Well, a short walk certainly ramped up the chatter and speculation, so to speak.
Social media was abuzz about a 25 second video of President Donald Trump descending a ramp after he gave a speech at the West Point Commencement at West Point, New York. He didn’t exactly go down the ramp Gangnam style. Instead, he walked down the ramp fairly carefully. That led to lots of speculation about Trump’s health on social media, because that’s what the Twittersphere, the Facebook-o-sphere, and other social media spheres do.
Trump then responded to this speculation on Twitter, because that’s what Trump does:
This spawned the creation of the hashtag #RampGate. So if you noticed that #RampGate was trending on Twitter this weekend, don’t think, “oh no, what did ramps do now?” Ramps are still cool. The hashtag wasn’t the result of some recent ramp-based policy decision either:
Instead, the hashtag accompanied a number of tweets postulating whether Trump’s ramp walk was a sign of some larger health issue or cognitive decline as this tweet indicated:
By the way, that’s not really Scott Pelley or Trump, and “cognitive incline” is not a real medical term. Some of the tweets also compared Trump’s walk with President Barrack Obama’s ramp romp while he was President:
There was certainly no shortage of opinions. Why go to a doctor then when you can just post a 25-second video of yourself and be diagnosed on Twitter by strangers?
Umm, it’s because you can’t tell much from a video like that. In general, a 25 second video doesn’t tend to reveal a whole lot about a person’s health, unless something very obvious happens. It would be one thing if a video were to show someone getting knocked over by a walrus. Then you could reasonably guess that any immediate subsequent injuries could have been walrus-induced. This would especially true if you noticed something new post-walrus that wasn’t around pre-walrus.
Otherwise, there’s only so much that you can garner by watching a person’s gait from afar. That’s not just afar, but afar on a video. That’s afar, on a video, on the Internet. That’s afar, on a video, on the Internet, while you are in a chair or maybe even on the toilet.
Typically, diagnosing most medical conditions requires actually interviewing the person, knowing the person’s real medical history, completing an appropriate physical exam, and possibly running some tests. By contrast, the video clip offered only a brief view of the President walking down one specific ramp, at one specific time, under one set of specific circumstances without offering much more. So it’s not very fair to come up with any specific diagnoses.
Lots of different things could be going on when someone appears to be moving down a ramp a bit more slowly. Sure, more serious conditions such as strokes, brain hemorrhages, breathing problems, heart disease, movement disorders, or other neurological issues can affect your ability to walk. Sure, cognitive decline could make it more difficult for you to navigate. But nothing in the video really offered compelling support for any of these diagnoses.
In fact, there are lots of much less serious possible explanations for what you saw in the video. Here are just 10 of them:
1. The ramp could have been slippery.
Some on Twitter argued that the ramp was not very long. But length can be a very subjective thing. A person may claim that something is long while other may disagree and argue that the person is exaggerating. In the end, length is not the only thing that matters. There are other factors such as its angle and its slipperiness. (We are still talking about ramps aren’t we?) Plus, what’s not slippery for one person may be slippery for another. Even if the ramp were not made out of slippery material, parts of it could have been a bit slick. For example, what if someone had previously rolled a medicine ball covered in Vaseline down the ramp?
2. His shoes could have been slippery.
Most people probably don’t buy special shoes for ramps. Nonetheless, not all shoes are ideal for all surfaces, especially if your shoes are still new. Also, a variety of things can make shoes much more slippery such as rain water, shoe polish, or baby oil dripping from your body.
3. He could have stepped in dog poop or gum.
Have you ever tried to remove something from your shoes by dragging your feet along the ground? No, it’s not the coolest thing to do to leave a trail of dog poop on a ramp. But it happens.
4. He could have been deep in thought.
Hey, some people are just really thoughtful. Who knows what kind of thoughts may be swirling in your head after you’ve made a big speech such as “boy, I gave such as great speech,” or “they love me, they really love me” or “ disinfectants and injection, injection and disinfectants, hey, how about injecting disinfectants,” or something else. In turn, it’s not uncommon to amble more slowly when you’ve got deep thoughts brewing.
5. He could have had an injury to his lower extremities or some other musculoskeletal issue from an accident, Parkour, or something else.
Certainly an injury or some pain in your feet, legs, knees, or hips can make you walk more gingerly, especially when going down a ramp or stairs.
6. He could have been dehydrated or otherwise feeling lightheaded.
Feeling lightheaded isn’t going to make you very light on your feet. Dehydration, nervousness, or seeing One Direction can all lead to such feelings.
7. He could have had some difficulty seeing.
The glaring sunlight could impair your vision for a bit, maybe even longer, depending on the exposure. That’s why you should avoid staring directly at the sun, even during a solar eclipse. Allergies, dust, or spray tan dripping into your eyes can also impair your sight for a bit.
8. He could have had some gastrointestinal problems.
The words “need to go number two” and “skipping down the ramp” rarely go together. A tummy ache, diarrhea, and gas can all make for a slow and more delicate descent.
9. His clothes could have been too tight or otherwise hampering his movements.
In this case, tight means not loose enough to allow freer movement, as opposed to “that’s tight, bro.” As legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady showed recently in a golf match, sometimes it’s better to move a little more carefully:
That ended up being a split decision. Speaking of golfing and undergarments, another thing that may hamper movement is the whole wedge issue.
10. He could have been experiencing side effects from medications.
Medications such as those for high blood pressure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and other side effects.
This is just a sample of the possibilities. You may agree or disagree with Trump’s statements, actions, and policies. But making judgments about his health from afar is a different story. As I covered previously for Forbes, early in 2019, Sean Patrick Conley, DO, the Physician to the President, did declare that Trump was in “very good health” and “will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond.” That type of guarantee is traditionally reserved for cookware and backpacks. So who knows what his health may be like now. Nevertheless, the only people who can really tell are his doctors.
After all, it’s very difficult to rule in or out most medical conditions simply based on watching someone without doing a real history and physical. Testing may be necessary too. You certainly can’t tell much from a 25-second video on the Internet, unless, of course, something very obvious like a walrus is involved.