BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Before doctors drilled through President Cristina Fernandez's skull Tuesday to remove a blood clot pressuring her brain, her vice president sought to reassure Argentines they have no reason to be alarmed. Yet the government is facing a number of challenges, and many people are worried by the country's dominant political force being sidelined.
When Fernandez came out of surgery, her spokesman said that she was in good spirits, that doctors were satisfied with the operation, and that she was already recovering well.
Vice President Amado Boudou already had urged the country to stay upbeat. "This is nothing new, and doesn't generate any uncertainty," he said as he took charge of the government for an undetermined period.
But many Argentines have doubts: Congressional elections in less than three weeks are threatening to weaken the governing party's strength, Monday's U.S. Supreme Court rejection of an Argentine appeal makes another debt default more likely, the economy has slowed sharply, and Boudou is under investigation for corruption.
"This is no time to go on automatic pilot," economist Jorge Todesca said in a letter to his clients.
He said Fernandez has run the government like an "anarchy" characterized by spontaneous acts, short-term thinking and key decisions made in isolation. Without her daily presence, top officials could lack the political authority they need to manage the looming economic crisis, he said.
Fernandez's doctors said she suffered no complications from their removal of a blood clot from the surface of the right side of her brain. But their brief post-surgical report made no reference to how long the president would need to rest or how much Argentines could expect from her in the meantime.
Some outside experts said patients can need as much as three months to recover from such surgeries, and that only time will tell if her still-unexplained head injury caused lasting brain damage. Others said the 60-year-old leader she could be safely back at worth within days. Without knowing private details about her condition, it was difficult to predict.
Brain surgeon Rolando Cardenas, who directs the Stroke Committee of the Argentine Cardiology Society, said she'll likely need to keep a drain in her skull and remain in intensive therapy for up to three days. If her headaches, muscle weakness and numbness disappear by then, "her recovery time would be shorter. In that case I estimate that in about 45 days she could return to full activity," Cardenas said.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan suffered a similar injury when he fell off a horse after his presidency, and quickly recovered from surgery to remove the blood clot at the Mayo Clinic, said Dr. John H. Sampson, a brain surgeon at Duke University.
"The Argentines don't have to worry that they're going to be without a president for any period of time. Literally, within a week she'll be back in the office, very competent and with no risk," Sampson predicted.
But Kevin McGrail, the neurosurgery chairman at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, said the irregular heart beat that Fernandez suffers could complicate her recovery.
Fernandez's office has not released any details about any drugs she may be taking, but arrhythmia patients commonly take aspirin or other blood thinners, and these anti-coagulants would have to be stopped for her brain to heal. That in turn increases the risk of a stroke, so she'll need to be careful, McGrail said.
"If she's on a blood thinner, that would cause a whole other set of problems, and it would explain a lot of things, because she's a little young otherwise for a chronic subdural," McGrail said.
Many people cheered after the president emerged from surgery at the Fundacion Favaloro. Some had spent all night holding vigil, carrying statues of the Virgin of Lujan, Argentina's patron saint, and messages such as "Fuerza Cristina," urging her to show her strength.
Her spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, did not answer questions after his brief announcement about her condition on the hospital steps.
Amid the messages of sympathy, critics questioned the secrecy surrounding her condition. The presidency still hasn't explained the head trauma on Aug. 12 that they said created the condition.
The day before her injury had been a rough day for Fernandez. Despite her intensive campaigning, primary election results that night showed a significant drop in support for her party's candidates ahead of the Oct. 27 congressional elections.
Boudou has apparently assumed control of the executive branch for an indefinite period, but the presidency didn't release the formal transfer-of-power document, and lawmakers are already debating how long he can remain in charge without an act of Congress.
Boudou said before the surgery that her top officials would run Argentina as a team "while she gets the rest she deserves."