White House physician tells all

“The White House Doctor” by Dr. Connie Mariano, c. 2010, Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 300 pages, includes index.

You’ve worked with a lot of people in your life. But there’s one you’ll never forget.

He’s the one who gently corrected you just before you embarrassed yourself. She never made you feel like the bonehead you were. He fed you pointers and help. She fed you lunch more than once.

You called them boss, but “friend” was equally appropriate.

Dr. Connie Mariano had two bosses like that, both of them known around the office as POTUS: President of the United States. In her new book “The White House Doctor” she tells about nine years at work and the two administrations she administered to.

It always seemed that Mariano stood in the shadow of the U.S. government. Her father was a Navy steward to Vice Admiral Hugh Goodwin and his wife. Mariano’s uncle was a Navy steward at the White House during the Kennedy Administration. Mariano herself was a Navy doctor who spent time aboard ships, caring for the crew. But when she was tapped for the position of junior doctor for the first Bush Administration, she was surprised.

For the last year of Bush’s tenure in office, Mariano dispensed band-aids, followed the First Patient, and followed orders. When Bill Clinton was elected, she briefly feared losing her job but was pleased when asked to lead the department.

Her family, however, wasn’t so pleased.

Mariano had promised her husband and sons that they’d return to their beloved San Diego after her two-year tour as White House physician ended. Two years became four, became six, became nine.

Still, it was a dream job with limitless opportunities. Mariano traveled all over the world as the “White House bag lady” who toted medical supplies and devices wherever the president went, “just in case.” The job demanded long hours, but she forged lifelong friendships – including those with both presidential families. She rose to the highest rank that any female Filipino-American Navy officer had ever achieved. But when it was over, she had hard reflections.

“I had been missing in action for nine years to take care of the first family,” she says. “Would my real family still need me when I finally came home to stay?”

So you think you’ve got a tough boss? Ha! Try answering to the leader of the free world.

Being the physician to POTUS is one of those demanding-but-necessary (and fun!) jobs that nobody thinks about, and Mariano does well in explaining the day-to-day of it, as well as the exhausting, 38-hour-day bits. Hers was a job that required “invisibility” with constant presence and – talk about pressure – knowing that “it is not a matter of if the president is attacked but when.”

Aside from one annoyance – an incessant reminder of her father’s service – I really enjoyed this peek inside the best-known house in the land. Whether Democrat or Republican, Bush or Clinton, I think you’ll like it too, so grab a copy of “The White House Doctor.” For politicos, medicos, or anybody who’s just plain curious, this book works.

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