From The Publisher

May 2, 2016
BY: CARRIE DUNCAN

We all have our fears, and Lord knows I have my share. I’m afraid of sailing out of sight of land for starters. I’m afraid some crazed Muslim is going to blow us all to kingdom come. I’m afraid some crazed reader is going to blow me to kingdom come for that last statement.

But I’m not afraid of blood and guts. That’s why I was able to tough out a personal up close observation of the open heart surgery I have written about somewhere in this paper.

I got a very special invite to observe a heart surgery live and in person. Very cool.

 I remember thinking as the doc was mucking around in this little eight year old heart that the pulsating beat, beat, beat sure was getting in his way. If only it would stop pulsating, I thought, this show would go a lot smoother. Then the heart stopped. Bam! Stopped dead, if you’ll forgive the analogy.

Nobody seemed alarmed. On TV when things go south with a patient, everyone runs around screaming code blue! Crash cart! The sucker’s dying! Well, maybe not the last one.

Everyone in the operating room, (14 people not counting me, who counts for nothing in these situations), kept talking to each other softly in a mix-up of Spanish and English.

Then I noticed blood circulating through transparent plastic tubes. Turns out the child was on a heart/lung machine that was circulating his blood for him. This gave Dr. Hammel some mucking around room and it was interesting watching him sew what for all the world appeared to be a patch onto his heart. With black thread! Gives new meaning to the expression patched up heart.

Turn to the story in this issue to read all about it. Even if you’re squeamish about blood and guts, you’ll be OK, just as I’m OK with reading of other people’s adventures on the high seas out of sight of land.

But my biggest take away from my trip through Salvatierra hosptial in La Paz had a twist to it that I’m sure my hosts didn’t anticipate would be so important to me. Here’s what happened that busy day at the very busy public hospital:

I arrive early, which to me is right on time. While waiting in the lobby for my host, I see four men in canary yellow jump suits paraded through the very busy lobby which was full of families of the sick and injured. The four guys are handcuffed and a chain runs down in front of them, connected to leg irons. Wow. Leg irons. Jump suits. Not black and white stripes, but big old in-your-face yellow, which is spooky enough. The bad guys were escorted by soldiers with serious weaponry. Can’t say for sure if they were Tommy guns or something, (another of my fears is guns), but they were serious looking long guns.

I’ve always said you can’t embarrass a Mexican and it appeared to me that would include a prisoner hog tied and paraded around a hospital. I would be dying of shame. They looked like animals being led around a circus ring on a leash. It was really, really spooky. But each of them held their heads up and seemed very nonchalant about the whole thing.

When that show was over, I was taken upstairs to suit up in scrubs, and then led into the operating room to watch the eight year old boy hovering between life and death. Dr. Hammel, a volunteer from Omaha Nebraska, had this child’s life in his hands, and it could go either way. What if the cute little bugger who looks so frail and vulnerable on the operating table grows up to earn a canary yellow jump suit? What if he kills somebody? What if next time he sees this hospital  he’s led through the lobby with an armed escort? If he could know this, would Dr. Hammel suffer a sort of slip of the knife? Bring on a well timed hiccup maybe?

I was with Dr Hammel later in the lounge relaxing, and I wanted to ask him if he ever thought about what kind of life he was saving, but I didn’t. I had spent two days with this man, so I knew his answer would be that it’s not his job to judge, he’s just the repair guy and it’s up to the parents and the boy himself to make the most of the second chance at life that he has been given. The American doctors and their support staff who fly down here several times a year to repair hearts see every life as precious.

I’m not a doctor, I would want a guarantee that if I knocked my scrubs off patching up someone’s heart, that person would knock themselves out to be worthy of it. Good thing for us all that I’m not a doctor.