Veteran broadcaster Paul Holmes returned to Hawkes Bay Hospital after complications left him gasping for breath.

Holmes told the Herald yesterday from his hospital bed that he had suffered from extreme breathlessness and delusions after his open-heart surgery in Auckland last week.

"I came out of hospital on Wednesday, but on Friday I needed a wheelchair. I spent the first two nights gasping for breath," he said.

The 62-year-old, who had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - a genetic condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick and blocks blood flow - underwent a four-hour open-heart operation in Auckland to remove a blockage and carry out remedial work on his heart. To quicken the recovery process, he was put on life support in an induced coma.


Holmes flew home to Hastings to rest but found he quickly suffered breathing problems. His wife, Deborah, could not understand why and was relieved when he went back into hospital on Friday.

"My lung subsided and they went to work clearing my lungs. They [cleared] more than a litre and a half in 24 hours," Holmes said.

"Right now, I'm lying in my hospital bed, the weather is beautiful, the room is airy and warm. Life is great. I have the new John Grisham novel. It's peaceful and calm. The main thing is I can breathe again. I don't want to rush it. I call Hastings the 'happy hospital'."

The operation, he said, "had been a real wake-up".

"I don't think we realised how much my heart had failed until the last two weeks before the operation," Holmes said.

His wife had earlier told the Herald her husband "was quite ill going into the surgery and I don't think we'd quite realised that".

"It's a mess, coming out of open-heart surgery," Holmes said. "It's huge. I feel for anyone who's gone through it."

He said it had made him grateful to all the people he loves. "I remember going under [the anaesthetic] and being able to see Deborah and Millie through the glass and thinking, 'I might never be able to speak to you again."'


Daughter Millie had kept a vigil at her father's bedside. "She wouldn't leave her dad's side," he said with pride. "And Reuben sent me an email saying, 'Now dad, I'm really worried about this."'

Holmes said his wife and daughter had been amused at his ramblings when he came out of the anaesthesia. After the operation he experienced extreme insomnia, and when he did close his eyes, hallucinations followed. "I went 30 hours without sleep. It's grotesque, this open-heart surgery. It leaves you with delusions and nightmares.

"I dreamed Queen Elizabeth was ordering me to fix tail-guns on broken-down World War II bomber planes for her Jubilee," he laughed.

"I had hallucinations of Bohemian dancers in a fairground!"

Holmes says the nightmares have gone and his breathing is better. He expects to leave hospital tomorrow and return to his nearby Hastings farm, Mana Lodge, to complete his recovery.