Last week the longtime U.S. Senator returned to D.C. for the first time since February after recovering from shingles. Feinstein, who is the oldest member to ever serve in the Senate at 89, announced that she plans to retire at the end of 2024.
As rumors swirled about Feinstein’s health, it appears things may have taken a turn for the worse.
The New York Times reported:
Using a wheelchair, with the left side of her face frozen and one eye nearly shut, she seemed disoriented as an aide steered her through the marble corridors of the Senate, complaining audibly that something was stuck in her eye.
Ms. Feinstein’s frail appearance was a result of several complications after she was hospitalized for shingles in February, some of which she has not publicly disclosed. The shingles spread to her face and neck, causing vision and balance impairments and facial paralysis known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome. The virus also brought on a previously unreported case of encephalitis, a rare but potentially debilitating complication of shingles that a spokesman confirmed on Thursday after The New York Times first revealed it, saying that the condition had “resolved itself” in March.
Characterized by swelling of the brain, post-shingles encephalitis can leave patients with lasting memory or language problems, sleep disorders, bouts of confusion, mood disorders, headaches and difficulties walking. Older patients tend to have the most trouble recovering. And even before this latest illness, Ms. Feinstein had already suffered substantial memory issues that had raised questions about her mental capacity…
In the statement provided after The Times’s article was published on Thursday, Ms. Feinstein’s spokesman acknowledged that the senator continued to suffer the effects of Ramsay Hunt syndrome.
Both Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis can have a range of severity and potential long-term impacts on an individual’s health and well-being. The recovery process varies from person to person, as older patients may experience more challenges in their recovery.
On Thursday, audio was released of an exchange showcasing Feinstein’s clear lack of acuity.
REPORTER: “How have they felt about you returning?”
FEINSTEIN: “No, I haven’t been gone. You should follow the— I haven’t been gone. I’ve been working.”
REPORTER: “Working from home is what you’re saying?”
FEINSTEIN: “No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting.”
Slate’s Jim Newell wrote:
After deflecting one final question about those, like Rep. Ro Khanna, who’ve called on her to resign, she was wheeled away.
It is true that Feinstein has been in Washington and voting for the past week, while coming to committee hearings on a need-to-be-there basis. Last Thursday, for example, she attended a Judiciary Committee hearing to approve several partisan nominees who had been held back by her absence. That—as well as close nomination votes on the full Senate floor—is all that Democrats need from her at the moment.
But it is not true that she had been “here,” in a physical sense, for the two-and-a-half-month stretch between February and last week. It was odd for that to skip her mind. The senator’s absence, and her insistence on not resigning, has been one of the biggest political stories of the year, given her critical role not just on the Judiciary Committee but as a pivotal Democratic vote in the full body.