President Rudolf Schuster returned to Slovakia on August 15 after 48 days recovering in Austria from a near-fatal bout with a perforated colon. Above, he holds a birth certificate issued by his Austrian doctors.
"I was returned to the world, and I still have work to do," he said after returning to his native Košice on August 15.
Schuster, who in June suffered a life-threatening perforated colon which was mishandled by Slovak doctors, spent 48 days recovering at a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria and later at a health spa in Igles. He flew back first to Bratislava, kissing his hand and touching it to the tarmac symbolically as he stepped off the plane, and clutching a 'birth certificate' issued by his Innsbruck doctors in keeping with Schuster's belief that he had been "born again" in Austria.
The president's Slovak welcoming committee included Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš, and a group of about 15 well-wishers who held placards bearing messages such as "Welcome, Mr. President", and "Danke Osterreich".
Schuster, who reclaimed all his presidential powers on July 31, said he now intended to work several hours a day. Dzurinda said he was relieved to have the president back, while Migaš added that he was certain Schuster's health would permit him to carry out all his constitutional duties.
To prevent further medical complications, the president said he would be in close contact with the Košice military hospital.
At his landing in Bratislava, Schuster reiterated that he was disappointed with the treatment he had received from Slovak doctors.
After falling ill on June 14, Schuster was admitted to the Interior Ministry Hospital in Bratislava where he underwent surgery five days later. Following surgery, the president suffered a lung infection so severe that it required a tracheotomy, and after fears that his lungs were unable to deliver enough oxygen to his brain, Schuster was airlifted to Austria on June 28.
In the meantime, it was discovered that the president had been given a room with no air-conditioning at the Interior Ministry hospital, even though temperatures hit 35 degrees centigrade that week, and that on being rushed to Kramáre, the capital's largest hospital complex, Schuster had been forced to wait in a coma outside the doors as his relatives banged on hospital windows to gain entrance.
"Mr. President is not in contact with the doctors who treated him in Slovakia," Schuster's spokesman Jozef Leikert told The Slovak Spectator on August 15. "As far as I know he still feels hurt by the treatment he received, and they haven't tried to contact him either."
Two of the doctors who treated Schuster, Július Vajó and František Samsely, were both close friends of the president. Schuster said at the airport that he would no longer allow personal friends to look after his health.
During his first public address to Slovakia from his hospital room in Austria, Schuster had stirred the public's attention by thanking his Austrian doctors but failing to mention their Slovak counterparts. He later explained that the omission had been deliberate.
"I intentionally did not mention [the Slovak doctors]," Schuster said. "But I regret that my omission of the Slovak doctors was misunderstood as meaning that I don't respect the work of doctors and health sector employees in general."
An investigation into the treatment the president received, carried out by a special commission established by Dzurinda, on August 14 delivered a final report to investigators which is expected to identify the person(s) responsible for the poor care Schuster was given before being transported to Austria. Health Minister Tibor Šagát resigned July 4 due to the controversy.
Although Schuster said he would grant a presidential pardon to anyone found guilty by the courts, he added that it was important that the truth come out. "This is not about revenge, but about the safety and health of all patients in Slovakia," he said.
Karol Kálig, a member of the investigating commission, said that Schuster's promise of a pardon should assist his body in uncovering the truth. "These types of commission are often presupposed to be some form of 'mafia in white gowns', where each [doctor] watches the other's back," he said. "But now [with the promised pardon], knowing that a colleague's career would not be totally endangered by their testimony, witnesses could be motivated to give their best expert statements."
Kálig agreed that mistakes had been made during the president's hospitalisation in the Interior Ministry Hospital, but refused to give further details. The results of the investigation will not be made public.
Schuster, meanwhile, said that he felt extremely safe in the hands of the Austrian doctor Ernst Bodner, who will perform a final operation on the president on October 4 in Innsbruck. Schuster intends to visit Bodner for medical check-ups on a yearly basis.
21. Aug 2000 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová