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Clinton Expected To Return To White House Today President Recovers From Surgery By Watching Basketball, Doing Puzzles

President Clinton remained in the hospital recovering from knee surgery Saturday, passing the hours watching college basketball, solving crossword puzzles and gritting his teeth in pain that became considerably more intense after doctors removed the spinal anesthesia that previously had left his lower body comfortably numb.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting her husband at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, joked that the president “now knows he had surgery.”

White House press secretary Michael McCurry, who recounted that line for reporters at an afternoon briefing, said Clinton’s physicians have tentative plans to discharge the president from the hospital late this afternoon.

In the meantime, he said, Clinton was spending most of his time in bed. After awaking unusually late, about 11:30 a.m., Clinton moved to a chair for a couple of hours. He taped a joke-filled video that was to be played at Saturday night’s annual banquet of the Gridiron Club. Before his injury, Clinton had been planning to attend the event, sponsored by a group of veteran Washington journalists, which each year performs songs and skits to wickedly lampoon the capital’s governing class.

But even these mild exertions took a toll. When he returned to bed at 2:30 p.m., he was “in a fair amount of pain,” McCurry said. “He was feeling the effect of being up and being jostled.”

Clinton’s physicians have prescribed two different pain relievers, sold under the brand names Toradol and Ultran, and a muscle relaxant, Robaxin. Clinton had leg spasms Saturday afternoon, which his doctors described as a normal occurence after the operation Clinton had.

The president raced back to Washington from Florida on Friday for emergency surgery to reattach his tendon to his kneecap after an early morning stumble on some stairs at the oceanside estate of golf pro Greg Norman. Physicians said the surgery was a success. If he does go home to the White House today, McCurry quoted the surgeons as saying this would be a normal hospital stay, although somewhat on the speedy side, for this type of surgery.

Aside from his wife and a few aides, Clinton took no visitors or telephone calls Saturday.

McCurry said he heard of no plans to change Clinton’s scheduled Tuesday departure. But a senior administration official familiar with planning said Saturday that a final decision still had not been made and a delay of a day or so would present no serious problems for the summit agenda.