By Jo Marchant
Ana Maria has never been to Machu Picchu. The 61-year-oldalways wanted to visit the mountain ruins but she suffers from hypertension, and doctors warned that the extreme altitude could cause her blood pressure to rise dangerously high. Today, dressed in a white gown and hairnet, she will explore its ancient walls and pyramids for the first time.
She’s in a private medical clinic in Mexico City, and laughs nervously as she’s wheeled into a windowless operating room. The surgeon takes a Sharpie and draws a large circle on her left thigh, paints on several layers of iodine, then injects a local anaesthetic into the skin. Inside the circle is a fatty lump, a lipoma around 6cm across, which he is about to remove.
Ana will be awake for the operation, and she’s feeling scared. As the surgeon readies his scalpel, her blood pressure is 183/93, even higher than usual. Patients undergoing procedures like this often have to be sedated to cope with the pain and anxiety of being under the knife, but not today. Instead, Jose Luis Mosso Vazquez, who is supervising the operation, fits a sleek, black headset over Ana’s eyes and adjusts the straps.
The surgeon makes his first cut and blood spills down Ana’s leg. She’s surrounded by medical equipment – stools, trolleys, swabs, syringes – with super-bright surgical lamps suspended above the bed. Her vital signs are displayed on monitors just behind. But Ana is oblivious. She’s immersed in a three-dimensional re-creation of Machu Picchu. She begins her journey with a breathtaking aerial view of the ancient city clinging to the mountainside, before swooping down to explore the details of stepped terraces, moss-covered walls and tiny stone huts.