Biden developed a headache and nausea while making a campaign speech in Nashua, NH
during his 1988 run for the presidency. He left the speaking podium mid-speech
and went to a bathroom where the headache became almost unbearably intense and
he dry-heaved. After some minutes, he returned to the podium and completed the
speech, though not in his best form.
(This must have been before Sept. 1987,
when he ended his campaign.)
Some time in early 1988, Biden was "working out on a shoulder press weight
machine in the Senate gym when a pain shot through his neck. On the train
home to Wilmington, Del., the neck pain returned more severely. His head ached.
The right side of his body went numb. A doctor later diagnosed a pinched nerve,
and a pain clinic prescribed a neck brace."
(In retrospect, this was likely another early symptom of the leaking aneurysm.)
On Feb. 10, 1988, in his hotel room after a campaign appearance in Rochester, NY,
Biden suffered a classic "thunderclap headache:" the sudden onset of
indescribably severe pain. He lost consciousness (for 5 hours
but recovered and went to the
bathroom where he again experienced dry heaving before falling asleep for the night.
Returning home to Delaware with difficulty the next day, he continued to have pain,
but believed he could catch his scheduled afternoon flight. He was convinced to go to the
hospital (St. Francis, Wilmington, DE), where a spinal tap disclosed blood in his
spinal fluid -- a clear sign of a bleeding in the brain.
Too fragile for a helicopter ride (plus it was too snowy), he was driven by
ambulance to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, though not without getting lost.
By dawn the next day he was in the ICU.
An angiogram showed an aneurysm in the left side of the brain -- the side that
controls speech. Given a 50-50 chance of survival, and the last rights,
then operated on him for nine hours. The aneurysm ruptured "the moment they
cut into Biden's head." Luckily, the blood jeted toward the wall of his skull,
not into his brain. By the next morning, Biden told a staffer, "I'm gonna be
However, his post-operative course was complicated by
serious blood clots
The left side of the brain also controls almost all movements
of the right side of the body.
After the operation, Biden's right upper eyelid drooped and the
right side of his forehead was immobile. Six weeks after the operation,
"the muscles in his forehead and cheek began to work again."
Biden was away from work (the Senate) for seven months
Biden had ended his presidential campaign in September 1987.
Family members believed that
he would have died had he still been a candidate on the following Feb. 10 --
because he would have undoubtedly refused to leave the campaign trail
and get medical attention