George H.W. Bush: Vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister

Japan puke
In January 1992, while at a formal dinner in Japan, Bush became ill. He vomited on the Prime Minister of Japan, then fainted. Earlier in the evening, Bush had told his physician he was feeling unwell 1a. Bush disregarded Dr. Burton Lee's advice to skip the dinner 2 MORE.

It proved to be nothing more than "the flu," but coming on the heels of Bush's diagnoses of atrial fibrillation and Graves disease in the preceding 12 months, there was concern over his physical health SEE BELOW.

Comment: During the episode Bush had the appearance of a man suffering an inferior-wall myocardial infarction. An electrocardiogram was, however, normal. It's not clear what the Japanese Prime Minister thought of all this. One is left to ponder the immortal line from the immortal movie Animal House: "Flounder, you didn't just throw up in front of Dean Wormer, you threw up on Dean Wormer!"

Interestingly, Bush's son George W. Bush also suffered a syncopal episode while President.

The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan in Tokyo 3
January 9, 1992 [92010902]


Q. Mr. President, people all around the world yesterday saw some very disturbing video of you collapsing in apparently very severe distress that many of us are not accustomed to when we see people with the flu. Can you describe what you were experiencing there? And also, can you say that your doctors have conclusively ruled out anything other than the flu, or will there be further tests?

The President. No further tests. Totally ruled out anything other than the 24-hour flu. I've had an EKG, perfectly normal. I've had blood pressure taken and probing around in all kinds of ways. And it's all going very well, indeed. And I got a call from Bill Webster today, former head of CIA. I didn't take it, but somebody passed it along, and he told me of exactly the same thing happening to him where he went in and totally collapsed.

So, this is the flu. I'm very fortunate that in all the years that I've been President, I don't think I've had much of it. And so, let me just take this question and then reassure the American people and others that have expressed so much interest that that's all there is to it. Nothing else to it.

And somebody asked me earlier, am I going to slow down my schedule? I don't think it has anything to do with speed or slowness of the schedule. One of the businessmen, who is young and aggressive and eager, this morning -- a young guy on this trip -- got it. I understand some of the journalists have had flu. And people in our country have had it, so why isn't the President entitled to 24 hours? [Laughter]

But really, I'm glad to get the question because they've done all the checking in the world. The heart is normal, the thyroid, or whatever is left of it, is going fine, and -- [laughter] -- I really have no hesitancy or worry at all.

Q. Are you at all concerned that now that you've had two quite, sort of public health episodes, that some of the Democratic political opponents who are a lot younger than you might make a subtle issue out of the fact that you're somewhat older and perhaps you, because of your hectic schedule -- --

The President. Do you think only old people get the flu, Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press]? Do you think only old people get the flu? I think Democrats get the flu from time to time. [Laughter] So, I wouldn't worry about that. I think it would backfire if somebody tried to make an issue. I've been blessed by a good, strong physical condition. I played tennis yesterday and then, wham, got hit with the flu. But that's perfectly normal. So, I don't think there's any political downside.

I have always said that if I felt I couldn't do my job for some physical reason, I wouldn't run for President. But all signals are still go.


Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
    a  p.294

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

  2. Hedger B. White coats in the White House: Former presidential physicians reflect on their service. AMedNews. Mar. 23, 2009.


  3. White House Press Release. [various topics]. George H.W. Bush Public Papers. (Kept in the Bush Presidential Library, College Station, TX).

    Comment: Downloaded 26-27 November 2003 from:

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