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One of the First Lady's last calls Friday night was to Donald Regan, at about 10:15. Her voice suggested that she was on the verge of tears, "but she kept her composure," says one White House insider. Bush phoned about the same time from Kennebunkport, where he had gone after addressing a Republican fund-raising dinner in Boston. The Vice President complained to Regan that "it looks like Disneyland outside" because of the TV crews camped around his vacation home. Bush was aware of the preparations to make him in effect acting President, but had not participated in them. White House aides, following their instinctive urge to do everything possible to avoid raising public concern about their Chief, had been urging Bush to stay in Maine, but the Vice President would have none of it. "I just don't feel right sitting up here," he told Regan. "I would rather be close."
The President had settled down in his suite of five large, airy but rather impersonal rooms. It is furnished with several comfortable armchairs, but the President slept on a standard metal hospital bed. Before dropping off, he was put through the battery of tests drearily familiar to anyone who has been prepared for major surgery: chest X ray, electrocardiogram and CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan, a kind of super X ray of a large portion of the body. The scan showed no sign of cancer outside the colon. The tests ended about 11 p.m.; Reagan then read for a while (what, no one would say) and fell asleep a bit after midnight. He was awakened at 5 a.m. Saturday for an antibiotic, and went back to sleep for another three hours.
The Bethesda hospital on Saturday morning became a mini-White House, with a full complement of Secret Service and military guards and a hastily rigged press and TV briefing room. Donald Regan arrived at around 7 a.m., an hour before his boss woke up to shave. Nancy got there about 9, wearing an Adolfo dress in her favorite cheery red. National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane had slipped in a side door a bit earlier. He gave Reagan, clad in lime green pajamas, his regular morning intelligence briefing, and several aides dropped by to discuss the weekly legislative calendar.
The budget battle dogged Reagan all the way to the hospital. Reflecting the ire of other Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Robert Dole on Friday had publicly attacked the White House for "surrendering to the deficit" by dropping its support for the Senate's plan to freeze Social Security benefits for one year. Dole's remark, quoted in the Saturday-morning papers, stirred Reagan's wrath as he lay in bed only two hours away from surgery. He adamantly insisted to Regan that the Senate majority leader, and the public, be disabused of the notion that the White House was caving in. The chief of staff later called Dole to express the President's unhappiness with what Regan described as the Senator's "unkind remark."