Colombian Cardiac Adventure, Part 2
The care I received for my cardiac event at Medellin’s Pablo Tobón Uribe hospital was excellent, with world-class attention, state of the art equipment, and highly professional staff. Tobón Uribe is a Joint Commission accredited institution, ranked as one of the best hospitals in Latin America. Indeed, my only complaint concerning the four days I was embedded there was about the mediocre meals. Hospitals must have been in competition with the airlines for worst food, and the airlines lost. My sweet wife, a retired cardiac RN, snuck in a bit of contrabando, and then she hid the evidence. See why I married her?
So how did I end up flat on my back, in an emergency room in Medellin Colombia? First the physical part, then the metaphysical one, the swarm of thoughts filling my brain as I awaited each and every new heartbeat. Amazing where your thoughts take you when you’re able to see each of those beats as a gift.
I should mention here that my profile for cardiac disease is very low. I have exactly one family member, my paternal grandmother, who had a heart attack. My cholesterol level is envious, with the bad LDL very low, the good HDL very high. My BMI is 22. I exercise daily, sleep well, have a generally sunny disposition, and haven’t had a cigarette for 40 years. Red wine is my friend. So I found myself wondering WT .. ? Maybe I should have continued smoking? Heck, I liked smoking. It relaxed me. I’ll discuss why I believe this cardiac event happened to me in part 3. If you’re an expat, you may not want to hear it. If you’re thinking of becoming an expat, you need to hear it.
So what happened? My wife and I were just walking in the neighborhood when a rather large dog sat on my chest, and the son of a bitch wouldn’t get off! Not much pain, really, just a tremendous pressure, and a fair amount of sudden indigestion. I told Mariah I needed to get home. She’s a retired RN (a real plus that day, as I’ll explain later), and home we went.
I called for an ambulance, and was told, no kidding, it wasn’t coming, that I had to make my own way to a hospital--either by taxi, or Uber car. Thus my advice in the previous post to acquire private ambulance service.
We flagged down an Uber driver. But where to go? This is where the pre necessity visits come in. Had we toured institutions we’d anticipated needing, we’d have saved ourselves much confusion and anxiety, something I really didn’t need in the middle of a heart attack. Fortunately, after a misstep at Clinica Las Vegas, (named very appropriately as it turned out), I ended up at Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellin.
At Tobón Uribe, I was ushered into the ER and asked for medical history, insurance questions, visa status, etc. etc. My wife took care of the technical details, as I stayed flat, tubes and wires everywhere, making me feel like I was drowning in spaghetti. One detail of note: make copies of all documents, Cedula, Passport with most recent stamp, proof of insurance, and a document showing your local address. Make a wallet card with all pertinent data, including one with your home address in big letters to show taxi drivers. Make another one with the address and contact info of a friend that emergency personnel can contact.
I’d arrived at the ER at 4:30 pm. By 9:30, I was in the cath lab, where the doctor in charge explained the angioplasty procedure, and possible contingencies. Then he slipped his magic wand into my wrist, (not my groin), snaked the probe up into my heart, and pumped black dye in, which immediately perfused across my anterior vessels. Just like that, the doctor announced his diagnosis. My LAD, Left Anterior Descending coronary artery was 95% blocked. That explained the big dog on my chest. Within minutes he placed a stent in that vessel, inflated it, and eased his probe out. I was able to watch the entire procedure, and the mix of emotions, and the takeaways from it, are detailed in part 3. I don’t need to tell you it truly changed my life.
With the stent in place, I’m not sure what felt better, knowing that only one vessel was involved, or that the procedure was complete. In any case, I felt worlds better right away, and grateful for the way things turned out.
After spending three nights in the hospital as a slugabed, I was quite ready to go home. The staff explained that my functions had to function, that all my parts had to work as advertised, and my vital signs had to stabilize before I could leave. That included bodily functions best not discussed in polite company. Put it this way: I was going to have to pee my way out of the place.
So here’s more advice. Take your Kindle, or a good book. Resign yourself to a lack of privacy. Colombians tend to like loud things, even in a hospital, so take earplugs. A sleep mask is a good idea. Colombians are very family oriented as well. Don’t be surprised if your neighbor in the next cubicle is entertaining mom, dad, tia and tio, several primos, and many sabrinas y sabrinos until well into the wee hours. There didn’t seem to be official visiting hours, and I refuse to be rude to these gentle folks, despite my need for sleep.
I arrived home, curled up in front of the iMac to get busy researching heart disease, and settled in. I’m feeling much better now, with some exceptions, but I do have work to do. Until my cardiac rehab is accomplished in a month or two, I have a pretty circumscribed life. No exercise, no lifting, no easy walks around the neighborhood where rather large dogs lie in wait.
I’ll share this thought with the expats reading it: Like you, I’ve heard too many times to count that our health is everything. It’s a cliché too trite to repeat. Until something like this happens. Now? I’m a believer. In part 3 I’ll detail some of my post-cardiac event life as it pertains to being an expat in Colombia.
Links to stories in this sequence: