Was the Steve Jobs Health Admission Too Little Too Late?

January 5th, 2009

So, after months of sometimes morbid speculation, the story about the condition of Steve Jobs has finally been revealed in a brief statement posted at Apple’s site. The key and optimistic paragraph states: “Fortunately, after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause—a hormone imbalance that has been ‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy. Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.” And Jobs expects to regain all that lost weight by spring.

Fair enough. Hormone problems can cause all sorts of nasty things. No doubt the talking heads on the 24-hour cable TV networks will bring on their standard roster of physician-commentators to discuss the possible conditions from which Jobs probably suffers. Obviously they are making “educated guesses,” since they have no way of accessing the actual medical records. Or perhaps they are just talking through their hats, since they will no doubt be asked to discuss the worst-case scenarios.

In any case, media analysts will also begin to pore over what Jobs didn’t say in his brief statement, such as whether his condition was the real reason why he backed out of delivering the Macworld Expo keynote, or whether he just wanted to take a little time off and spend it with his family for once. Certainly he seems to imply it’s, in part anyway, the latter.

Then again, perhaps that decision was really all about Apple simply reducing the psychological importance of the Expo in their final year of participation, which, therefore, has the end result of making whatever new product announcements Philip Schiller delivers seem all the more significant. As I said previously, Apple clearly doesn’t want you to invest all your faith in the company into a single person. Moving forward, there will come a time when Jobs will leave the post, whether for health reasons or simply because he’s tired of the rat race. Regardless, if customers — and Wall Street of course — were reassured that Apple would continue to deliver trend-setting products, the “Steve Jobs effect” wouldn’t be quite as severe.

Indeed, there are suggestions even now that part of Apple’s recent stock price hit was due to concerns over Jobs’ health. So wherever it goes now, that issue has been factored in. Indeed, in the wake of the announcement about his treatment for a hormonal condition, the stock price began to drift upward. That may have been a reflection of the market’s feeling of reassurance, or perhaps part of a general upward trend. With the market, you may never really know.

Of course the naysayers might also try to find evidence of deception in this unexpected announcement from Jobs. Didn’t he phone a reporter for The New York Times a few months back, saying that he had already undergone treatment for his condition? If that’s the case, does it mean that the present statement is a new spin on an old issue? Or was the previous reassurance, delivered to the reporter on background, simply a description about a method of treatment that failed?

This isn’t, of course, the same as the popular TV series “House,” where the sick are brought in with obscure conditions and a team of doctors go through any number of diagnostic procedures and treatment methodologies before they finally figure out what’s really wrong. All this, of course, happens within the space of approximately 43 minutes, which is the duration of an hour TV episode minus the ubiquitous spots.

Or maybe the Jobs scenario is similar, but spread out over the space of a year. The doctors tried and failed to find the true cause of his condition, and previous treatments failed. His public message hints at that, particularly the phrase “after further testing.” All right, that’s good to know.

No, we don’t require his medical records, and certainly his health is a private matter, except insofar as it might impact on his ability to continue as Apple’s CEO. But it’s also good to know that he seems to recognize just how important such matters are not just to the company but to the public at large, when he writes: “I have given more than my all to Apple for the past 11 years now. I will be the first one to step up and tell our Board of Directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple’s CEO. I hope the Apple community will support me in my recovery and know that I will always put what is best for Apple first.”

Fair enough.

So it would seem as if you won’t be seeing Steve Jobs in public too often until he feels that his weight has recovered to a point where that sickly aspect to his appearance is no longer an issue. Then perhaps he can make a triumphant return to the spotlight and make Apple’s stock price rise even faster.

There are some, no doubt, who will claim that Jobs is severely understating the seriousness of his condition, that he really does have a life-threatening or at the very least life-altering condition, and he is using a little spin control to break it to us gently.

That, however, seems a mite too paranoid. Lacking any evidence to the contrary, and considering the evident sincerity of Jobs’ statement, I’m inclined to take it at face value, and I suggest you readers do as well.

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6 Responses to “Was the Steve Jobs Health Admission Too Little Too Late?”

  1. ppgreat says:

    This shouldn’t come as any surprise from a guy who wanted to treat his pancreatic cancer originally in a more holistic, vegan fashion. (You just can’t trust a person who won’t wolf down the occasional Big Mac.) Let’s see what he looks like in the coming months.

  2. ppgreat wrote:

    This shouldn’t come as any surprise from a guy who wanted to treat his pancreatic cancer originally in a more holistic, vegan fashion. (You just can’t trust a person who won’t wolf down the occasional Big Mac.) Let’s see what he looks like in the coming months.

    Well, one hopes it’ll be for the better, and that all this speculation about his health will be history. But, no, I don’t believe he wolfs down Big Macs or chicken nuggets. 🙂


  3. Richard says:

    Several sites have posed the question of whether this is simply a result of the reduced size/capacity of the pancreas as a result of the initial surgery or whether this is a consequence of a recurrence of the disease. Apparently, either is a possible explanation of the symptoms.

    It does seem strange that Mr. Jobs’ doctors have only recently come to the diagnosis he relates.

    In either event, you correctly conclude that sharing the load or initiating a transition plan is something that was the pink elephant in the room that no one at Apple was prepared to publicly address until just now.

    Best wishes to Mr. Jobs.

  4. @ Richard: With differing diagnoses, maybe we are watching a live-action version of the TV show, “House.”


  5. Kaleberg says:

    Maybe its just the reality distortion field, but I am inclined to accept the official explanation. Steve Jobs is a vegetarian of some sort. In any event, he has a relatively restricted diet, and this tends to result in problems as one ages, if one gets ill or there are changes in one’s life. Basically, the body has less slack to work with when something goes awry. I’ve known at least two vegetarians who ran into health problems related to their diet, and one who just started eating meat again in response.

    Steve Jobs may simply need to readjust his diet. He can probably remain a vegetarian, but he will have to vary the ratios of his foods to get the nutrients he needs. There are all sorts of nutritional deficiencies, many of them obscure. For example, you can get rabbit fever if you try to live on rabbit and nothing else. Rabbit is extremely lean, so you will not be getting enough fat in your diet. Given our fat saturated society I doubt that your typical physician will pick up on this on your first visit.

  6. I just wanted to mention that a certain Mac publication is now exploiting the situation by quoting a physician who claims that the weight loss is evidence that Jobs’ cancer has recurred. That doctor, of course, has no access to any medical records. It’s just talk, and typical of tabloid journalism.

    No, I will not provide a link to this travesty.


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