The agony of Hugo Chavez: details emerge of his final days

Sat Mar 9, 2013 11:33am EST

* Socialist leader died of lung failure after cancer spread
    * Unable to speak with aides at bedside in final weeks
    * Chavez slipped into coma in last hours

    By Marianna Parraga
    CARACAS, March 9 (Reuters) - Venezuela's Hugo Chavez slid
into a coma the day before he died of respiratory failure after
cancer spread into his lungs, sources say.
    Chavez's precise condition was one of the world's best-kept
secrets since his cancer was announced in June 2011.
    Since his death this week, however, details have emerged of
the 58-year-old president's battle with cancer and the last
moments in the hospital with close family and senior aides.
    "They used iPads and other tools to give him policy
presentations," one government source told Reuters, referring to
ministers' visits to the Havana and Caracas hospitals where he
spent his final weeks, unable to speak and breathing through a
tube.
    When appointing a new foreign minister, aides showed Chavez
a list of several possible names, and he put a tick mark beside
one - Elias Jaua - before signing the document, the source said.
   
    
     
    After announcing in 2011 that cancer had been detected in
his pelvic area, and a "baseball-sized" tumor removed, Chavez
insisted on extreme privacy over the details of his health.
    That was one of the reasons he chose to be treated in Cuba,
where his friendship with past and present leaders Fidel and
Raul Castro and the ruling Communist Party's firm grip on
information guaranteed him discretion.
    Chavez spent several months there on various visits, and
underwent four operations, the last of which on Dec. 11 was the
most complicated. 
    His last words to aides before flying to Havana for that
operation were: "I'll be back for sure."
    
    METASTASIS IN LUNGS
    Chavez did, indeed, fly home, but in such a bad state he
could not be seen in public. He died of respiratory failure on
Tuesday afternoon after the cancer had metastasized into his
lungs, two sources said.
    During two initial operations in mid-2011, Chavez had a
tumor removed from his intestines, and was diagnosed with
sarcoma in the psoas muscle that runs from the lower part of the
vertebral column to the pelvis, a medical source said.
    Though chemotherapy and radiotherapy kept the disease at bay
and allowed him to run for re-election in October 2012, Chavez
took heavy doses of medicines to enable him to make some
heavily-staged campaign appearances - in a lot of pain.
    On the last day of campaigning, standing for hours under a
heavy rainfall, Chavez could bear it no longer, and a final
rally was canceled. After the Oct. 7 win, by an impressive 11
percentage points, an exhausted and suffering Chavez made few
more public appearances before returning to Cuba weeks later.
    The Dec. 11 operation lasted six hours and left Chavez in a
dire state, with hemorrhaging and a severe lung infection. He
lost his pulse several times during the surgery and had to be
resuscitated by doctors.
    Cuban medics designed a special antibiotic to counter the
infection, the medical source said, but even so Chavez had to
undergo a tracheotomy to enable him to breathe through a tube in
the windpipe.
    In his last few days, a heavily-dosed Chavez met only with
his closest family and aides despite a clamor from Venezuelan
supporters - and opponents - to see him.
    Even one of his closest friends and allies, Bolivia's
leftist leader Evo Morales, was not allowed in to see him on
visits to Caracas and Havana.
    On Saturday, ministers were with him for about five hours,
before a rapid deterioration began. He slipped into a coma on
Monday and died at 4:25 p.m. local time (2055 GMT) on Tuesday.  

 (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Simon Gardner and
Kieran Murray)