August 18, 1980 12:00 PM

Richard Queen, 29, understands that he has become a symbol for the 52 Americans still held hostage in Iran, but since his release last month after 250 days of captivity, he has been happily bewildered by the outpouring of gifts and good wishes from his countrymen. Recently a container of Alaskan king crab was delivered to his parents’ home on the coast of Maine, where he has been recuperating. Two strangers dropped in later to deliver some ice cream flown in from well-wishers in Cincinnati. Besides tourists, Queen’s most persistent fans have been local fishermen bearing lobsters. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d get tired of lobster,” he sighs, “but I’ve had more than enough lately.”

Celebrity has come to Richard Queen at a high price indeed. A career diplomat on his first overseas assignment, he was the vice-consul in charge of processing Iranian visas to the U.S. when the embassy was taken over last November 4. By mid-December he noticed a numbness in his left hand, and by this spring he was suffering from dizziness and vomiting. Released from captivity as a result, Queen was flown to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., where his disease was confirmed to be multiple sclerosis—a degenerative nerve disease with no known origin. “My doctor said the detention might have kicked it off,” he says, but he emphasizes that he was not mistreated by his captors. “You had some really fine people there,” he says, “and you had some SOBs. I took them as individuals.”

Though his health continues to improve, Queen says, “My balance is still not that good.” Doctors have prescribed activities like typing and swimming to combat persistent dizziness and enhance coordination; he has jogged twice around the backyard and recently went fishing. “There is no way to know whether another attack will occur in a week, a month or 10 years,” says a neurological expert who treated Queen. “In general one proceeds with the assumption that the patient will lead a normal life.”

Richard’s daily routine includes telephone calls to the families of three or four hostages, which he finds “emotionally draining—they want to know everything, anything.” With exacerbating factors like Tehran’s angry reaction last week to the jailing of Iranian demonstrators in the U.S., Queen spends about 45 minutes on each call. The State Department is footing the bills, and since the local phone company has a minuscule staff, Richard jokes that “I’m sure my longdistance calls are making them rich.” The State Department has given him a month off, and he was advised to postpone another overseas assignment until next year, he says, “because the hospital wants to keep tabs on me.” As for his dubious celebrity, Queen hopes it will end when he shaves off his beard—a memento of his eight months in captivity—for his Army reserve stint this fall. “I can’t wait to get back to work,” he says. “I’m tired of sitting around.”

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