Experts analyze Donald Trump’s body language in the ‘gasping’ video

How is President Donald Trump feeling these days? It’s hard to know the truth. Just before leaving Walter Reed Medical Center Monday after being hospitalized for coronavirus over the weekend, Trump tweeted, “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” He elaborated last night, “I’m back because I am a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young” (per New York Post). Belying these claims from the president, though, has been a video of Trump seen gasping for breath; Twitter users — none of them medical experts, we should note — have speculated that his apparent belabored breathing indicates pneumonia.

So what does an actual medical expert think of this video? In an interview with The List, Dr. Kojo Amoakohene, a practicing attending anesthesiologist in the greater Hartford area within the Eastern Connecticut Health System, and a COVID-19 survivor himself, said that he did not see signs of respiratory distress in this video. “He appears to be comfortable. He appears to be breathing at a typical respiratory rate, and he does not appear to be in respiratory distress,” said Amoakohene, who is also a founding member and vice president of the antiseptic brand Halodine, LLC. In addition, body language expert Lauren Cohen, an executive and relationship coach, said heavy breathing can indicate an emotional reaction, rather than being a COVID-19 symptom. “Heavy breathing for air can be for a variety of reasons: it could be from just removing his mask or from stress or anxiety,” she said.

Experts offer other reasons for Trump's shortness of breath

Both Amoakohene and Cohen had alternative explanations for why Trump appeared to be gasping in the video. One of these, proposed by the anesthesiologist, undercuts Trump’s claim that he is a “perfect physical specimen.” Noted Amoakohene: “He has just climbed up a few flights of stairs and we know that he had recently required supplemental oxygen — it is therefore not alarming that he would have some brief period of apparent exertion related to the stair climbing.” 

Meanwhile, Cohen argues that speculation about Trump’s breathing has been spurred on because of his recent diagnosis, and that we wouldn’t normally analyze how the president was breathing, under other circumstances. “Objectively — assuming for a moment we have no idea who this man is — it is a video of an overweight older guy in a suit who is about to speak publicly,” Cohen pointed out. “I do not think we typically focus so closely on how President Trump breathes or doesn’t breathe.” 

Cohen does agree with observers that “his face indicates stress or discomfort.” However, she noted, “he also may not have wanted to smile because he wants to communicate the ‘severity’ and ‘seriousness’ of what is going on… He absolutely wants to communicate strength, stability, power and that he is healthy and ‘presidential.”

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