Feinstein's Health Issues Went Beyond Shingles

Senator endured encephalitis and facial paralysis but won't talk about resigning
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2023 7:45 PM CDT
Feinstein's Health Issues Went Beyond Shingles, Staff Confirms
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is welcomed back to the Senate Judiciary Committee with applause from Chairman Dick Durbin, left, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, right, on Thursday.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's return to Capitol Hill after more than two months has not put a stop to questions about whether she's healthy enough to continue in office—they've only increased as the California Democrat struggles to perform her duties. The extent of Feinstein's battle with shingles became clearer on Thursday, after the New York Times reported, and the senator's staff acknowledged, that the health problems are more extensive than had been made public. The shingles reached Feinstein's face and neck, affecting her vision and balance. She also endured a facial paralysis called Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which Feinstein's staff said she is still dealing with.

The illness also brought on a case of encephalitis—an inflammation of the brain—that her office said cleared up in March. Post-shingles encephalitis can cause a host of problems, including memory and language issues and confusion. Asked by reporters Tuesday about her absence from Washington, Feinstein, 89, appeared confused, answering that she hadn't been gone, per the Hill. The senator, whose term ends in January 2025, has resisted any conversations about whether she should resign. A longtime supporter and party donor said that the demands of the job and the need for recovery mean that Feinstein should step down, "and yet she isn’t willing in this state of mind," Susie Tompkins Buell said. In that case, she added, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or California Gov. Gavin Newsom have "the responsibility to do something." (More Dianne Feinstein stories.)

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