PRESIDENT Schuster weeps at presentation of a book documenting his 2000 illness.
In the three years that Rudolf Schuster, 68, has been president of Slovakia the people have been kept 'amuthed' by his perforated colon, his kidnapping by Amazon Indians, his holiday diarrhea, his two-ring stove in the Presidential Palace, his dream of solving the lack of water in the Holy Land, his singing career, his several books (one of which, written about him, was called 'Don't Cry Mummy, Father is Still Alive').
Father is, indeed, still alive, but would apparently have us know it's no thanks to Slovak doctors. He departed August 27 for a Vienna hospital after a Bratislava medical team was unable to diagnose his recurring fever. In doing so he delivered an outrageous insult to his country, inviting yet more guffaws from abroad that Slovakia can't even look after the minor medical complaints of its top officials.
Schuster, more than any other citizen of this country, has nothing to fear from the ruinous state of Slovak health care. He is instantly afforded the best treatment foreign-trained doctors can provide, he has access to the best equipment the country can offer, and he has his family, vigilant as hawks, to lay criminal charges should any element of this treatment machine falter.
And yet, for no other reason than that "he felt weak, he had the feeling his strength was ebbing, and he thought it was sensible to leave" (presidential spokesman Ján Füle), Schuster has brought unwarranted shame on his country.
If anyone should be going to Austria for treatment it is people like Petra Ázacis, whose three year old son Jani has a hernia but can't be operated on because Bratislava's Kramáre hospital has an acute shortage of operating theatre nurses.
If anyone should be turning their backs on Slovak health care it is the dozens of patients with serious complaints who wait patiently in hospital emergency rooms for the one (1) doctor on duty to get to them.
If anyone should be staying here, taking his medicine, and if its proves bitter doing his damndest to improve the system for the benefit of all, it is Father Schuster.
Slovak health care has huge problems, and they're not ones with quick solutions. There are too many hospitals, which cost too much money to run, in sparsely populated areas. Too much money is being wasted because the people who spend it have no incentive to save. Doctors and nurses are paid too little, meaning many leave for better paid jobs in surrounding countries (thus the lack of nurses), while others opt for up to 36-hour shifts to make a little extra on overtime (thus the one-doctor emergency surgery in Bratislava's Fakultná Nemocnica August 25).
At the same time, we're told by a think tank in the capital that the election programmes of political parties are singularly poor this time around, that they are short of both substance and complexity.
If anyone has a duty to point out this desperate state of affairs it is a president who says he represents all Slovaks. If anyone has a duty to stay here and encourage Slovak medical staffs with his faith in their skills it is Rudolf Schuster. If any illness can be treated in this country, it is surely his moderate fever.
The ancient Greeks used to believe that abnormal anxiety about one's health arose from the soft organs below the rib cage (khondros), hence the word hypochondria.
What ails Schuster, though, has more to do with his heart - and how far it is, in a Vienna hospital, from being in the right place.
2. Sep 2002 at 0:00