Thailand's ailing king — the world's longest-reigning monarch — recently suffered a health problem that caused him to temporarily lose consciousness, his daughter revealed, linking the incident to stress over the country's flood crisis.
News that the health of 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej took what Princess Chulabhorn described as a brief turn for the worse comes as floods have inundated much of Thailand, including parts of Bangkok and its suburbs. More than 500 people have died, damage is estimated at several billion dollars and central Bangkok remains threatened.
Chulabhorn, the king's youngest daughter, said Friday during a visit to flood victims in Nonthaburi province north of Bangkok that King Bhumibol had gone into shock and lost consciousness after suffering abdominal bleeding and a sharp drop in his blood pressure. She said that about 800 cc of blood had been found in his bowel movements.
Chulabhorn said the king returned to normal health after being treated at the hospital where he has been staying for more than two years, according to the official royal news broadcast Friday night. The king, who took the throne in 1946, was originally hospitalized on Sept. 19, 2009, with a lung inflammation. Official statements said he remained at the hospital for physical therapy and nourishment to recover his strength.
In May this year, he had an operation to relieve a condition that made him walk unsteadily. A statement issued at the time said the spinal tap procedure was to relieve a condition common in the elderly — an excessive level of cerebrospinal fluid resulting in pressure on the brain.
Chulabhorn said Friday that after the May operation, the king "seemed to be at ease" until the flood crisis. The king has been shown from time to time on television speaking — sometimes with difficulty — at royal functions held at the hospital.
Chulabhorn said doctors told her the recent bleeding could have been caused by concern over the flooding.
"So I asked the nurse what he had been doing in the past few days," Chulabhorn said. "It turned out that he had been watching news about the flood. This indicates that His Majesty the King loves his people as his own children. He is very concerned and he usually doesn't speak much, but (his concern) is seen in his physical condition."
She did not specify when the health problem took place, but her comments indicated it was more than a week ago. She had previously spoken about it on Nov. 7, though not in such detail, and said Friday that it happened the same day she had been visiting flooding victims in Ayutthaya province, also near Bangkok. She visited a Buddhist temple there on Nov. 4.
The Royal Household Bureau, which is in charge of releasing news about the king, said Saturday that it could provide no further details on the king's health. Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital, where the king is staying, said it could provide no information without the approval of the Royal Household Bureau.
It is potentially unlawful for private citizens to publicly comment on the king's health. In 2009, four people were arrested on suspicion of using the Internet to spread rumors about the king's health. Under the Computer Crime Act, spreading false information deemed harmful to national security is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 baht ($3,260).
Open discussion of the monarchy is also constrained by strict lese majeste laws that make criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
A doctor in neighboring Myanmar asked to comment on the king's symptoms said it would take more than psychological stress for someone to lose 800 cc of blood. Dr. Tun Kyaw, assistant surgeon at the government hospital in Yangon's North Okkala neighborhood, said there had to be other reasons, such as an existing affliction or side effect from medicine. Blood-thinning drugs can cause abnormal bleeding.
The doctor added that the blood the king lost "is a significant amount, especially for elderly people."
Dr. O.P. Sharma, an expert in geriatric medicine in India, said the king likely would have required an immediate blood transfusion, constant blood pressure monitoring and an endoscopy if more bleeding occurred. But he added that the prognosis for such episodes is often good and that it's difficult to predict whether the bleeding will occur again.
"They recover very well. He can recover pretty quickly," he said. "... It's a cause of concern, but I'm sure he'll recover."
The king traditionally has played a conciliating role in Thai society, and his decline in health has coincided with trouble in the Southeast Asian nation. A 2006 military coup ousting the then-prime minister ushered in a period of political instability marked by sometimes violent street protests.
His near-disappearance from the public scene has also raised concerns about what will happen after his passing. His son and heir-apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not command the same respect and affection as the king.