President Rudolf Schuster's summer brush with death stood as a grisly reminder that the country's health care sector is in a shambles, and left the nation wondering what medical attention the average citizen could expect if not even the president could be properly looked after.
Schuster's health problems began in mid-June when Interior Ministry hospital doctors suspected that the prseident's abdominal discomfort was being caused by something he had eaten. When his temperature soared on June 18, however, physicians discovered he had a perforated colon requiring immediate surgery.
The surgery was performed June 19 with attending doctors from the Interior Ministry saying it had been "a life saving measure". Following a second operation to open his wind passage, a team of Czech doctors who had treated Czech President Václav Havel for the same condition in 1998 were flown to Bratislava at the request of the president's family.
His condition deteriorating, Schuster was flown in critical condition to a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria on June 28. As doctors there stabilised the president's condition, attention focused on the quality of the care he had received here.
In the original Interior Ministry hospital, Schuster had been assigned a room without air conditioning even though temperatures in Bratislava that week reached 35 degrees centigrade. Moreover, the hospital was so poorly equipped that he had to be moved to the National Oncology Hospital and then to Bratislava's Kramáre hospital - where, in critical condition, his ambulance had to wait several minutes before his family members were able to rouse hospital personnel by banging on the windows.
The only explanation offered as to why the hospital had not been prepared for the president's arrival was given by František Zemko, director of the Council for the Protection of Constitutional Representatives, who said, "The ambulance came too quickly."
After spending several days in Kramáre - a hospital whose air filtration facilities Health Minister Šagát had criticised on March 23 as "one of the worst in Slovakia" - Schuster's infected lungs were unable to deliver the necessary oxygen to his blood, forcing his evacuation to Austria.
Šagát resigned on July 4; Ivan Hanták, the director of the Interior Ministry hospital also quit.
In all, Schuster spent 48 days recovering at a hospital in Austria. Upon his return August 15, Schuster pulled no punches on his opinion of the care he received in Slovakia, saying that he would never again visit Slovak doctors.
25. Dec 2000 at 0:00 | Compiled by Chris Togneri