Monday, Apr. 07, 1980
The latest sanctuary for the deposed Shah of Iran is Suite 201 in Maadi Military Hospital, overlooking the Nile River on the outskirts of Cairo. As helicopters whirred overhead, 100 machine gun-toting soldiers cordoned off the seven-story concrete building, refusing to admit even the relatives of other patients. Inside, a team of 20 doctors labored to foster the ousted monarch's recovery from emergency surgery on his cancerous spleen. TIME Cairo Bureau Chief William Drozdiak reports on the tense medical vigil:
When the emaciated patient checked in under the private escort of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and his family, doctors who first examined the ex-Shah thought his state of health might be less grave than reported. Rumors circulated that the Shah had even felt fit enough to play a round of tennis a few days earlier in Panama. After Sadat emerged from a brief courtesy call to the Shah's third-floor suite Tuesday morning, he sounded relatively sanguine about the Shah's plight. Said the Egyptian President, grinning confidently: "He is running a high fever today, but he is in the good hands of my capable Egyptian doctors."
But once more sophisticated tests were completed, it became evident how badly cancer had invaded the Shah's body. While his temperature hovered around 101° F, his blood platelets, the tiny bodies responsible for clotting, had diminished precipitously to 20,000 per cu. mm instead of a normal 250,000. Nurses hurriedly rounded up donors of the relatively rare B-negative blood type. The hectic search yielded 15 liters (about 32 pints) of blood necessary for an operation to excise the spleen: according to his Egyptian doctors, the organ had grown so bloated by midweek that there was a possibility it could burst in a fatal hemorrhage. The terse clinical diagnosis of New York Hospital's Dr. Benjamin Kean, who flew to Cairo on Wednesday to take part in the surgery: "He is not just sick, but very sick."
Houston Heart Surgeon Michael DeBakey and the team of American specialists who joined Kean in Cairo brought with them a set of ultramodern machines to "nourish" the Shah's enfeebled blood. After hurried consultations with Egyptian doctors, the American team decided to operate on Friday night when the Shah's fever fell and his blood count improved. At a Saturday press conference following the one-hour operation, doctors pronounced the Shah's condition "very satisfactory." But further tests were planned to determine how far his cancer had spread beyond the spleen.
While the Shah awaited surgery, only his immediate family was allowed to see him. Empress Farah, Son Reza, 19, and Daughters Farahnaz, 17, and Leila, 10, commuted repeatedly in a black Mercedes from the sprawling quarters of the Tahra Palace. The Shah's beloved poodles were brought in, provoking startled jitters among security agents worried about noisy clashes with the stray cats that occasionally roam the hospital corridors. Sadat reappeared on Tuesday and Thursday to keep abreast personally of the Shah's condition.
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