Taming the widow maker

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Recent sunrise from the deck of our condo. Probably my all-time favorite to date. I take this as a good sign that  good things are ahead. Of course, at my age, I take every sunrise as a good sign ....
Recent sunrise from the deck of our condo. Probably my all-time favorite to date. I take this as a good sign that good things are ahead. Of course, at my age, I take every sunrise as a good sign ….

The “Widow maker” has been tamed.

That would be the left anterior descendant artery in my heart.

The artery that has been giving me problems since — what? — last October?  Last week, two talented doctors deployed a 33×3 mm stent right through what I imagine looked like a fairly long, ugly, and unwanted cheerio of calcium that was blocking 95 percent of this particular artery.

Success!

Rob and Marlene prepare the plane for a quip trip to the mainland. They kindly dropped us off at the clinic where I was to get the stent deployed in a clogged artery.
Rob and Marlene prepare the plane for a quip trip to the mainland. They kindly dropped us off at the clinic where I was to get the stent deployed in a clogged artery.

So, look, I feel as if I have dragged you through way way too much of this story already. And you have been so very patient. So this will be it. I promise. Let’s wrap this thing up and get back to living the dream in Belize.

Here’s how it all went down:

I was told to check-in at Buttonwood Bay Medical Center in Belize City at 4 p.m. last Friday by my cardiologist Dr. John Gough.

Normally, Rose and I would take either the 90-minute water taxi or the 12-minute flight to Municipal Airport. This day held a better adventure. Our friend Rob Eykelbeysh was flying his own plane over to the mainland. Would we like a lift?

En route to the mainland, first pointing northward before turning west. Just by chance, our condo complex showed up in this image, at lower left. To the right is the great Belize MesoAmerican Reef system.
En route to the mainland, first pointing northward before turning west. Just by chance, our condo complex showed up in this image, at lower left. To the right is the great Belize MesoAmerican Reef system.

Oh, heck yeah.

Rob and his partner, Marlene Houghton, and another good friend, Rachel Brock, were on their way over to pick up more stuff for their soon-to-open boutique hotel and coffeeshop. They had room aboard the plane for two more. Rachel and Marlene are among Rose’s closest friends. They could all be sisters. They are that close. Could it be that they set up the shopping trip to give Rose (and me) some moral and logistical support?

Hmmmmm……..

The girls stayed over in the city while Rob flew back to the island. They met Rose for dinner and all three came back to my hospital room to socialize while we waited for the call to surgery. They even put together a splendid care package with magazines, books, snack food, a blanket, slippers and games!

The survival kit put together by our friends. All of the snack food was gone before we left the clinic on Saturday afternoon. A terrific surprise.
The survival kit put together by our friends. All of the snack food was gone before we left the clinic on Saturday afternoon. A terrific surprise.

Surgery didn’t happen until midnight. Dr. Sergio Najar Lopez of Guadalajara, who teamed up with Dr. Gough for the stent implant, was delayed at the border in Chetumal. Dr. Gough went personally to pick him up.

These guys were completely on it, despite the late hour (And with at least one heart patient queued behind me!), all business, directing the operating room staff of five.

Dr. Najar was there because of the problematic nature of the calcium lesion. The stuff is as hard as fingernails and a gap must be opened with enough to deploy the stent, without tearing the artery walls. “Tricky, yes,” explained Dr. Gough, “but not uncommon.”

Just a glimpse of the coffeeshop and boutique hotel that Marlene and Rob are  building just up the road from us. Almost ready to open!
Just a glimpse of the coffeeshop and boutique hotel that Marlene and Rob are building just up the road from us. Almost ready to open!

Busting down walls is a specialty of Dr. Najar, who was also Dr. Gough’s mentor during his schooling in Guadalajara. He’s Dr. Gough’s go-to guy when there are complications or special circumstances.

If this were a TV medical drama, it would be a bit of a dud. Stent deployment lacks the pizzazz of open heart surgery. Everybody had a job to do and did it. On a screen, I could see the tiny catheter move up the inside of my right wrist and snake its way into the heart chambers, squirting black ink periodically to light the way.

About the most exciting thing — outside of the operation — was the arrival of the tiniest spider, right above my eyeballs.  Would it drop on to me? Would it move on? While I watched Dr. Najar “massage” the calcium to open the artery, the little bugger disappeared and it forgot about it.

The whole process took two hours and I admit I got a bit giddy when the blood gushed through the “widow maker,” where very little had flowed before. It was like watching a spring surge on the Colorado River. The looks of elation on the faces of the two doctors told me all I needed to know.

Just your random set of clouds in the sky with accompanying chunk of rainbow. One of my simple pleasures is to walk to the end of the dok and just sit for about an hour every day. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I read, sometime I chat with neightbors and sometimes I just absorb that casual beauty and nature that surrounds us. I hope I never grow "used" to cloud formations, or fish jumping out of the sea or pelicans soaring and swooping around me.
Just your random set of clouds in the sky with accompanying chunk of rainbow. One of my simple pleasures is to walk to the end of the dock and just sit for about an hour every day. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I read, sometime I chat with neighbors and sometimes I just absorb the casual beauty and nature that surrounds us. I hope I never grow “used” to cloud formations, or fish jumping out of the sea or pelicans soaring and swooping around me.

Back in my hospital room, Rose awakened on the couch, got the quick summary of good news, smiled at me angelically and fell back to sleep.

I sort of laid there, listening for the pump and slush of fresh blood coursing through my veins — wondering in my delirium if this would make me smarter, stronger, have better sex, or ….. then I finally dozed off.

We took a 4 p.m. Maya Air flight back to Ambergris Caye and since then I have enjoyed an extraordinary number of well-wishers telling me that I’m looking much better. And what the heck, thank you all. I’ll take that!

I’ve been taking slow two-mile walks each day, a couple of easy bike rides and frankly feeling much better, thanks.

I went back to the clinic on Tuesday to get the post-op roundup and schedule proper medications for the year ahead. Ah, yes, and settle up the bill.

A bit of sticker shock: $14,000 USD. Still a better deal than in the US, I think, but a lot of cash out of pocket. For reasons that have no foundation other than wishful thinking, I was hoping for something in the $7,000 to $10,000 range but Dr. Gough patiently laid out the costs and he’ll not hear a complaint from me.

Far from it. I am deeply grateful to him and Dr. Najar and the staff at Buttonwood for the consistent humaneness and professionalism with which they treated me.

This photo was color treated with a little think I refer to as my left index finger. Yeah, I'm klutzy like that sometimes. Still I think it works here ...
This photo was color treated with a little think I refer to as my left index finger. Yeah, I’m klutzy like that sometimes. Still I think it works here …

I must say, too, the love and concern of our Ambergris Caye community has been so moving and humbling. People never stopped caring, even as the waiting process dragged on. Even a regular cab driver who we use in Belize City called the house one Sunday to ask how I was doing. He was concerned because he had not heard from us in a while.

OK, time to get back to exploring Belize and continuing on this great adventure which we started almost a year ago, when we landed at the airport on Ambergris Caye.

What a year it has been! Thank you all for sticking around.

And thank you all for your caring and sharing.

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22 thoughts on “Taming the widow maker

    donalddavis42 said:
    January 31, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Robert. really glad things are a okay with you. I will always wish the best for you and Rose. This little heart ordeal is a bump in the road. The journey continues.

    Question: you have/no health insurance made available to you? Can you forward the cost/bill to medicare or your international health insurance company/provider. At 14k would it have been an option to return to get the USA and had your procedure under the ACA alias Obama care. You are still a resident of California so coverage under healthy California would have cost you maybe half or even less.
    I hope that healthcare issues for expats is an ongoing conversation as in the who what when where and how in case and after your experience best practices-
    Donald

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 31, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Donald, this is the No. 1 topic and we still need to research it even further; an ongoing discussion is a must!

      Before leaving California, Rose and I both applied for the new health insurance and could find nothing less than $500/month …each. Didn’t make sense when we were thinking of returning to the states for perhaps 3-4 weeks at most a year. Our current tax bracket may change that.

      We considered the relatively low cost of health care in Belize (free, if you are comfortable with the state medical care system, which for most things I am) and proximity to Mexico, our healthy lifestyles — and decided to roll the dice. A private doctor visit here is $35-50 and there are several excellent doctors on the island. Most medications are very inexpensive and sold over the counter.

      With the cost of premiums, deductibles, cost of travel and living expenses … I don’t think the $14K cash put us much deeper in the hole. (Not saying it didn’t hurt financially!)

      In April I become eligible for Medicare. For Rose we’ll seek some sort of medical coverage.

      Thanks for some good questions!

      Like

    philrll said:
    January 31, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    So glad your procedure was successful! My wife and I are faithful readers of your blog. We love your writing style and the stories that you share. Can’t wait to read more about your life in Belize! Stay well!!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 2, 2015 at 6:10 am

      Thank you so much for those kind words! I too am anxious to resume a “normal” life. I am taking long walks each day and the occasional bicycle ride and can feel my strength returning daily. (It wasn’t the blocked artery so much as the enforced inactivity for several months that was damaging to me!) We’re entering a most interesting time on the island with Carnaval, local elections, Lobsterfest and the traditional Easter services which include a pre-dawn Living Stations of the Cross through the streets of San Pedro (one of my favorite moments of last year for the pure honesty of it all).

      Like

    Miranda said:
    January 31, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Glad to hear that everything went well.

    Like

    philrll said:
    January 31, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    So glad to hear that your procedure went well. My wife and I faithfully read your blog. We love your writing style and the stories about your life in Belize. Makes us feel as though we’re there. Stay well!!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 31, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks! I shall do my best. Healthy living from here on in ….

      Like

    Marjorie Trolinder said:
    January 31, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Bob,
    So happy that the stint procedure went well and that you are on your way back to good health. Now let the adventure continue. Love following you and Rose and hope to visit your lovely island one day. Keep us informed about Rob and Marlene’s hotel opening, would love to stay there. Continue healing and enjoying your new life!
    Envious in Fairfield, Ca 🙂
    Marge

    Like

      Pete said:
      February 1, 2015 at 7:31 am

      Glad you are doing fine and everything went O.K.

      Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 2, 2015 at 6:28 am

      Hi Marge,
      We, too, are very excited for Rob’s and Marlene’s Marbucks to open and their adjacent Daydreamin’ Bed and Breakfast. Over the past couple of months we have been the recipients of baked goods and coffees from Marlene’s “test kitchen” and they have been nothing short of spectacular. Each of the cabanas in the B&B is now fully furnished and everything is first rate. That’s just the way Marlene does things. She has uncompromising standards and would rather delay the opening than meet her deadline and offer a less than excellent experience to her guests.

      You can follow their progress here: https://www.facebook.com/marbucksbelize and here for the B&B: https://www.facebook.com/daydreaminbelize .

      Like

        Linda Czestochowski said:
        February 2, 2015 at 7:55 am

        My hubby & I just returned for 10 glorious day in San Pedro! We passed this little resort every day while driving into town on our rented golf cart. The progress was amazing and it looks absolutely adorable, especially the little pool in the centre. We hope to stop by for a visit on our next Belizean adventure. It was our first trip there, but definitely won’t be our last!! We had amazing, crazy, hilarious adventures each and every day — even snorkeled with sharks!! We have been following your blog for months and it was extremely helpful during our visit. We’ve travelled through many Caribbean islands and Mexico but this was our most memorable vaykay — amazing people and people location. Glad to hear that you’re on the mend!

        Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        February 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

        That is so great to hear, Linda. Glad you had a great time. And thank you for your kind words.
        I just ran into Marlene this morning and she plans on opening up Marbucks in two weeks! Now, I’m excited too!

        Like

        lifeagain said:
        February 3, 2015 at 12:51 pm

        I am not on FaceBook…..would love it if someone forwarded a few photos for us voyeurs.

        “You can follow their progress here: https://www.facebook.com/marbucksbelize and here for the B&B: https://www.facebook.com/daydreaminbelize

        Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        February 3, 2015 at 6:49 pm

        When they open, I plan on posting plenty of pictures.

        Like

    Susan Watts said:
    February 1, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Yeah! So happy to hear this fantastic news…can’t wait to see you guys again when we come back this summer! We are hooked on Ambergris Caye!!

    Like

    Susan Watts said:
    February 1, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Also, interesting that your top 5 commenters on your blog are women! Thought that was funny for some reason. Glad you are good to go because I’m sure the 5 of us have a lot more comments to post this year!

    Like

      lifeagain said:
      February 3, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Lifeagain “me” is in the top five and i am a guy. But i like Woman so i am glad to be in with a smart crowd.

      “Also, interesting that your top 5 commenters on your blog are women! Thought that was funny for some reason. Glad you are good to go because I’m sure the 5 of us have a lot more comments to post this year!”

      Like

    Pat Del Gavio said:
    February 2, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Happy to know thank you. Glad you’re on The mend Bob

    Pat Del Gavio Del Gavio Group Main (650) 529-2002 x235 Mobile (650) 218-4040 http://www.delgaviogroup.com

    >

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 2, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Thank you, Pat. I am so appreciative of the care and concern you all showed while visiting us at the start of all of this. Next time I promise a care-free holiday in Belize for all! Love you all.

      Like

    Connie Dickson said:
    December 28, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    I am Dr. GOUGH’S aunt from Birmingham, Alabama .John is married to my niece Dr. RUTH GOUGH. It is great to hear those good news..

    Like

    […] year started with a stent implant to unclog a very clogged artery. That went well, if rather more expensively than I had hoped. And I am proud to say the operation […]

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