Every day about 10 a.m., Minister Without Portolio Mohammed Taleb Ibrahim presides over a multinational committee of doctors at the Mustapha Hospital to discuss treatment of Algerian President Houari Boumediene.
Boumediene has been in a coma in the intensive care unit since Nov. 18, when he was urgently hospitalized after suffering a relapse following his return from a month of medical treatment in Moscow.
Doctors were rushed in from the United States, France, Cuba, China, West Germany, Yugoslavia and Tunisia. At one point, Dr. Taleb Ibrahim's committee was up to 62 doctors, including 14 Americans, six Soviet doctors who accompanied Boumediene from Moscow, 20 Cubans and eight Chinese.
The committee of doctors serves to reassure the population that everything has been done for Boumediene. It also underlines Algeria's position as a leader of nonaligned countries.
Diplomatic informants in Algiers say Boumediene, who is afflicted by a rare malady called Waldenstrom's Disease that attacks blood cells and bone marrow, could remain in the same condition for weeks, maybe months. They say he still has brain patterns and is breathing normally. But he is unconscious and is fed intraveneously, they say. Most people have given up hope for his recovery.
For a while, he was constantly on a kidney dialysis machine to treat urinary infection. But he is now placed on the machine only occasionally. A decision appears to have been made not to resort to extraordinary measures with life-support systems. Informed Algerians stress that this would be against the Moslem religion of Boumediene and most Algerians.
Meanwhile, preparations have been made with fresh paint at the main Algiers mosque and new grass at the cemetery where heroes of the independence war against France are buried.
The Chinese doctors have been trying acupuncture on Boumediene, the sources say. It has not revived him but stimulates brain wave reactions on an electroencephalograph, the sources add.
At first, all the doctors were confined to the walled compound of Mustapha Hospital. As things dray on, however, some have moved into villas and have been given electronic beepers to call them to the hospital if needed. The doctors reportedly have been asked not to go farther than about 15 miles from the hospital when they are off duty.
One of the consequences of Waldenstrom's Disease is blood clotting and Boumediene has had two blood clots in the brain, causing partial paralysis. His condition was considered so precarious that he was not even moved into the specially equipped medical truck the United States flew in complete with a brain scanner to locate the blood clotting.
The truck came on a C5A Galaxy cargo plane with a team of doctors from Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital. The scanner reportedly was used on 20 other patients at Mustapha Hospital.
The Algerians, whose oil has made their country prosperous, have told the Americans to bill them for all the medical help. The U.S. medical team is now down to three doctors. The Cubans and Chinese are said to still be here in full force.
On the night of Dec. 6 to 7, there reportedly was a major medical alert. Boumediene is said to have had serious internal bleeding and blood started filling his lungs. The eight-man Council of the Revolution, which has been ruling in the interim, is said to have staved in session through the whole night.
Algerians seem now to be resigned to a period of waiting. The Algerian constitution does not provide for declaring the incapacity of the president to govern. But the feeling seems to be growing that if there is no break in the situation in the next couple of weeks, some provision for regularizing an interim government must be found, perhaps in consultation with the country's leading religious figures.
The president has been out of commission since Sept. 24, when he first fell sick during a visit to Damascus and returned home.He went to Moscow Oct. 4 or 5. It was then thought that he had only a severe kidney infection.
Soviet doctors reportly treated him well for the infection with blood transfusions. But they did not diagnose that the basic problem was Waldenstrom's Disease. Dr. Jan Waldenstrom, the Swedish doctor after whom the disease is named, came to Algiers to confirm a later diagnosis of the illness. He is said to have stressed how difficult it is to detect and to have said the Soviet doctors could not be blamed for failing to diagnose it.
Boumediene's long illness seems not only to have prepared Algerians for the worst but it also has served to underline the basic stability of the government he headed. The eight members of the Council of the Revolution are known as a group to have very mixed feelings about each other. Yet, they have managed during the crisis to put aside their personal feelings and to stick together.