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Trump’s doctor’s comments on symptoms, care spark confusion

For the second day in a row, the Navy commander in charge of President Donald Trump’s care left the world wondering: Just how sick is the president?

Dr. Sean Conley is trained in emergency medicine, not infectious disease, but he has a long list of specialists helping determine Trump’s treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Conley said Sunday that Trump is doing well enough that he might be sent back to the White House in another day — even as he announced the president was given a steroid drug that’s only recommended for the very sick.

Worse, steroids like dexamethasone tamp down important immune cells, raising concern about whether the treatment choice might hamper the ability of the president’s body to fight the virus.

Then there’s the question of public trust: Conley acknowledged that that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president’s condition in his first briefing of the weekend “and in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”

In fact, Conley refused to directly answer on Saturday whether the president had been given any oxygen — only to admit the next day that he had ordered oxygen for Trump on Friday morning.

It’s puzzling even for outside specialists.

“It’s a little unusual to have to guess what’s really going on because the clinical descriptions are so vague,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s chief medical and science officer. With the steroid news, “there’s a little bit of a disconnect.”

Conley has been Trump’s physician since 2018 — and already has experienced some criticism about his decisions. In May, Conley prescribed Trump a two-week course of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against the coronavirus after two White House staffers had tested positive. Rigorous studies have made clear that hydroxychloroquine, which Trump long championed, does no good in either treating or preventing COVID-19.

This time around, Conley is being put to an even greater test, trying to balance informing a public that needs honesty about the condition of the president with a patient who dislikes appearing vulnerable.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army medical corps as a brigadier general, said Conley would be obliged to follow Trump’s wishes regarding what information about his condition is released publicly, as is true in any doctor-patient relationship.

But Conley as a military medical officer is bound to adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits lying, he said.

A number of current and former military officials declined to comment on the record, referring all questions to the White House. But several said they were concerned that Conley’s efforts to spin a more upbeat characterization of the president’s current health condition is raising flags within the Navy about his credibility and the reputation of the Navy’s medical team. They said his admission that he tried to give an optimistic description of Trump’s condition may lead the public to question future information