Analysis / Joking Aside, How Will It Affect Sharon?

Dark-colored armored cars parked near the entrance to the hospital while armed security guards and policemen crammed the building's outer vicinity. Relatives arrived hurriedly, aides to the prime minister flowed to the scene, the rumors of "his serious condition" scribbled over contorted faces.

Two hours after Channel 2 aired the initial report and up until Hadassah Ein Karem's official - and reassuring - announcement and that of the Prime Minister's Office, the fears and anxieties that tweaked the heart of every Israeli (except for followers of Kach, who rejoiced) did not pass: What really happened to Sharon in the first two hours? How severe and dangerous did his condition become? And the most vexing question of all: Did his stroke affect his ability to function, damage his work capabilities, erode his near-mythical faculties that enable him to exhibit the judgment, self-control, clarity and sharpness that have made him the ultimate prime minister and a lone player in the political arena?

It is Sharon's uniqueness, his complete domination that, prior to yesterday, granted him unprecedented political power that had quickly become problematic, controversial and a central issue in the upcoming campaign.

Only around 11 P.M. did Sharon's personal physician, Dr. Boleslav Goldman, deliver a detailed account of the prime minister's condition. "There is unequivocally no damage," Goldman said.

Sharon, according to reports, did not stop joking with his doctors, his aides, and his sons. From all the laughter, we almost forgot why Sharon went to hospital in the first place. Not as a clown who comes to entertain sick children or as a visitor, but as an old man who is 10 years over the legal age of retirement and in one of the most tense, pressured jobs in the world and being treated for stroke.

Every time Sharon is asked about his medical condition, he recounts how his relatives lived long lives and took care of their health. I know it can harm the health of others, he told Haaretz in an interview eight months ago. It's an inseparable part of the Sharonian sense of humor. But not anymore.