There’s a reason I haven’t been posting here for a couple of weeks, but nearly two weeks ago I had a mild heart attack and had to spend time in the hospital. Of course, I’m still recovering, but the prognosis appears to be excellent. In fact, all of the doctors I spoke with during my time there were insistent that I’d be back to normal in time.
I don’t want this post to be about me, but as a source of some information about how I dealt with a major health event (mild heart attack) in Peru just over a week ago. Of course, since it’s about my experiences, I guess it’ll be more personal than I’d really like.
Obviously, it caused a major disruption in my life. The scare that waking up and finding yourself with chest discomfort and barely able to walk was a very profound experience and the continuing concerns that I am dealing with will likely be with me for quite awhile.
Thanks goodness my neighbor and friend, Susan Remek, was home and was able to get a taxi to take me to Clinica MacSalud on Avenida la Culture in Cusco where I got excellent care for the four days that I was in there including two days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Susan was also kind enough to take care of my cat, Michi, was thought be lost at first and for so much help while I was both in the emergency unit and later as well. Also, thank you to Lisa Sims for guiding me to the right hospital and for coming to check on me while there.
Once I went into the emergency unit, I was immediately taken to bed and given an electrocardiogram (ECG) test. The first test came back with normal results, but a second test taken awhile later showed a significant issue caused by blockage from a clot.
I was feeling much better by the time I got to the hospital, but I knew it was serious enough to get checked out. I never had any real pain, but I was having steady discomfort in my chest that wasn’t going away. I even took a quick selfie in the emergency room when no one was around.
I really don’t remember what medicine they gave me. I assumed it was something for blood pressure, but I really don’t know. My biggest concern was the trip to Arequipa coming up in five days. (I didn’t go, of course.)
My concerns about the cost since I don’t have any kind of insurance was extremely concerning, but everyone convinced me that I was much better off in MacSalud than the public regional hospital across the street where it was not even clear that I could be admitted.
Two Days in ICU
I was admitted to ICU which was interestingly not at all what I expected. Of course, since I’ve never been in a hospital, I really didn’t have anything to base my expectations on except Hollywood depictions.
There were six or seven beds and I was promptly taken to the one nearest the entrance which had both good and bad points. Always the lights were on in the entryway, but if I needed something I could call for a nurse without really raising my voice. (They were always checking on me anyway.)
At some point in the afternoon I was wheeled upstairs to the tiny office of the cardiologist on duty. He seemed a little distracted at first, but really wasn’t bad at all. I liked that he was quite professional. I laid down on a table in his office and he proceeded to administer some kind of sonogram with views on a monitor which I could see.
Afterwards, he told me it was bad, but that most of my heart was strong and unaffected. He said I would be back to normal eventually.
Either late in the afternoon or early evening the medication to dissolve the clot was was put in my system intravenously. For about an hour and a half I was really miserable and worried about getting through the treatment. It probably wasn’t all that bad, but I’m a baby and it likely was far worse in my head than it should have been.
The next couple of days went by quickly, though I did get one scare when the cardiologist on duty came by and said I might be in the hospital for another 5-6 days despite what every other doctor had indicated so far! Beside refusing to explain technical medical issues to me in English unless I insisted — his English was very good — he just seemed uninterested.
Being in ICU as the lone patient was interesting. It was quite lonely even though they were constantly coming to check on my. I was hooked up to an IV, but was disconnected on the second day though the needle was left in my arm. (Have you ever seen those things? I watched when they pulled it out right before I was released and it was much longer than I expected.)
I was also connected to an automatic blood pressure cuff which was set to go off regularly. Trust me, a blood pressure test every thirty minutes is not something that you can ignore. I noticed that soon I was instinctively adjusting my are to the correct position whenever the cuff began to fill with air! I also was almost always turning around as best I could to see the latest reading. My blood oxygen levels were constantly monitored as well, but the staff finally stopped checking it as it was always very high — a very good sign.
One of the biggest challenges was going to the bathroom in what amounted to a stainless steel pitcher. Despite the complete lack of privacy — no one cared anyway — maneuvering to get in position with a painful right leg and while being hooked up to a machine was at best a challenge.
One time, when I was sitting in a wheelchair while the sheets were being changed, I begged to go to the real bathroom about 15 feet away. The nurses relented and rolled me over to experience a real toilet. I asked to wash my hands and they suggested using the hot water in the sink across from my bed to maybe rinse my face off. It was amazing how much difference a couple of little things that we normally take for granted can make!
As for the painful right leg, it was the result of a fall in Lima along the beach a few days before where I bruised my right thigh. It was almost healed until Thursday’s incident, or so I thought. Apparently the medicines I was given caused a lot of bleeding. The bruise became a massive black discoloration that covered much of my upper thigh and hip to go along with a good bit of swelling. The good thing was that everyone — and I mean everyone — said it was quite normal and they didn’t really pay any attention. One cardiologist looked at it, felt that it was swollen and hard, then agreed with everyone else. [Note: I find I bruise easily now a week after returning home.]
Finally, on the third morning a doctor came in and said I was going to a normal private room later that afternoon since I was passing the critical 48 hours period without any issues.
The new room was up on the 6th floor and included a private bathroom with the entire outside wall made up of windows giving me a better than expected view towards the southern mountains.
My last two days were quite uneventful. My right leg continued to be quite uncomfortable making it difficult to sleep, but everything else seemed to be fine. I really had few visits by any doctors or nurses, though the constant regimen of pills throughout the day and night gave me occasional breaks. The impression I got was that a couple of days would be all that would be needed before I would be released.
Meals were surprisingly good except for breakfast which consisted of two pieces of plain white bread, juice, and some oatmeal-like drink that wasn’t bad, but pretty tasteless. The difference each day was I could get 2-3 olives or some butter or, on the first day, a tiny slab of completely tasteless cheese.
Fortunately, I was never really hungry and lunches served around noon were always more than I could eat. (Dinner was served fairly early around 4:30 pm and was a bit smaller than lunch.) It became a joke with the girls who brought in my meals as to what a surprise I had in store each time — chicken or chicken or maybe even chicken! — always with rice, of course.
Thank goodness it always tasted good and the deserts — almost always jello or flan — were especially plentiful and delicious. I even greatly enjoyed the soups tat came with each lunch and dinner.
I had my tablet and phone to keep me occupied reading and writing or it really would have been an excruciatingly boring two days. I also tried to sleep as much as possible both to rest and to make the time go by as quickly as possible.
Finally on the second morning a nurse came in and said that the cardiologist would stop in later and likely I would be released. I never got another expected blood test, but when the doctor came in he checked me over with his stethoscope and said everything sounded fine and that I could go home.
Checking out took far more time than expected. They unhooked me from all the needles still poking inside. I had to go down to the pharmacy and pay for all the medicines — 95% of the cost was the expensive stuff injected through the IV. The actual month of medicine needed each day was amazingly cheap.
I don’t want to go into the cost, but it was a tiny fraction of what it would have been in the US. Despite being in a more expensive private hospital, the cost was a surprise. While it still pretty much took all the my savings, it could have been MUCH more.
The allowed me to pay about 75% upon checkout and I signed an agreement to pay the rest a few days later when I received my monthly pension. (I’m actually going down to pay the rest later this morning.)
All in all, I consider myself very, very lucky that I went to the hospital very quickly or it could have been much worse. The clot was dissolved and my heart appeared to be surprisingly strong. Perhaps the constant 10-15 km of daily walking in the mountains at very high altitude has helped strengthen my old heart over the past 3 1/2 years.
The hospital staff was always friendly and helpful, though I often thought that I really didn’t want to bother them for help — something I know that I shouldn’t have worried about in the least. I’ll be I was the lowest maintenance patient they had in a long time!
Thanks to everyone for reaching out to provide encouragement, support, and prayers during this time. Even the smallest of thoughts meant so much.
Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have. (Keep in mind that it was my first time in any hospital anywhere so I really can’t compare it to anywhere else.)