Keeping Tabs

Down by the C-Section

The tabloids report on Madonna and childbirth, Gere’s Lyme disease, and other medical matters. 

While Keeping Tabs is well aware that all three tabloids are now cozily part of the same corporate family, the last two weeks’ worth of magazines have left her with the sneaking suspicion that they’ve somehow merged with the Journal of the American Medical Association as well. The residents of Tabloidland have recently been beset with enough medical crises to keep Cedars-Sinai (not to mention the tabs’ own esteemed slate of in-house medical consultants) in business well into the next millennium.

Beyond the typical spate of Liz Taylor maladies—she’s said to have an enlarged heart, which is called a “potentially life-threatening condition,” and to believe that pneumonia is “stalk[ing]” her and “won’t give up until she’s dead”—there’s a veritable cornucopia of celebrity ailments to be had. The Globe reports that a “confidential report obtained by right-wing enemies” contains “dynamite stuff” about President Clinton’s medical history: He is said to be suffering from at least one “very intimate illness” as a result of his “alleged extramarital affairs.” A Star exclusive claims that Jennifer Lopez is “keeping a devastating health secret from her fans”: a pea-sized benign tumor on her pituitary gland that is said to be—do we sense a theme?—”potentially life-threatening.” According to the Star’s sources, Lopez is “scared to death”; the purported growth has supposedly been carefully monitored with no change for six years, but her doctors have told her “that she may one day need delicate brain surgery” to remove it. It’s the latter supposition (note the use of “may” and “one day”) that apparently led the Star to put “Jennifer Lopez Brain Surgery Drama” on its cover and to decide on the “Jennifer Lopez Facing Brain Surgery” headline.

Keeping Tabs was particularly moved by the Globe’s account of Richard Gere’s “Battle With Killer Disease.” Sources say Gere “bounced back from a potentially fatal illness that landed him flat on his back and in agony.” Says an insider: “Richard told me he thought he was going to die. He said, ‘I felt so terrible, I wished I was dead!’ ” Keeping Tabs’ mind began to race. Meningitis? Encephalitis? Well, not exactly. Gere is said to have survived a bout with … Lyme disease, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site is “rarely, if ever, fatal.” The Globe finds a doctor who asserts, however weakly, that Lyme disease “can” cause “potentially” deadly situations if the patient has an “existing condition or is elderly.” Gere, 50, reportedly described his own harrowing trip through the valley of the shadow of death thusly: “You feel like hell, like you have a really horrible case of the flu.” Which, we should solemnly point out, did fell scores of people, including many members of Keeping Tabs’ own family, back in 1918. Best of all is the Globe’s assertion that “ironically, Gere’s ordeal echoes the plot of his new film” in which his character “falls passionately in love with a young woman dying from a terminal illness.” (What does she have—psoriasis?)

No medical crisis merits more attention, however, than that of the queen mother of tabloid dramatis personae, Madonna. Keeping Tabs can only imagine the tumult that must have swept through the Globe, Star, and Enquirer newsrooms when the singer gave birth three weeks prematurely to her son, Rocco. And while her spokeswoman has vigorously denied that there were anything beyond some ” minor complications” with the birth, the tabs insist that both Madonna and child were fighting for their lives. But then again, since the residents of Tabloidland seem to be engaged in a constant daily struggle to stay alive, we wouldn’t expect anything less from an actual surgical procedure.

All three tabs rose to the occasion when it came to conveying just how dire the crisis—which they report involved a detached placenta—supposedly was. The Globe’s “insider” claims that Madonna was “hemorrhaging” and that her boyfriend, British film director Guy Ritchie, “literally picked [her] up and drove to the hospital as fast as he could. When he got there, he ran inside, carrying her in his arms and screaming, ‘Help us! Help us, please!’ ” The Star repeats the carrying-in-the-arms claim but says it was the frightened mother-to-be who did the pleading: “Please help me! Please save my baby!” Madonna is said to have “cried over and over again.” After examining her, doctors are said to have told Madonna that Rocco “would have to be cut from [her] womb,” a procedure most of the Western world is familiar with as a Caesarean section.

The National Enquirer’s version goes for the emotional jugular. The crisis begins with Madonna “hemorrhaging” and the unborn baby “suffocating.” Ritchie is said to have “quickly bundled her up and raced her to Cedars-Sinai. He told the doctors that she had been writhing in agony with stomach pains and losing lots of blood!” Keeping Tabs couldn’t decide which was her favorite detail: the part when Madonna “clutched Guy’s hands as she was wheeled in for her surgical delivery, telling him, ‘Baby, I love you. We’re gonna be O.K.’ ” or when “teary-eyed” Madonna held her new baby for the first time, “kissed his little head and said, ‘This guy is my little miracle!’ “

The Enquirer, the only one of the tabs to venture into the realm of non-celebrity medical reporting, has a fascinating story about the “do-it-yourself” Caesarean section of one Deborah Pietkiewicz of Oldham, England. Pietkiewicz “never expected” she would “play the leading medical role!” during the procedure. The headlines evoke visions of a roadside emergency involving a rusty knife—but in tabloid terms, playing the “leading medical role!” means that after doctors anesthetized her, made the incision in her abdomen, and delivered the baby’s head, Pietkiewicz reached down and pulled him the rest of the way out. (Next up: Deborah heads up the kidney transplant team!) Apparently doing its best imitation of the Weekly World News, the Enquirer also reports on an “ingenious” Florida dermatologist who has found a “foolproof” way to detect malignant melanoma: An amiable schnauzer named George, trained as an explosives hound, has been taught to “sniff out” cancer. (It’s “Doggone Amazing!” asserts a subhead.) The George method, insists the Enquirer, is “more accurate … than some expensive diagnostic tests!”

Jennifer Aniston won’t be needing any expensive diagnostic tests as long as those eagle-eyed folks at the Star are around: Just a week after covering her wedding to Brad Pitt, the Star was first out of the box with rumors of a supposed Aniston pregnancy. Pregnancy was said to be the talk of the wedding, and friends are said to be speculating that an announcement could be “just weeks away.” (Not that we’re counting, but the Globe made a similar prediction just 68 short weeks ago.) The evidence is typically ironclad: “Just look at the way he touched her tummy in the wedding picture!” a wedding guest is quoted as saying. “I think it’s telling that Brad has his hand on Jen’s stomach and is looking down tenderly at it in the only official picture they released.” Keeping Tabs believes that this time Aniston really is pregnant. (Her husband is touching her stomach, for God’s sake!) In fact, we hear she’s planning to have a do-it-yourself Caesarean—with a little help from George the schnauzer.