Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who missed more than 90 Senate votes after she was hospitalized for shingles earlier this year, suffered from swelling of the brain and facial paralysis, two anonymous sources familiar with her diagnosis told The New York Times.
The 89-year-old senator suffered post-shingles encephalitis, the Times reported, a rare but severe complication that can bring about headaches, mental confusion, memory or speech and language problems, impaired movement, irritability, and personality or behavioral changes.
She also reportedly developed Ramsay Hunt syndrome—a neurological condition that paralyzes the face and leads to hearing issues in older patients—after the shingles crept up to her face and neck.
In public, however, Feinstein has refused to divulge many details about her shingles bout and even made strange remarks to reporters this week, insisting that she hadn’t been absent from the Senate at all. The exchange reportedly turned “feisty” when a journalist asked her to elaborate.
“No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting,” she replied. “You either know or don’t know.”
Feinstein was absent from D.C. for three months after being hospitalized in February, leading her to miss crucial Senate votes, including judicial nominations. It prompted calls from her progressive colleagues for Feinstein to resign.
Upon her return to the Senate floor last week, Feinstein looked frailer than ever, and her physical and mental fitness came back into the spotlight. She entered the Senate in a wheelchair, with one side of her face still paralyzed and one eye barely open. She “seemed disoriented as an aide steered her through the marble corridors” and complained “audibly that something was stuck in her eye,” the Times reported.
But Feinstein remains steadfast in staying put and has reportedly rebuffed any suggestions of resigning—even refusing to take calls or visits from various high-ranking Democrats who wanted to speak to her as she was recovering in San Francisco.
While Feinstein will retire at the end of 2024, the latest revelations about her illness have people close to her wondering if she will make it for another year.
“I admire the senator deeply, and I am sorry she is so not well,” Democratic party mega-donor Susie Tompkins Buell told the Times. “The Senate has critical, challenging work to do, and as the stakes are so high and she is not able to be present, to be informed and active, let alone have the rest she needs in order to recover, I feel she needs to step down. And yet she isn’t willing in this state of mind.”
Her office declined to comment to the Times but provided a vague statement on her behalf.
“I’m back in Washington, voting and attending committee meetings while I recover from complications related to a shingles diagnosis,” the statement said. “I continue to work and get results for California.”
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