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Morton Kondracke
Morton Kondracke
Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Disease
ISBN: 1586480375
Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Disease
A deeply moving, unflinchingly honest memoir by the renowned political journalist of his extraordinary relationship with his wife, Milly, and how her battle with Parkinson's disease has transformed their lives.

Morton Kondracke did not intend to marry Millicent Martinez. He intended to marry an Ivy League heiress whose connections and credentials might help his career. But Milly—a Mexican American, inner city Chicago kid and daughter of a radical labor organizer who grew up to be a dynamo—eventually captured his heart. They married, and loved and fought with each other passionately for twenty years. Then one day in 1987, Milly noticed a glitch in her handwriting; a small tremor which would lead to the shattering diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

Saving Milly is Kondracke's powerfully moving chronicle of his vital and volatile marriage; one that has endured and deepened despite the devastating physical and emotional effects of a chronic and as-yet incurable disease. It is also the inspiring, sometimes astoundingly frank story of his own transformation from careerist to caregiver and disease activist a process that has deepened his religious faith. Finally, it is an exploration of the realities of "disease politics" in the campaign to find a cure for Parkinson's, and a passionate argument for doubling the government's minuscule investment in medical research. For any one of the million Americans with Parkinson's and their families; for anyone inspired by books like John Bayley's Elegy for Iris or Christopher Reeve's Still Me; for anyone whose religious faith has been tested by tragedy; and for anyone who loves a real-life love story, Saving Milly is unforgettable reading.
—from the publisher

Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Disease
Program Air Date: June 10, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Mort Kondracke, author of "Saving Milly," what's your book about?
Mr. MORTON KONDRACKE (Author, "Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Disease"): It's a love story. It's a--it's a history of the Parkinson's movement, the effort to get more money spent by the federal government on research on Parkinson's, which is a disease that neurologists say could be cured. It's a story--it's a kind of a personal transformation story of somebody who looked--was basically a journalistic careerist, who--somebody who decided that the best thing he could do with his life was to help Milly; help my wife. My wife is a truly remarkable person. I mean, everybody--all the friends that I talk to say, everybody became a better person because of Milly. She was a dynamic, therapist--psychotherapist, mother, wife, strong person, and she's been, you know, basically kidnapped by Parkinson's disease which is in the process of killing her. And I wanted to write about this whole experience.
LAMB: When did you decide to do the book?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Two years ago--two and a half years ago, something like that. I had been living this experience--I mean, it's the combination of watching her suffer with it and fight it through surgeries and all kinds of stuff and--and fight--and trying to fight it by trying to get more money raised for Parkinson's research. And--and--we--we--Milly and I both have this therapist friend of ours, Dori Lynd who said, you know, you've--you've got to write about this. And--and I'd never written a book before, and I--so I started and one thing led to another and here the book is finally out.
LAMB: A--as I read it, I kept saying to myself, why does Morton Kondracke want us to know all this? Meaning all the "little things" that we can talk about.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Because this is a--a horrible, nasty, lousy, rotten, fiendish disease which the best neurologists in the county say can be cured in five to 10 years if adequate resources are devoted to the task. I mean--and--and that in the process of licking Parkinson's disease, you would find things which would cure Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's and ALS, all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases. So, I--the best way to--to--to get people to say, `Yeah, let's fund neuro-degenerative research,' was to tell it all; just--as bad as it is. And, let them know what--what really happens, also let them know that there's hope.
LAMB: OK. Give me an example. I've known you probably 30 years. I had no idea you were an alcoholic.
LAMB: Why do you want us to know that?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, that--that's part of what Milly did. I mean, Milly--Milly was the kind of person--I was an alcoholic and I was, you know, I was--I wasn't stumbling down drunk all--all day long. I didn't drink till after hours, but it clearly--like George W. Bush got in my way a lot. And--and Milly was such a powerhouse that she made me quit. I mean, she said, `You are an alcoholic.' I fought that. She convinced me that I was an alcoholic and she basically--she dumped the booze out--out in--down the drain and stuff like that, and just badgered me until the point--intervened, as they say, and got me to--to quit. And, it's part of her old power and it's part--it's one of the wonderful stories that I have to tell about--about what kind of a person she was.
LAMB: But you say you didn't start drinking till--much till you got to this town.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah, that's true.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well--well, I think I have the--I have a gene and--and some--it does run in the family, and my father was an alcoholic, and his father was an alcoholic and his brother was an alcoholic. And it became a habit and--and I was anesthetizing myself, I'm sure. I--I was, sort of neurotic about, you know, climbing the greasy pole as a journalist and--and you know, I made it to a certain level, but I, you know, looked up and there were lots of people above me and I'm sure that I was--you know, that it--that it was a combination of things. It as partly hereditary, partly--partly to avoid, you know, the--the pain of what I wasn't succeeding at and all this kind of stuff, so, I can't blame it on Washington. I probably would have been al--an--an alcoholic no matter where I lived.
LAMB: When did you quit?
Mr. KONDRACKE: 1986, right--right after Thanksgiving 1986.
LAMB: You also go into some detail in here about the early days of your politics.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And at one point you say, `I gave up being a liberal Democrat because of foreign policy.'
Mr. KONDRACKE: I was--I was never very partisan. I mean, I sort of leaned Democrat because I was--I--I had a liberal view of the world as, I think 80 percent of journalists do, probably. I was pro-civil rights, I was, you know--and I just took--I--I just took the liberal view of practically everything that--that anybody who wasn't for expanding government--I remember arguing with--you remember Charlie Goodell, was a senator from--from New York and once upon a time, he was a representative from New York and was, sort of, the chief Republican critic of the war on poverty. And if he was--anything that he criticized on the management on the war on poverty meant that he was against the war on poverty, therefore he was against poor people, right? And that's just the way I thought.

What--what happened was, I was covering the White House in 19--the--the Ford White House, and I'll never forget, 1974, the--the South Vietnamese are fighting for their lives, right? Right at the very end, the North Vietnamese are descending on them and Ford proposed $600 million dollars in emergency aid for the South Vietnamese to keep them going and Congress refused. And I thought what--what do Democrats do but spend money, you know? I mean, to bolster an ally and save them from what amounted to slavery, you know, Congress wouldn't vote this money, and I just thought, you know, there--there--this is wrong. And--and I--I just thought that--that--on occasion after occasion after that, I just thought that the Democrats--if it were up to the Democrats, we--we wouldn't fight Communism the way it needed to be fought. That it was--that it really was an evil empire and that it needed to be resisted and the liberals weren't doing it. They didn't do it in Central America and so on. And, I just fell out with them.

There were other things as well. I mean, I--I'm a prude. I confess it. I'm--I'm a, you know, and--and I think that our society has become grotesquely coarsened and I think liberals have been ba--basically cheering it the whole way, you know; anything goes, kiddies--you know, teen-agers are going to have sex so give the little diaries condoms and stuff like that. And it's just sort of encouraged, the coarsening of s--so--but I'm not a conservative. I mean, I may sound like a conservative right now, but I'm not really a conservative 'cause I have my problems with them too. So, I find my--a happy home in moderation, which is where I--I am.
LAMB: You say Milly is quite liberal?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Milly--she's not that liberal. She's a dot--she is a dot in the world Democrat and, you know, Democrats as a body can do very little wrong and Republican's by her can do very little right. And it's almost a joke with us, although she--I mean, she's not--she hasn't lost her judgment completely. I mean she was disappointed in Bill Clinton, but she--but she also apologized for him, you know.
LAMB: Bill Clinton...
LAMB: say lied to you, and Hillary Clinton lied to you.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah, substantially. Bill Clinton didn't precisely lie. What--this is a story that I tell in the book about--we went to a Christmas--White House Christmas party hoping that we could get them to do something to advance Parkinson's research, because we--it's deeply underfunded By comparison to other diseases, and--and as I say, it's believed to be curable. So we practiced and practiced the speeches, we're going in line--in the--the line to the--to see the president and I blew the speech completely and she did too. But we got out enough to say, you know, please help brain research. And Hillary Clinton said, well just wait till we pass health care reform, we're going to do a lot for medical research.

Well, one, there was nothing in the health reform plan for Parkinson's research, neurological research or much of any kind of research. And secondly, both of them made claims about their--the incur--about incr--increasing medical research that they never really delivered on. I mean, what--what kept happening is that certain Republicans--basically Connie Mack of Florida, John Porter of--of Illinois, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and also some Democrats, Tom Harkin of Iowa, kept increasing the medical research budget in Congress and Clinton would sign the bill, and then pretend that he had advocated it all along, but whenever his budgets came in, they were always lowball; 2 percent increases, 3 percent increases, sometimes negative--I mean sometimes net cuts after inflation, stuff like that. So, he certainly--he didn't stand in the way of medical research advances, but he certainly did not promote them, with the exception of certain politically favored projects like AIDS research and breast cancer, and to his credit, the Human Genome Project. That he did--he did advance.
LAMB: What's Parkinson's?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Parkinson's is a disease that's caused--it's a brain disease that's caused by the--the dying of a little clump of cells deep in your brain called substantia nigra which produce dopamine. Dopamine is the substance that makes motion fluid. And it's--the first symptoms are--usually are a slight tremor in your--in a finger. And it goes on to rigidity; people get frozen in a chair, some--some people have a--develop a mask. They have no--they can't express any--anything in their faces. And eventually--eventually you become immobile. You know, you can be--you basically--you become a prisoner in your own body.

It's treatable for about five years--I mean, you can see it in Janet Reno. Janet Reno has a--a severe tremor--I guess it's in her left hand. A--a--a medicine called L-dopa--Sinemet is the brand name--will calm that symptom down for about five years, and then it stops working. And then people get frozen or they get something called dyskinesia. Anybody who ever saw the movie, "Awakening," you know, they get wild shakes of--of the body--or dyskinesia that--that are caused by the medicine itself, actually.

And, you know, in "Awakening" people would rather go to sleep than--and be in a coma than have these wild dyskinesias. So, it's a--it's a retched disease. And, eventually and--and in--in Milly's case, what's happening is that she's losing her--she can't walk. She lost her balance a long time ago and she fell repeatedly and had to go to the emergency room a lot and so on. Now she's confined to a wheelchair, and she's basically losing her--has lost her ability to speak. And the--the horrible thing is that she's losing her ability to swallow, and that will--we're going to be faced with the decision at some point about a feeding tube. I mean, they--that's--that's what happens.
LAMB: What age does it affect you?
Mr. KONDRACKE: It used to be an old people's disease. It's now--Michael J. Fox got it when he was 30, and you know there are--people get it when they're 20. And nobody knows why. The--the age of onset is descending--average age of onset is descending. People think its environmental, chemicals, nobody knows for sure why.
LAMB: Some time ago, I think, in '96 you did an article about Mo Udall.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, actually the Washingtonian magazine asked me to write an article about Janet Reno when she was diagnosed, and she refused to cooperate because she wanted to be known as--as Attorney General not as a Parkinson's victim. So--and Billy Graham was thought to have Parkinson's and didn't--didn't--he didn't. As it turned out he had something else, but he didn't want to cooperate. The pope was too far away, so I wrote about Milly and about Mo Udall and M--Mo Udall, this wonderful, funny presidential candidate that everybody loves and still quotes these hilarious jokes from, got it in 1996 when he was running for president, kept it a secret.
LAMB: Not 1996, you mean...
LAMB: '76, yeah.
Mr. KONDRACKE: 1976 when he was running for president, kept it a secret, but eventually it caught up with him and--and in 1991, he fell and he got a brain concussion, he broke ribs, clavicle, collarbone, all kind of--shoulder blade, every--you know, just--and never--never was able to speak again and was confined to a--to--to the Veteran's Administration hospital, not far from the Capitol.

And his story was the worst case of Parkinson's that I knew of, certainly involving a famous person, and I went to see him and--and he was a prisoner in his--in his body, and his wife didn't know whether when she talked to him if he understood anything. And, this was a kind of a foretaste I--I feared, and the reality is coming true, that--of what Milly faces.

I mean, that was 1996. This is five years later, and Milly is no--is not--is not as bad as Mo Udall was then, but unless there's a miracle of some sort, is headed in that direction, I fear.
LAMB: When you went there, you found a guest book that had been signed by...
Mr. KONDRACKE: Oh, by first ladies Barbara Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, most of all--most of--the most frequent visitor was John McCain who had been adopted sort of by Mo Udall when he was a freshman congressman. He was a Republican. They're both from Arizona, obviously. McCain was a freshman Republican, most junior member of the Interior Committee, but--and Mo was the chairman. And Mo Udall adopted him basically; took him under his wing and helped him a lot and--and John McCain returned the favor by being the most loyal visitor to Mo Udall. Whether--that--he couldn't communicate, but McCain was great about visiting him.
LAMB: When you went to see him, what did you see?
Mr. KONDRACKE: He was asleep. His wife, Norma, woke him up. He sort of sat up, I--I gue--I'm trying to remember whether he sat up by himself or she helped him up, but anyway, he sat up--and he sa--he only had one eye anyway, and he sort--there was sort of a look of mild recognition. I've, you know, seen him and interviewed various times over the years, but you got--you--you got the look of--of a politician, you know, thinking that he may recognize this person or constituent that he ought to know--who's name he ought to know, but you couldn't tell. So, I just sort of told him stories about what was happening politically and it--and couldn't really tell whether he understood or not, and after a few minutes he went--fell back to sleep.
LAMB: How long was he in that state, in the hospital?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, from 1991 and he died in 1998, so he was there for--he was that way for seven years.
LAMB: What did his wife tell you about the disease, and the impact on her?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, she had--she married him after he had been diagnosed, and--I mean, she said that he had hallucinations; that's another thing that the medicine can cause. They were--they weren't--they--I mean, she--he thought there was a little dog, that they didn't have, was running around the house. That--that happens with L-dopa. It does affect your brain circuits; the medicine itself.

What else? That--that he couldn't--that he had to be--that he had to have his food chopped up for him and--and he had to be fed and increasingly he couldn't eat solid foods, and that's happened with Milly too. And--and his--his internal clock got turned around. He had a mask. He--he--he ha--he was virtually expressionless for a long time. And--and had slurred speech, which Milly also has had. She--she took the burden pretty well I thought, you know. She was--I mean, I said John McCain was his most frequent visitor; obviously she was because she was--she was incredibly loyal and attentive and present for him.
LAMB: Right now, what is a day like you--for you? Start at the very beginning.
Mr. KONDRACKE: OK. Milly wakes up ahead of me.
LAMB: Sleep in the same bed?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Sleep in the same bed, sure. I--I get up in the morning, I look over and there she is wide-eyed waiting for me to wake up, and we--and she's--you know and I give her a kiss, and I say, `Have I told you lately that I love you.' And she says, `No.' And I say--and so we laugh and we say, OK. I love you, you know. And then I get up and I get her her med--her first med--medicine of the day is three halves of a Sinemet tablet plus a medicine called Mirapex. And I give it to her with a piece of chocolate. Usually, she--oh, then the TV goes on, "Good Morning America" or the "Today" show. Then, I go read the paper, or bring--give--give her some of the paper and she generally just stays in bed and then we have--we have two ladies who come--one--alternate, and they basically take care of her during the day, and I leave and go to work, and--and I know she's in safe hands. They are perfectly wonderful. I mean, I could not--I could not work without them. I couldn't do anything without them.

And, so I--then I don't usually see Milly until again about 7:30 when I get--get home from work, and she--you know, do Fox News and all that stuff, and so Milly's usually had dinner and is sitting in her favorite green chair and what I--then I go get my dinner and I sit next to her and I eat my dinner while the TV's on and she's--if--she's watching--often been watching Fox News and she will allow as--how--I have not been--I was not protective enough of, you know, Bill Clinton when he was president or something, she--now the way--she--sometimes she can talk, and sometimes you can actually understand what she's saying. We have computers rigged up all over the house; little computers, laptop computers with a--will a full thing, and she will tap out what she basically has to say to me.

And we watch TV together. We--sometimes I--two days a week I have to write my column at night, so I usually leave her watching TV and reading and I go into--by the computer which is in another room and I check with her from time to time and I, you know, make sure that she's got her Godiva candy supply and stuff, and you know, and we--she'll tap out what she's done for the day and what I ought to be doing and what I haven't done. I mean, it's not--she--she's not--she is wonderful. She's not--not a nag. She doesn't--she--she's basically a jewel, right, but--but she reminds me of things that I have to do and stuff like that.

And, then we, you know, go to bed about 11 or so and--oh, she always wants to call the kids, my daughters, make--you know, make sure how they are and she listens in on the phone line and she tries to talk to them and then I--I grab the phone and translate for her with them. And--or we call--her mother's been sick--her foster mother's been sick in Chicago, so we've been calling a lot out to Chicago.

I--I have more to do on weekends when, especially on Sundays, the ladies take off, and basically I'm her caregiver, so I help her eat. You know, I cook, I--she's got to have her food chopped up or mashed up and stuff like that and I feed her. So...
LAMB: How many times have you given her the Heimlich maneuver?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Four, I think. Four times.
LAMB: What brings it about?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, she's over ambitious about--about things--she's getting less so, but--but she thinks she can eat mussels for example, or--or spareribs. And she wants to try and you can't, you know--sometimes she can a--she can eat it. She can eat that stuff, so you don't want to say no. But, food gets caught in her throat and she--and on four occasions, she's--she was going to choke to death unless you do the Heimlich maneuver, you know, like that. And on each occasion the food came out and she was gasping for air and stuff like that. It's scary. It's terrifying, but so far only four times which is--and it hasn't happened for--since--I believe since last Thanksgiving, I think.
LAMB: You mentioned your daughters, Andrea and Alex.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where are they?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Andrea just graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and is going to do a residency in Baltimore for one year and then may become a psychiatrist. And my other daughter, Alex, is a filmmaker in New York. She got a--an award at the Sundance Film Festival year before last and is trying to be Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee or somebody like that.
LAMB: You--you point out at--at--at a moment in the life of you, your wife and your daughters where the question to whether or not Milly would die, what would happen to the family.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah. I mean, there have been two, sort of, life-changing moments. I mean, one was when Milly got diagnosed, and I sort of said to my--we can get into this--I sort of said to myself, OK, whatever else I'm doing here on earth, this is the most important thing to do, is to take care of Milly. I'd say the second great life-changing experience was, Milly was--was--Milly's had two deep brain surgeries. One is a pallidotomy; the other was--is the--is a implant of an inner brain, like what amounts to a pacemaker for your brain.

The first operation was in 1995, I think--1995 I think it was, and it was at Emory University Hospital in--in Atlanta and we were--we--we were all naturally terrified about whether the operation would succeed and whether she would be OK and so on, and so--and Alex is taking mo--was doing movies of the whole thing--not--she didn't get into the operation, but she was taking movies of ev--of everybody and recording everybody's thoughts and stuff like that.

And sh--so she got me in a room and she said, `What do you think would happen if Mom died?' And I said, `Well, I don't know I--whether I would--I would certainly be bereft, but I don't know whether I would just go on living or I would start drinking again, or what--you know, I don't know what I would do. It's impossible.'

And I said to her, `Wh--what would happen to you?' And she said, `Well, Andrea and I talked about that last night.' And I said, `Well, turn the camera around and let's record what you have to say.' And she said, `Andrea said that our family would fall apart; that we would never see each other again; that you--you'--meaning me--`would not want to have us around.' And it was like--and--and--and she s--and--and--and I said, `W--why do you think that?' And she said that M--Mom's the glue that holds this family together and if she was gone, we'd all fall apart.

And the two of them agreed to that. And I was devastated by this. And obviously I realized that I had to be both--I had to start trying to be the glue and--and I've tried, and I've really, you know, I've bonded with my kids like I've never did before and try--and I--and there's no question of that anymore. I mean, my kids and I are totally bonded now.

But it was--it was--it was a--it was a horrible shock. I mean the--it was the ultimate sort of condemnation of my--the way I've been as a father. I mean, I was--I was--I was being a good husband, but I was not being as good a father as I should be and I resolved that I would become so.
LAMB: What were you doing wrong?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I--you know, I've always been--I was always eager for their professional success and nagged them to get good grades and stuff like that, but--I mean, Milly--Milly was this incredible magnet for information for everybody, you know. And she was just totally welded with the kids, and the kids talked to her about--the girls talked to her about everything. And after all, they are women, right? So they had that in common and they talked about women things.

And I was--I was career-minded and I would talk to them about their careers and I didn't talk to them about their feelings and their, you know, I guess their ambitions and hopes and fears and what they cried about and stuff like that. And--and I--and it--it--it's a matter of attention, I guess. It's just that--and I sort of--and I did sort of leave that stuff to Milly because she was so good at it, you know. And I went off and did my thing and provi--you know, provided the money and stuff like that, but I didn't provide the attention. So--but I do my best now.
LAMB: As--anybody who's known you over the years would not call you a great emoter. I mean, that's just not been your image. But there's more emotion on one page in this book than, I think, I've seen in all these years. Is this the true Mort Kondracke?
Mr. KONDRACKE: This is it, boy. Naked. Yeah. No, I--I put it all in there. I, you know, I--I feel it and I just--and you know--and writing, I guess, it--it wasn't easy and I wrote it all over and over and over again, and every time I would go through it, I would say, `It needs more. What--what did you think? What did you feel at the time?' And so I just put it in and it's as--it's about as honest as I can be.
LAMB: Has Milly read this?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah. Yeah. And she likes everything except the last chapter, which, of course, is the chapter that talks about--it's called, Losing Milly, and--you know, and it's--it's a horrible chapter for me. It--there is no end to it cause it got--and--and, fortunately--I mean, the--the way--I think the way the chapter ends--no, I guess I changed it. There was one point at which Milly said--well, let me back up. There was one point at which I thought, based on what Milly was telling me, that she wanted me to go find the stuff that she was going to use to kill herself, you know, and--which meant that I would have to mix the potion, right? The final exit--you know, the book, final exit potion, Seconal, Nembutal something like that and I was terrified. And a friend of ours said, you know, don't do that. And Milly is really de--and Mil--Milly was determined that she was going to kill herself, that she was not going to go--have a feeding tube. And, a--this friend of ours said, you know, `Have you talked to a hospice? Do you know anything about hospice care?' And--and so I went to see--the Washington home, and they said, you know, basically if she's determined that she's not going to get a feeding tube, basically she can starve herself to death, you know, and just not take any food and not take any water and that--that'll be it.

So, we had a will drawn up and all this kind of stuff that she could do that if that's what she wanted to do, but the--the latest--the good news is, is that the latest time, I've had--we've had a conversation about it, she said that she would take a feeding tube, so--she said, `As long as I can take it out when I want to take it out.' So, nonetheless, the last chapter is about all of this, and about, you know, what's going to happen and about, you know, dying is what it's about. And--and obviously, it's a depressing chapter for her. I mean, it is for me too, but...
LAMB: You say that she cries a lot, and you don't cry very much.
Mr. KONDRACKE: She doesn't cry as much as she used to. When she--an--and I think her antidepressant is the reason. She--she doesn't really cry very much at all. She's on an antidepressant called Effexor, which puts--basically puts a pan under her emotions. And--and when she was first diagnosed, she was--she was shattered. She--she--she had been--she and Irene Pollin--Abe Pollin, the wife of Abe Pollin, the sports entrepreneur--had a practice together at the Neurology Center up in Bethesda, Maryland and she had treated Parkinson's patients and their families as a--as a s--psychiatric social worker and knew what--how devastating Parkinson's was. So when she got the diagnosis, she was shattered. And she assumed the worst and she wept constantly. And eventually, I mean, Prozac didn't work, Zoloft didn't work, Xanax didn't work but Effexor has. So she--she's--she cries a lot less. I--I--I cry sometimes but I--it--I don't know. I--I don't, I just don't. I mean, I guess I'm--because I'm a guy. I don't know.
LAMB: Did you have any trouble writing the book from that standpoint, emotionally?
Mr. KONDRACKE: No, I don't think so. I had--no. There was no--there was nothing that was--I--I can't remember ever thinking, `This is too hard to write.' I mean, I think I kept saying to myself, `I've got to write this and I've got to write it better and I've got to write it truer and I've got to write it deeper.' But, I mean there was--I mean, there was one--there was one moment which was not writing that it was--I cry more at happy moments than I do at terribly sad moments. One of the--we--we went to this wedding, which--in Chicago, which was the daughter of one of Milly's old high school pals. And simultaneous with--the wedding party's off here and Milly's having this reunion with all of her high school friends and one after another they start telling Milly stories, about the great things she'd done in the working-class neighborhoods in--in Chicago back in the '50s. And, you know, just story after story after story after story about how she--you know, people wouldn't have gotten married had it not been for Milly. Milly stood up, you know, in gang fights--quote, unquote, "gang fights."

You know, she was a skinny little kid but she was the one who didn't run away and stuff like that. And just story after story after story after story and just these stories made me cry just because--because of what won--what a wonderful person she was and is, you know. And that--that's the kind of thing that makes me cry. It's--tributes make me cry.
LAMB: Where'd you meet her?
Mr. KONDRACKE: In Chicago.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. KONDRACKE: 1966, I believe. We got married in 1967, that I know. We had this friend who was the spokeswoman for the--for the civil rights movement in Chicago and was a pal of Milly's at Roosevelt University and they were sort of anti-war activists together. And Joan--her name was Joan Kehoe then, it's Joan Smith now, she's at the University of Vermont, she's the dean at the University of Vermont now. And--so she fixed us up for a dinner date. It was not love at first sight on either side but--but Milly was pretty and she was sort of olive-skinned and slow-eyed and--and prematurely gray and she was really cute and she was interesting.

And so we started dating and, you know, it was--as I confess in the book, I was a Dartmouth graduate. I thought the guy that I wanted to be, as a big shot Washington journalist, should be married to somebody who went to Vassar, whose grandfather maybe was a Supreme Court justice. And I sort of held it against Milly, stupidly, that she was a--kind of a wrong-side-of-the-tracks, Mexican--half-Mexican, half-Jewish kid who used bad grammar sometimes. And--and eventually she just overwhelmed all that, you know, and I've been happily married ever since.
LAMB: What were you doing then?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I was a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times in Chicago, first in--yeah, first in Chicago and then Springfield.
LAMB: How long did you do that?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I was between Chicago and Springfield, and then covering national politics out of Chicago five years, from '63 to '68, and came to Washington in '68.
LAMB: Why did you think you wanted to be a big-shot Washington journalist?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Because I was a journalist, you know, and I wanted to be--I wanted to come to Washington and I wanted to be a big shot, you know. I--I always wanted to be sort of--I mean, I thought--my hero was James Reston. I carried his picture around in my wallet. He was the Washington bureau chief of The Washington Times. And, you know, I--I had big ambitions, you know, and it took a long time to l--you know, to say there are other things in life that are also important.
LAMB: What did you do after the Sun-Times?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I--I was--I came to Washington for the Sun-Times and worked there till 1977, was a White House correspondent, did a lot of traveling overseas, and then went to The New Republic, where I was for--from '77 to '85--'85, right, and then went to Newsweek as Washington bureau chief for 18 miserable months and then went back to The New Republic and then went to Roll Call, where I am happily now.
LAMB: In--in the middle of Newsweek example you use in the book, you tell a story about going to Mrs. Katherine Graham's house. You liked it and Milly didn't?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I--yeah, Milly--Milly thought that--Milly--Milly did not think I should go to Newsweek in the beginning. She liked The New Republic, she liked what I wrote at The New Republic. I wrote long pieces, I--you know, it--I was--it was thoughtful and all that kind of stuff. And she knew better than I knew that I'm not a manager and I'm not a politician and I'm not a ego saver and I--you know, that--not--so she wanted me to stay at The New Republic. She was against the Newsweek thing from the beginning. But I was ambitious and I thought, you know, that I could be editor of Newsweek someday. And, I mean, part of the job was to show up at Mrs. Graham's dinner parties, you know. And--and it's an honor--Mrs. Graham is a very nice lady. The dinner parties are terrific. They're--you know, you meet interesting people. The most important people in the world can pass through Mrs. Graham's living room.

Milly, one, had a social work practice that she was doing at night. Two, she had teen-age daughters. And three, she didn't like it, didn't like this, you know, be on--being at beck and call of the--of--of Mrs. Graham. So she didn't--she just didn't show up very often. And I--you know, I yelled at her about it, and she just said, `Look, I have--I have other things I have to do.' So that--that's the kind of person Milly was. Milly did what Milly wanted to do.
LAMB: When is the first moment you knew that something was wrong and that she had something that led to Parkinson's?
Mr. KONDRACKE: We used to go to Vermont every--at Christmastime with a gaggle of relatives and friends. And we were filling out a college application for one of our daughters, and Milly was actually writing the--or filling lots of applications out, Andrea. And Milly said, `There's something wrong with the l--when I write the letter K, there's something wrong with it.' And I looked at it and I didn't see anything wrong with it. And she said, `Eh, something's wrong with it.' She wrote her name several times and she said, `I can't make a K right.' That was the first sign.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. KONDRACKE: It was 1987, Christmas 1987, right. And then she developed a tremor in her little finger in her right hand. And she went to the Neurology Center, where she worked, and they, at--at first, diagnosed ulnar neuropathy, which is a pinched nerve, basically. And she did exercises and stuff, that didn't work, and her--the tremor kept getting worse, and finally they gave her a Parkinson's medicine without telling her that it was a Parkinson's medicine. And she took it and I don't know whether--I can't remember whether it did any good or not but eventually--I guess it didn't--oh, no. The--oh, the--what happened then was that she looked it up--that's right, she looked it up in her pill book and--pill catalog and she--and she called me up one day and she said, `You've got to come home. Something terrible has happened,' and she was weeping a so--sobbing, and she said, `The medicine that they gave me is for Parkinson's disease. I know what Parkinson's disease is. It's horrible. I won't be able to eat, I won't be able to talk, I'll choke to death. You won't love me anymore. You'll leave me,' you know. She was hysterical.

And--and, you know, I did my best to calm her down. She said, `You don't know what Parkinson's is.' And, indeed, I didn't know what Parkinson's is. That was sometime in 1988. And we shopped around for diagnoses and finally we went to the Mayo Clinic twice, actually, and they diagnosed Parkinson's disease. That's--that's--but, you know, she did her best to avoid the diagnosis and--and the poor doctor who--who had been her boss, Dr. Korengold, very nice guy at the Neurology Center--she said, `I hate him. I'll never see him again,' and, indeed, she hasn't seen him again. She, I mean, blamed him for it.
LAMB: How many hospitals has she been in?
Mr. KONDRACKE: She's been at NIH. She's been in Emory twice, obviously. She's been at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. I mean, emergency rooms, countless, you know. She would--one--I mean, the worst symptom that she had was she just--her balance just disappeared, her sense of balance, and she would fall--fall on her face, fall on her side, fa--and she was banged up, she had surgery--I mean, she had stitches in her lip, stitches--stitches in her nose, stitches in her cheek, stitches in her eyebrows and stuff like that. Suburban Hospital in Maryland, Cibly, Georgetown, every time we'd go on vacation, she'd be in an emergency room. And, you know, you'd have these experiences where the nurse would sort of ask me to leave to question her about spousal abuse, you know. After a while they, you know, got used to us, so they knew that it obviously wasn't. But--so a lot of hospitals.
LAMB: At some point in all of this you got a call from Howard Kurtz...
LAMB: ...of The Washington Post, the media writer.
LAMB: What was it about?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, I had--I--in order to double--to try to increase the Parkinson's budget--NIH spends about--it--it's a disputed figure, but let's say roughly now about $50 per victim per year on Parkinson's disease research. They spend, like, a thousand dollars per victim on an HIV victim, 400 on a cancer victim. I mean, there's great disparity. So there--what I--what I did was--I mean, there are two ways to go. One is to--is to go directly and try to increase the Parkinson's budget, which I tried to do--to do, and did some lo--some lobbying at a crucial point. And then I helped found an organization called NIH2, and it was an organization that also did some lobbying on behalf of doubling the NIH budget over a five-year period.

And a pre--and I was the host at a press conference, where Connie Mack, Tom Harkin and Fred Upton, Henry Waxman and John Porter and a bunch of other people were complaining about the latest Clinton budget. And somebody sent the announcement of the press release off to Howie Kurtz. Howie Kurtz is the--the media critic of The Washington Post. And Howie Kurtz called me up and said, you know, `You're a journalist. What are you doing working with a lobbying organization?' And I said, `Look, I believe in this cause and I don't care who complains.' Well, he printed that in the paper and the next thing you know, the superintendent at the Press Gallery, the Senate Press Gallery, calls up and says, `Look, lobbying is not--you're--it's against the rules.' And it is ag--it--it--it is against the rules, and it should be against the rules.

And he said, `You've got to either give it up or you're going to lose your press card, your press credentials.' And so I gave it up, and my lobbying career has fundamentally come to an end.
LAMB: But it brings up the issue of--you know, since you've gotten involved in these, you've gone directly to politicians and asked for money from the government for this problem. That brings up the George Bush story in the middle of the campaign. What did you do?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, with George Bush--George Bush--I--I don't know that you could call it--exactly call it lobbying. And it--and it w--and it was just about as ham-handed an--an effort as I'd been with Clinton at the Christmas party. But basically we were--it was in the--it was at WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire, right before the New Hampshire primary in 2000. And he was taking off his makeup in a makeup room after a Fox News interview and I said, `Can I write you a letter about my favorite cause?' And he said, `What's that?' And I said, `Doubling the NIH budget.' And he said, `I'm for it.'

And then I said, `Well, think about brain research.' And he said, `Brain cancer?' And I said, `No.' And then I--then I made a total botch of this. What I was trying to do was to get him to think about increasing the budget for all kinds of brain research. I was not making a specific pitch for Parkinson's, I was not lobbying for a specific bill. I was saying, you know `This is an exciting area.' I meant to say this is a truly exciting frontier area of knowledge that deserves to get more help, and I wasn't going to come in for any specific numbers or anything like that. And basically, I didn't deliver a good speech. The--the--it was a--it was a 30-second conversation in which he reaffirmed that he was in favor of the NIH doubling.
LAMB: Did he get it?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, he's almost done it. I mean, he said he would do it and he--his budget calls for a 13.3 percent increase in NIH, which is healthy, but it's not a ramp to double. It would take 16.5 percent. Now his OMB director says that he will make it up next year, but clearly the tax cut has limited his NIH request as well as--as--as other spending.
LAMB: What are the ethics of using your platform to lobby in the public arena for more money for this research?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Look, I--I--this is my wife's life, you know. The--there was a felt need, I mean, a clear injustice. This was something that--that ought to be done, that needed to be done. What I elt--ultimately did was I wrote columns about it and I disclosed what I--that my wife had Parkinson's disease and why I was doing this and stuff. I think that intervening on behalf of specific legislation at specific times is something I should not have done by the rules. It is using my--it was using my special access as a journalist to--on behalf of a cause. If it could be used for that cause, it could be used for any cause, you know, good or bad, and it--and I--and it shouldn't be done. You know, people shouldn't do it. And once called on it, I stopped doing it.
LAMB: You show us behind the scenes a little bit on Capitol Hill when they bring in stars like Michael J. Fox, what happens, and also the egos of the committee members. Tell an Arlen Specter story.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah. I mean, Arlen Specter has been expo--exposed by other people for--for doing this. I mean, some people just, you know, are--like to have start--and it--and look, if you're a chairman of a committee, you want to attract publicity for whatever it--whatever hearing you ha--are holding and getting a star there to talk gets the cameras. And Senator Specter go--does it more than--than most and more successfully than most. I mean, he's had Michael J. Fox there and Christopher Reeve there and Mary Tyler Moore and--I can't think of them all. But--but other people--other people do it, too. They've gotten ar--you know, General Schwarzkopf to talk about prostate cancer and they get Jessica Lange to talk about farms and stuff like stuff like th--you know, it's--it's a common--it's a common practice on Capitol Hill and, you know, Senator Specter shouldn't be particularly singled out for it, although, you know, he's more adept at it than--than most people.

Th--there's one thing I--in this book that I--that I want--that I want to correct, if I could. I said in the book that John McCain, during the South Carolina primary, apologized for his having changed his position on fetal tissue research. And I--I remembered an appearance of his on "This Week With Sam Donaldson," an interview with Sam Donaldson, in which he sort of made an apologetic remark about it and I forgot the rest of it and I've gone back to look at the transcript, John McCain's office having called me about all this. And indeed, in context, in the whole context, he--he didn't apologize for what he'd done. So as far as I'm concerned--I mean, I--John McCain did chicken out on--on stem cell research, which is a currently pending issue. But on fetal tissue research, which was a former fight, he didn't.
LAMB: Back to the Arlen Specter story for a moment...
LAMB: ...what I was really getting at was the story about him stomping out of the room because...
Mr. KONDRACKE: Oh, yes.
LAMB: ...Ted Kennedy wanted to go ahead of the rest of them and what was that all about?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well, this was a previous press conference to the--to the--to--to the one involving Howie Kurtz. We had Christopher Reeve--this was before Michael J. Fox disclosed that he had Parkinson's--Christopher Reeve and Mary Tyler Moore came for a press conference on NIH funding. And I--again, I was the host of that. And--and Connie Mack and--and--and Tom Harkin spoke first. And the question was who was going to speak next and Sen--Senator Kennedy grabbed my sleeve and said, `Can I talk? I gotta get out of here.' And so I said yes, and so I interview--intro--introduced Senator Kennedy next, and all of a sudden Senator Specter disappeared from the room. There was a hubbub and Senator Specter stalked out. And one--and his health aide grabbed one of the other people who was involved in NIH, too, and sort of throttled her--not seriously, I mean, didn't strangle her but, you know, got mad at her and said, `Senator Kennedy, is he the chairman?'

And--and I delivered a deeply apologetic, obsequious letter to Senator Specter apologizing for the slight--but in future--on future--in future cases, Senator Specter was fine with it.
LAMB: Story of Congressman Bill Young and Michael J. Fox and the family?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Mike, who by the way, is just as great a human being in person as he appears to be on television, he is the neat--the neatest guy. Anyway, he came to testify before Senator Specter and then made the rounds around the Hill. And practically every office that he went into, you know, everybody had to have a photograph with him and Senator Lott wanted a photograph, Sen--all of the visitors in Senator Lott's office wanted photographs with him and all--so on. And then he went over to Chairman Young's office. Bill Young is the chairman of the Senate--of the House Appropriations Committee. And Mrs. Young had, I think, a whole bunch of children and their friends and stuff like that, and they all had to have pictures, too. I mean, it's--if you're Michael J. Fox, people want to have your picture--have pictures taken with him, and Congressman Young's family is no different.
LAMB: You reveal in the book about your own reaction to being in a public place with your wife and realizing that people would look at you and say, `Mort Kondracke's a great guy because look at him out there on the dance floor with his wife. He's dealing with all this very well.' Why did you tell us that?
Mr. KONDRACKE: Well...
LAMB: And did you want people to say, `Isn't he a great guy?'
Mr. KONDRACKE: Yeah, we--yeah. There was a point--I mean, I--I--my--I've changed on this. There was a point at which I wanted people--I wanted to get the credit for being the loyal, attentive husband that I was being. You know, I wanted people to notice for ego purposes, I guess, and, you know--and people used to say, you know, `Mort, you're a saint. And I used to sort of exult in that. And I--and I--and I said, `Good, I'm getting credit for it.' I've dispensed with that. I mean, not to say that I--I don't want people to appreciate that I'm doing the best I can, but real life is more important than what people think about stuff like that, so I--I mean, we--we still dance at weddings. I mean, Milly loves to dance, but--and I know that people are looking and I know that people are saying, `Gee, isn't that great,' but it's the doing it that's the most fulfilling thing, not what--not what people think. I mean, it's just part of growing up, I guess.
LAMB: What are they going to say to you about this book, do you think?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I hope they'll be very moved by it. I hope they will help us, you know, double, triple the Parkinson's budget and beat this disease--and help us beat this disease.
LAMB: How long does Milly have?
Mr. KONDRACKE: I think a feeding tube decision wh--when she's not going to be able to swallow is a year, I think, and...
LAMB: She's how old?
Mr. KONDRACKE: She's 61. And then if she takes--if she--if she takes the feeding tube, it'll be--I--I--it's indefinite. But the--the problem is, is that I don't know what kind of life she's going to have. I mean, whether the Mo Udall thing is--I mean, part of Mo Udall's problem was, us that he had this brain concussion and he couldn't--couldn't talk. I mean, she is all there. You know, she is--she has a far better memory than I do and she knows what's going on. Now for her to be trapped inside her body is--is horrendous, you know, and that's the future that I fear the most for her. But I--but I don't know. I--I don't know--I--I don't know how long--how long it is. I mean, Mo Udall was in that position for seven years. I don't know how long she's going to want to be in that position. I don't know whether she's going to want to be in that position. I don't know how this story ends.
LAMB: This is the book, "Saving Milly." Our guest has been Mort Kondracke. Thank you very much.
Mr. KONDRACKE: Thank you, Brian.

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