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Chiles declares: "I feel good'

Gov. Lawton Chiles, dressed in faded navy blue pajamas with red trim, jumped up from his chair to greet reporters who visited his hospital room Thursday.

"I feel good, I'm trying to talk them into letting me out of here," Chiles said as he talked about events that sent him to the hospital with stroke-like symptoms early Wednesday morning.

"It was not a stroke," Dr. Charles G. Maitland, the neurologist treating Chiles, said Thursday after reviewing a series of tests given to the governor Wednesday night.

Doctors found no major blockage in any of the blood vessels that supply Chiles' brain, but noted "minor irregularities" normal for men his age. His blood pressure, 190/110 on Wednesday, was down to 160/90 on Thursday. Normally it is around 140/80, his doctor said.

All of the symptoms that sent Chiles to the hospital are now gone, the doctors noted. His son, Ed Chiles of Bradenton, said his father was "bright, very bushy-tailed," and 98-percent recovered.

Chiles, 65, was taken to Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center after he awakened with slurred speech, a staggering gait and nausea. Doctors say he probably suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA) that could have been a warning for a future stroke.

After his doctors pronounced him much improved and said they will probably let him go home Saturday, Chiles talked with a St. Petersburg Times reporter and a television reporter in his hospital room.

The pool visit was arranged by communications director Ron Sachs to provide outsiders a look at the state's chief executive on a day after he was admitted to the hospital.

Chiles has not turned over the reins of government to others, but did let Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay act as a substitute for him at a news conference Wednesday. As reporters visited his room, Chiles was tackling a reading file of correspondence and information on coming events.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have been among those calling the Chiles family to express concern. Gore talked with Mrs. Chiles late Wednesday night from his mother's bedside in Tennessee where she is recovering from a stroke.

"It was awfully nice of Al to call when his mother had had a stroke," Chiles said.

Rosy-cheeked and cracking jokes, Chiles jumped to his feet to shake hands as reporters entered his hospital cubicle. He said he traded a hospital issued gown with a split down the back for his own pajamas in honor of the visit.

He remains in the hospital's Neuro Intensive Care Unit in a small bare room where he has been since he was admitted shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday. Chiles said he expects to resume a normal schedule next week and still plans to call legislators in for a special session on health care in August despite the heat of summer days in the state Capitol.

"Maybe they need some of this heat," Chiles said. "We could turn the air-conditioning off in the building."

Chiles, an avid outdoorsman with a passion for turkey hunting, said he won't cut back on any of his activities as a result of the attack.

"It looks like I've got to find turkey hunting available during the summer months," Chiles joked. "You didn't ever see me sick during turkey hunting season."

To protect himself against winding up in the hospital again, Chiles said he will be careful when he's out in the hot sun and remember to drink more fluids. His doctor also wants to keep an eye on his blood pressure.

Doctors say the symptoms Chiles experienced may be no more than the effect of a weekend spent fishing in the hot Florida sun without enough fluids, but they cannot rule out a TIA, a small blood clot that temporarily blocked the flow of blood to his brain.

Chiles blamed some of his trouble on a bowl of vanilla and strawberry ice cream he ate just before bed on the Fourth of July, "a mega bowl" said son, Ed.

"Before I went to bed I was kind of itching and tingling all over," Chiles said. He thought it was caused by the strawberries and took a Benadryl and some milk and went to bed.

"I woke up about 4:30 a.m. and was very dehydrated, dry mouthed, and I noticed I was staggering, so I went to the first lady and she heard my speech was slurred," Chiles said. Mrs. Chiles immediately called Dr. Karl Hempel, their personal physician, and the Chileses met the doctor at the hospital.

Chiles agrees that he may have been feeling some of the residual effects of his weekend fishing trip.

"It was awfully hot and we were out in the sun an awful lot," Chiles said.

Chiles spent the weekend fishing in the Everglades east of Punta Gorda after flying down in a private plane Friday night.

The trip was arranged by Sumter County Sheriff Jamie Adams, a longtime friend of Chiles known as the "singing sheriff." The others who went were Mallory Horne, a former Senate president; Harold Lewis, who has known Chiles for 30 years and is now his inspector general; Ben Rowe, a bear-hunting buddy and now an adviser on agricultural matters; and Jim Clayton, a friend of Rowe's.

"It was jungle hot," said Horne. Seventeen inches of rain had fallen in the past week, making the Everglades steamy. Plus, the high water made it a chore to get around. Fishing from the edges of canals, Chiles and the others cast with rod and reel for bass.

"You ask anybody that was there. I have never seen him more energetic, never seen him with a bigger spark," Horne said. "I mean he outfished everybody. He stayed with it double the hours I did and there were some younger men there. He walked all of 'em to the wall. He called me a sissy."

They caught enough bream to fix for dinner, but never caught any bass. The water was too hot and too high, Horne figured.

"All Jamie had in the Jeep for us to drink was Coca-Colas and that just doesn't cut it when you're dehydrating that much," he said.

He said the only alcohol he saw Chiles drink was one glass of white wine before supper.

"He never got tired, but I know he got hot," he said.

Chiles and Horne took a commercial flight back Monday to Tallahassee. Horne said later he started feeling dizzy, clammy and a little disoriented, and went to a walk-in clinic thinking he had the flu. He told doctors what he had been doing over the weekend.

"From that they deduced I had mild heat exhaustion and critical dehydration," he said.

Those symptoms, Chiles' doctors said Wednesday, most likely contributed to the governor's TIA early Wednesday morning.