Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will not travel to Brussels to meet with his NATO and European Union counterparts this week, a Pentagon official said Monday, as he remains hospitalized with complications related to prostate cancer surgery.
Mr Austin, 70, returned to hospital on Sunday, for the third time in two months, with “symptoms suggestive of an emerging bladder problem”. He initially planned to “retain the functions and duties of his position” but quickly turned over his powers to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
It is unclear how long Mr. Austin was expected to stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was taken on Sunday. In a statement, Drs. Gregory Chesnut and John Maddox said Mr. Austin underwent non-surgical procedures on Monday “under general anesthesia to resolve his bladder problem.”
“An extended hospital stay is not anticipated,” doctors said, adding that they expected Mr. Austin “to be able to return to normal duties tomorrow.”
Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, would represent the United States at a meeting on Ukraine in Brussels on Wednesday . He also said US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith would represent Austin at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
Mr. Austin, General Ryder said, could attend Wednesday’s meeting virtually if his health permits. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting virtually, Gen. Ryder said.
On December 22, Mr. Austin underwent what is called a prostatectomy, which is the removal of all or part of the prostate. He was released after the operation but returned a week later with an infection. He was placed in intensive care and doctors said they drained excess abdominal fluid.
Mr. Austin was widely criticized for not immediately disclosing his illness and absence to the White House, a breach of protocol that confounded officials across the government, including at the Pentagon.
He remained hospitalized for two weeks in January and returned to the Pentagon on January 29.
Two experts who specialize in prostate cancer surgery say most men who have a prostatectomy do not need to return to hospital in the weeks following the operation.
A recent study found that in the United States, only about 4% of men who have a prostatectomy are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, and less than 2% are readmitted 31 to 90 days later.
Mr. Austin “had a more difficult journey than most patients,” said Dr. Judd W. Moul, a urologist and prostate specialist at Duke University.
Dr. Moul and Dr. Herbert Lepor, a professor of urology at New York University School of Medicine, said one possible reason for Mr. Austin’s most recent hospitalization could be that the tissues Scarring from his surgery had narrowed the urine passage. his bladder.
A typical remedy involves stretching or dilating the urethra, a minimally invasive procedure that is often performed under general anesthesia, Dr. Lepor explained. A catheter is usually inserted to drain the urine. Patients may need a catheter for several days afterward. Long-term use of a catheter would only be necessary if doctors were unable to dilate the urethra sufficiently.
Dr Moul said public awareness of prostate health issues had been increased by attention to Mr Austin’s condition and the recent announcement that doctors treating King Charles III for an enlarged prostate discovered that he had cancer (the type of cancer has not been determined). been disclosed).
“We’ve never had this kind of urologic intrigue before,” Dr. Moul said.
At a press conference on February 1, the defense secretary, known for being extremely private, sought to explain why he had remained silent about an illness he described as a “punch in the gut “.
Mr. Austin said he thought President Biden had enough to worry about without having to worry about his Defense Secretary’s personal problems.
“When you’re president of the United States, you have a lot of things to do,” he said. “I just didn’t think it was something I should do at that time. But again, I admit it was a mistake.
The House Armed Services Committee asked Mr. Austin to testify this month about why he and his aides kept his illness a secret.