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King Juan Carlos Breaks Hip after Fall in Hunting Safari

27 Apr

Concerns both in the royal residence and the government over the deterioration of the Crown’s image after the latest scandal, this time featuring the monarch.

King Juan Carlos [Source: AFP]

Martínez Gorriarán, R.

[Translators: Peña Carril, D.; Senra Campos, M.; Vallejo Espada, V.]

The Spanish King’s latest surgical intervention, this time due to a triple fracture in the hip which he suffered after a fall while hunting in Botswana, has most likely set off alarms within the royal residence, Zarzuela Palace. The reason for this restlessness is twofold. On the one hand, Don Juan Carlos’s health is worrying, having entered the operating room eight times throughout his 76 years of life —four times in the last two years. On the other, the image of the head of state engaging in big game in an African country feels out of place in the course of one of the worst weeks in recent history for the Spanish economy and while the King faces a delicate period, with son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarín surrounded by a financial fraud scandal and grandson Felipe Juan Froilán, who is under the legal age to handle firearms, recovering from a target-shooting accident. It will not be easy for the monarch to forget this April 14th, not because of the anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, but because of the new situation that could ensue for the institution he embodies.

It will take one to two months for the King to return to normal activity

The Spanish head of state spent two and a quarter hours in the operating room of a private Madrid hospital. The intervention was performed by Doctor Ángel Villamor, who had also surgically treated the monarch’s knee and Achilles tendon. The result of the operation was “very satisfactory”, according to the traumatologist, and consisted in placing a ceramic prosthesis in his right hip and reconstructing the three damaged fragments. Surgery was difficult due to osteoarthritis in the King’s hip ball joint as a consequence of problems in his knee, where he had also been implanted a prosthesis.

Don Juan Carlos, explained Villamor, will have to spend four or five days in San José Hospital. He will be able to take up “bureau work” in seven to ten days and resume normal physical activity in one to two months. The Doctor announced on April 16th that the King would stand up with crutches to start rehabilitation exercises that very afternoon, adding that he could already move his leg “to a wide extent” and without pain.

The doctor remarked that the operation was “somewhat special” as it consisted of “two surgeries in one”. The main one to place the prosthesis and repair the fractures, and a second one which should curb the deterioration of his hip due to osteoarthritis by means of “two cables acting as a brace” around the femur’s head. “It may be that we have corrected the problems hampering his ability to walk”, he went on.

The King fell hours after midnight in Botswana

Villamor, who appeared before the press with the Chief Medical Officer of the King’s Household, Avelino Barros, explained that the fall occurred “around four or five in the morning” on Friday 13th when he tripped on a step in the lodge where he was staying in Botswana. The doctor from the King’s House who accompanied the monarch attended to him immediately. According to the King’s chief medical officer, that same Friday Don Juan Carlos undertook his return journey “in a normal private jet”, sitting “comfortably and without pain” during the ten-hour flight thanks to analgesic treatment. He arrived in Madrid at midnight and was operated at one in the morning.

The King’s Household did not disclose the purpose of his private trip to Africa, but this is not the first time he has travelled to Botswana for big game hunting. The holiday was not scheduled in the monarch’s official agenda, and his last public appearance was the previous Sunday in Majorca at the Easter religious service, which he attended with the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Asturias, and his two other daughters. Prior to that, the King had travelled to Kuwait on April 4th to meet with Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber. Zarzuela Palace revealed no details relative to the date of the hunting trip either: some sources indicate that Don Juan Carlos had flown to Africa on Monday; others point to Thursday, the same day he fell.

Concerns over the Crown’s image in the Zarzuela royal residence after the King’s accident

Likewise, the King’s Household did not clarify whether he travelled in the airplane assigned to the Crown or on a commercial flight. The doctors stated that it was a private jet chartered by a hunting party. The airplane flew back carrying only the monarch, his doctor and his bodyguards. Villamor emphasised that the King acted “very lively” before and after the intervention and displayed his “spirit of sacrifice and strength”, not exhibiting “weakness” or annoyance at the “coincidence” of the accident.

In Zarzuela, however, preoccupation reigns. This feeling is shared by the governing People’s Party (PP) and the main opposition force, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). Neither commented on the incident —the former referred to the King’s Household’s press release and the latter remained silent. The reason for the current unrest is that it has been one thing after another in a year the monarch will not forget easily. In the latest survey on the monarchy by the government’s research agency Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, performed last October, the institution failed its evaluation by Spaniards for the first time in 35 years of reign. This negative rating came before the Crown was hit by the scandal implicating the King’s son-in-law in major private deals through the nonprofit Nóos Institute, for which he has been accused of corruption in connection with the Palma Arena case.

Two hunting accidents in one week: first the King’s grandson, then himself

The institution had suffered another blow to its image earlier in the week when the King’s eldest grandson Felipe Juan Froilán, son of Princess Elena, literally shot himself in the foot while playing with a shotgun in his father’s family country house in Soria. The 13-year-old was operated in Madrid, where he remained hospitalised at the time this article was written, expecting to undergo further surgery on Monday, April 16th. His father, Jaime de Marichalar, who is separated from the princess and had custody of the child on that day, will have to testify in the judicial inquiry opened in Soria.

The fact that the King has taken this trip during the worst economic week Spaniards remember does not help ease anxiety at Zarzuela either: the stock market registered record falls while risk premia rocketed over 400 points with respect to German bonds and talk of an intervention by the EU grew louder. Furthermore, the macroeconomic picture is devastating, with negative growth rates and unemployment above 23% —which translates into more than 5 million out of work—, a figure over which the King has repeatedly expressed “great concern”.

In such circumstances, the hunting trip has been harshly criticised both by leftist parties and certain nationalist groups “considering all that is going on”, as the Galician Nationalist Bloc put it. The holiday reflects the “anachronism of an opaque and squandering institution”, in the words of Basque National Party senator Iñaki Anasagasti.