Doctors upgraded Gov. Corzine's condition yesterday to stable and moved him out of the intensive-care unit as he recuperates from an April 12 accident.
But Corzine will remain hospitalized for at least another week, and will not resume his job duties until sometime after he leaves the hospital, the doctors and the governor's chief of staff said at a news conference at Cooper University Hospital.
They said Corzine was joking, watching television, reading newspapers and talking with family and staff. He was eating solid food, including a cheeseburger and carrot cake, and drinking protein shakes (he prefers chocolate).
The governor has even asked about issues such as the state budget and a plan to sell or lease state assets. "He's not as grouchy as you would expect him to be," chief of staff Tom Shea said. "He's fairly even keeled."
Shea said he was startled to find Corzine sitting up in bed, his arms raised and his hands clasped behind his head. And the governor was "showing off" how he could bend his knee, "which was impressive," said Robert Ostrum, Cooper's director of orthopedic trauma.
But Corzine gets tired easily, and doctors said that would continue. He remains on antibiotics and painkillers, and is coughing up sputum while recovering from 11 fractured ribs, a fractured left leg, collarbone, breastbone and other injuries.
When he returns to work will depend on his energy level, doctors said. "Because he can speak doesn't mean he's in a position to have an intense conversation about something," Shea said.
Steven Ross, chief of the hospital's trauma unit, said that the pressure of being governor could affect his recovery if he were allowed to return to work too soon - and that he would not go back to being governor if he was still on painkillers that make him sleepy. "It is our goal to assure he is ready for that stress at the time he goes back."
Shea said there were no plans yet for where Corzine would go after he left Cooper, but officials are looking into the possibility of Corzine's governing by video, perhaps from a rehabilitation facility or the governor's mansion in Princeton. Shea added that it would be better to have Corzine closer to Trenton and the Statehouse.
Doctors discussed Corzine's rehabilitation with him yesterday. They hope he can sit at the edge of the bed by today, then later get himself into a chair. They have talked to Corzine about trying out "forearm crutches," which would lock onto his arms because his broken ribs prevent him from using regular crutches.
The governor no longer requires a morphine drip, and got his first good night's sleep Sunday night. He has had no heart issues and received no lung bruises, Ross said.
Ross and Ostrum said Corzine continued to do better than they expected, and credited his strong will. "He's chomping at the bit," Ostrum said. "He wants to get going. If he had his choice he'd be out of bed today."
The governor is aware he has been in an accident, but has not been pressed for details of the crash and has not been interviewed by state police, Shea and the doctors said.
"There is absolutely no rush to get the governor back to work," Shea said. "The state is in very good hands with acting Gov. [Richard J.] Codey."
Although Corzine has the constitutional authority to overrule doctors and staff and return to work when he thinks he can, Shea said that wasn't likely to happen. "If he decides otherwise, then he and I will have an argument about it," Shea said.
New Jersey State Police are investigating an allegation that the trooper who was driving Corzine's Chevrolet Suburban at 91 m.p.h. before it crashed may have been distracted by e-mails sent to his mobile phone or BlackBerry.
A state police spokesman, Sgt. Steven Jones, said he could not readily find out whether the Executive Protection Unit has a rule prohibiting cell phone or Blackberry use while driving. One of the duties of the unit is to transport the governor.
Previously, state police representatives said the troopers in the unit were permitted to exceed the speed limit, at their discretion, in an emergency.
No new information on the crash was released yesterday. State police said the only spokesman authorized to release such information, Capt. Al Della Fave, was on vacation this week and no successor had been named.