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.
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?
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?
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.