Kostas' surgeon gave a full report to our friend Tasos, the cardiologist, and it turns out the problems he faced during this surgery were fearsome.
First problem was that the surgeon who did the by-pass operation 10 years ago had done an incomplete job. He had not bothered to sew back together the pericardium, which is the sac encasing the heart. (Now THAT is what you call a clear case of willful malpractice!) The result was that the coronary arteries, unprotected by this membrane, had become stuck to Kostas' sternum (breastbone).
If any of you have loved ones who have undergone open heart surgery, you know that access to the heart is through the breastbone. It gets sawn apart. So the first problem in this case was, how to cut through the bone without instantly killing the patient. The surgeon cut in a complex, jigsaw fashion, very slowly, with exceeding care to avoid the stuck-on arteries.
The next problem was that the valve was in such terrible condition that there was no way to inject the drug into it that would stop the heart. Yes, the heart has to be stopped from beating when you are doing delicate things to it, and you have to be hooked up to a machine that pumps your blood instead. So the surgeon, on the spot, invented a different way to do it! He actually injected the drug into a vein, which carried it to the lungs, and from there it traveled to the heart.
The third problem was that because of the unrepaired (and now irreparable) pericardium and the arteries all stuck to the breastbone, that machine that pumps the blood while the heart is paralyzed could not be hooked up to the coronary arteries. Again the surgeon invented a new way. He hooked it up to the incision in the groin, the one left from the angiogram, from which Kostas had bled so much before.
And then afterward, of course, that incision had to be repaired.
The surgeon never mentioned to Mena what a terrible job the previous surgeon had done. Which means that in addition to being brilliant, dedicated, and brave, he is a gentleman. One feels in great awe of him.
I can't help wondering how HE feels tonight, who has done the impossible. It must be so gratifying, to think he saved a life against such terrible odds. I hope he has celebrated well and is now getting his well-deserved rest.
How does one thank a person like that?
It leaves me in tears.
Monday, October 22, 2007