Dick Cheney + Sponge Bath: Unsee This

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Mr. Cheney’s pump was placed near his heart. With most patients, a power line emerges about waist level and connects to a controller, a minicomputer that plugs into a pair of one-and-a-half-pound, 12-volt batteries. Patients wear a black mesh vest over their clothing that holds the controller and batteries. They usually cannot shower and have to be satisfied with sponge baths.

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Mr. Cheney, who has participated in some of the nation’s toughest decisions for decades, now faces a crucial one of his own: whether to seek a full heart transplant.

It is a decision he will most likely be forced to make within months. He is old enough that soon he will no longer qualify for a transplant, doctors say. And while it is possible for some patients with Mr. Cheney’s device to live for years, the long-term prospects remain unknown.