or unfamiliar situation. When it’s bad, Mr. Fetterman has described it as trying to make out the muffled voice of the teacher in the “Peanuts” cartoon, whose words could never be deciphered.
The stroke — after which he had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted — also took a less apparent but very real psychological toll on Mr. Fetterman. It has been less than a year since the stroke transformed him from someone with a large stature that suggested machismo — a central part of his political identity — into a physically altered version of himself, and he is frustrated at times that he is not yet back to the man he once was. He has had to come to terms with the fact that he may have set himself back permanently by not taking the recommended amount of rest during the campaign. And he continues to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental.
“It is stressful, having to go through that experience in the context of the most high-profile Senate race in the country,” said Mr. Jentleson.
As Mr. Fetterman adjusts to his new life, the Senate and his colleagues are also adjusting to his special needs.
“We’re going to have to learn our own styles with it,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, who said she experimented with the tablet at a recent Democratic caucus lunch. “What I was saying was accurate even when I talked fast. I wanted to make sure it was accurate. It was kind of to imagine what it would be like to be him.”
“He answers like you would answer anyone,” Ms. Klobuchar added. “It’s us that have to get used to it; he’s used to it.”
The ongoing hearing issue means Mr. Fetterman cannot partake in the hallway scrums with journalists that are part of most lawmakers’ daily existence in the Capitol. He typically walks around the building with many staffers, in part because he needs assistants to test his technological setup before he enters any room and in part because they’re all still learning their way around the building.
This man should have not been allowed to run for office. There should be some “bar” that people need to meet before they can even attempt to serve the public.
The same goes for the dementia patient in the White House.
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