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After bad hiccups, Brazil’s Bolsonaro may need intestinal surgery

A sign on a fence that's topped with barbed wire reads "Area Militar." A building behind the fence says "HFA."
A fence surrounds the Armed Forces Hospital where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was admitted in Brasilia on Wednesday.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

After 10 straight days of hiccups, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was admitted to a hospital Wednesday with what doctors said was an intestinal obstruction that could require emergency surgery.

Bolsonaro, 66, was admitted to the Armed Forces Hospital in Brasilia early in the morning and was “feeling well,” according to an initial statement that said doctors were examining his persistent hiccups.

But hours later, the president’s office said Dr. Antonio Luiz Macedo, the surgeon who operated on Bolsonaro after he was stabbed in the abdomen during the 2018 presidential campaign, decided to transfer him to Sao Paulo, where he will undergo additional tests to evaluate the need for an emergency surgery.

Bolsonaro, who is both Catholic and evangelical, posted on his official Twitter account a photo of himself lying on a hospital bed, eyes closed, several monitoring sensors stuck to his bare torso. To the left, an unseen person wearing what appears to be a black religious robe and a long chain with a gold cross has a hand on the president’s shoulder.

The 2018 stabbing caused intestinal damage and serious internal bleeding, and the president has gone through several surgeries since, some unrelated to the attack.

In recent weeks, Bolsonaro has appeared to struggle with speaking on various occasions and said that he suffers from recurring hiccups.

“I apologize to everyone who is listening to me, because I’ve been hiccupping for five days now,” Bolsonaro said in an interview with Radio Guaiba on July 7. He suggested that medications prescribed after dental surgery might have been the cause. “I have the hiccups 24 hours a day.”

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The following day, during his weekly Facebook Live session, Bolsonaro apologized again for not being able to express himself well due to the weeklong hiccups.

Chronic hiccups are usually the manifestation of an underlying problem, such as an obstructed intestine, that might require surgery, said Dr. Anthony Lembo, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. In some cases, part of the intestine might need to be removed, he said.

“Any time you’re moving bowels it’s not a small surgery,” Lembo said, adding that in the case of repeated surgeries, as in Bolsonaro’s case, interventions get more complicated.

Bolsonaro has been under growing pressure from a congressional inquiry into his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged corruption in the acquisition of vaccines. Recent polls have indicated that he could lose in next year’s election.

On Tuesday night, in a 20-minute encounter with the president in Brasilia, supporters repeatedly asked him to look after his health.


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