UPDATE 2-Former President George H.W. Bush remains in intensive care

Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:23pm EST

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas Dec 27 (Reuters) - Former President George H.W. Bush remained in the intensive care unit of a Houston hospital on Thursday, but his longtime chief of staff issued a reassuring message, urging the media and the public to "put the harps back in the closet."

Bush, 88, a Republican who during his one term in office led a coalition of nations that ejected Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, was admitted to Methodist Hospital Nov. 23 for bronchitis.

He was transferred to intensive care on Sunday after setbacks including a persistent fever, family spokesman Jim McGrath has said.

"I don't have any guidance so far today except to say no news is good news," McGrath said on Thursday. Hospital spokesman George Kovacik added that the former president remained in intensive care on Thursday.

But in a statement addressed to the "national media" on Bush's condition on Thursday, chief of staff Jean Becker sought to strike an upbeat tone.

"Yes, President Bush is in ICU where he is getting the best medical care in the world," she wrote. "Is he sick? Yes. Does he plan on going anywhere soon? No. He has every intention of staying put.

"He would ask me to tell you to please 'put the harps back in the closet,'" she said.

On a more serious note, Becker said her boss was expected to remain in the hospital for "a while," adding, "He is 88 years old, he had a terrible case of bronchitis which then triggered a series of complications." She did not elaborate.

McGrath on Wednesday described Bush as alert and talking to medical staff.

On Thursday evening, McGrath released a statement from Bush mourning the death of retired Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. and allied forces that routed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein's military from Kuwait during a six-week war in 1991.

He said the four-star general, who died at age 78, "epitomized the 'duty, service, country' creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises."

Bush has lower-body parkinsonism, which causes a loss of balance, and has used wheelchairs for more than a year.

The 41st U.S. president and father of former President George W. Bush, he served as a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, CIA director and vice president for two terms under Ronald Reagan during a political career spanning four decades.