What is Life All About? – Talk It Out!

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates, Ancient Greek philosopher, 469-399 BCE


What is life all about? 20th century French philosopher Albert Camus half-jokingly said, “The literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.”

I never really thought about it until about a few months ago. Prior to a health crisis, my philosophy was pretty simple: work hard to take care of my family, enjoy life’s pleasures whenever possible, and try to make a little difference in the lives of others. Over the course of 11 years, these activities were gradually becoming harder to do and ultimately ceased to exist. I suddenly found myself busy doing nothing. What’s a once ambitious man with a Type A personality to do?  

I went on a mission to search for meaning somewhere in the tangled clutter that represents broad swaths of my life. When I was a little boy – maybe 8 or 9 years old – I remember eavesdropping on my mom and her comadre from across the street talking about a woman who left her husband and kids to “find herself.” From the looks on their faces it was pretty clear that they were confused and scornful at such a thought. 

They questioned the idea that finding oneself was even a thing. That’s just for gringas who can’t handle life, they agreed with a judgemental tone. The comadres stood with crossed arms and furrowed brows asking each other how a woman could even think of leaving her children, not to mention the repulsive possibility of a potential stepmother coming into the picture. The moral of their discussion was pretty clear to my formative mind. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

I always wondered if my mom had dreams. She never mentioned anything, but then again women of her generation and social class weren’t allowed to express their personal aspirations. I’m sure that my mom truly believed that her purpose in life was to serve her husband and children, a role she mastered selflessly. Mom also believed that the only way to calm fears, anxiety, depression or dissatisfaction was to pray and leave it to God. 

Throughout my spiritual journey, I discovered the power of prayer and the comforting reassurance of “leaving it in God’s hands.” My relationship with God has been the guiding light that helps me endure the darkest days. But, I’ve also learned that prayer alone doesn’t tame uneasy thoughts of doom, uncertainty, and regret. 

In addition to a connection with God, spiritual wellness includes a balanced diet, exercise, hobbies, healthy fun, and openness to psychotherapy. Therapy is something many people won’t talk about. The CDC recently reported that over 90% of Americans have never received counseling from a professional. Psychology Today reported that the high cost of therapy and stigma about mental health keep people from considering a therapist. 

According to the CDC, only 26% of Americans have a diagnosed mental disorder. An American Psychological Association study, however, noted that 77% of Americans say that they’re stressed out. It’s a fact of life that all of us feel sad, angry, hurt, confused, etc. at one time or another. Unfortunately, social stain attached to the word “crazy” prevents an open public conversation about requiring mental health coverage as part of insurance plans. 

Diagnosed mental illness isn’t the only reason to seek counseling. My first experience with mental health was on the heels of my mom’s passing in 2004. I was crushed and felt lost. A therapist helped me understand the seemingly unbearable pain. Within a few months, I was able to manage the suffering caused by my mom’s death. Once I determined that the healing process was complete, it was time to move on with my life, or so I thought.

Sixteen years later, while curled up in a fetal position, I felt empty and discouraged after transplant surgery. I again sought therapy. This time I found the courage to also ask the transplant team therapist for help with general anxiety, a demoralizing condition that has hounded me since my early 20s. My stomach churns constantly as if something is wrong. My mind begins searching for a reason for the unease and predictably conjures negative thoughts (the Boo Voice). 

Stinging life setbacks re-enter my consciousness. Feeling defeated by a self-perceived wasted life empowers my Boo Voice. Well-intentioned advice from others to “just get over it” is like putting a BandAid on a broken leg. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and therapy wrote that, “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” More suffering and sorrow are sure to follow. That’s where therapy comes in.

I decided to give Socrates’ philosophy a chance and began to examine my life by talking it out. Sigmund Freud’s mentor called it the “talking cure.” I shared with my therapist the good, bad, and ugly of my personal history with unvarnished honesty. The process revealed things that I never wanted to acknowledge before. Now I’m learning how to peacefully and confidently live with the Boo Voice.

Taking that final step to bare my soul with a therapist has changed my life. It unlocked the shackles that kept my brain strapped to fear, worry, and failure. The hard part was the first step, putting the key into the cuffs that kept my mind closed. On one hand, I could hear my mom and her comadre telling me to give my worries to God, not a psychiatrist. On the other hand, faith assured me that God sent the therapist to help Him help me.

Psychotherapy isn’t only for people with severe mental illness. We all have daily troubles. We all have things from somewhere in our past that cause suffering and lead to unwise decisions and actions. After many hours of sharing my inner thoughts, reading, and reflecting, I’m beginning to learn about who I am. I realized that my mom and her comadre were wrong.

Finding oneself isn’t only for gringas who can’t handle life on their own. It’s for anyone who seeks to find meaning in their lives. A faithful look into the past is the gateway to finding that truth. Honesty is the key. Any conversation with a therapist that resembles a rosy social media type lifestyle won’t work.

I’m at peace with myself as I write. I know that the Boo Voice is lurking around every corner waiting to be emboldened by anxiety. I plan to ride this wave of tranquility until it inevitably crashes onto the shore. That’s just life. Working with my therapist has given me insight into the anxious corners of my mind and provided me with the tools to face any and all storms that aim to disrupt the calm.

Seven years ago, I set out to share a message of gratitude and hope by writing about my battle with heart failure and the spiritual awakening that followed. I didn’t expect that I would also go on an eye-opening, sometimes painful, and ultimately liberating journey of self-discovery. 

By no means do I have the answer to a question that has been a mystery to humankind for thousands of years. Despite that obvious reality, I’ll share my thoughts on the meaning of life in a series of new blog posts called, What is Life All About? I hope that the series stimulates your mind and encourages you to think about what life means to you.

Oh yeah…one last thing. I’ve learned to accept, appreciate, and actually enjoy being busy doing nothing.

One Year Later 💗 What I’ve Learned

Today is my first heartiversary with Idaho! If you don’t know Idaho, you can meet him here: https://esereport.com/2020/08/21/idaho-finds-a-home-%f0%9f%92%97/.

To commemorate this special day, I want to share what I’ve learned over the past 365 days.


What I’ve Learned*


Heart Transplant Recipient, 57, San Jose, California


Organ donors are the perfect example of God’s love. May He bless Idaho’s family.

“And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 

Love is a tricky thing and a word with many meanings. The best kind of love is agape (God’s love), an ancient Greek word that means giving of yourself for the sake of others.

Sandra, Marisa, and Erica are the loves of my life. They’re my heroes too.

Eating bad food, pushing myself to the limit, working hard, playing hard, partying hard, and thriving on stress was fun, but NOT a very healthy way to live.

A lot of guys my age think that they don’t need to get an annual physical or go to the doctor when something doesn’t feel right. Staying on top of things and following doctors’ orders are better than being in the ICU.

Doctors speak in Doctor. Keep asking questions until you really understand what they’re saying, then do what they tell you to do. They’re smarter than you and everyone around you.

Argentine poet and philosopher Jorge Luis Borges wrote that “the future is inevitable and precise, but it may not occur. God lurks in the gaps.” Ain’t that the truth!

I’m not afraid to die. The way I see it: The worst case scenario is also the best case scenario. Death is a ticket to heaven.

“It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ~ Matthew 4:7

I think I tried to test Him one time too many. The lesson is clear. Don’t mess with God.

Heart transplant is not a cure, it’s a way to keep living longer.  Meds, doc appointments, blood tests, and biopsies are for a lifetime.

No, I cant eat and drink anything I want.

Transplant surgeons literally cut your heart out to make room for in a new one. It’s a total shock to your body, like being hit by a speeding 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck.

ICU Delirium sucks. It’s a brain dysfunction in critically sick patients that causes confusion and weird hallucinations based on reality. 

I hope you never have to meet Rich Ha or John McArthur. If you do, just know that you’re in great hands.

You know what also sucks. Having a tube shoved down your throat to keep you alive or seeing a loved one go through that.

People who refuse to wear masks and won’t get the Covid vaccine because “the government can’t tell me what to do” are just plain dumb. Sorry not sorry.  

Heart transplant recovery messes with your mind, body, and spirit. It’s no different than the daily grind of life, just way more intense. 

It’s so important – actually critical – to develop relationships with healthcare providers. The amazing and skilled heart transplant and cardiac care teams at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center are like family.

Sharlene Madanes and Sarah Parnow are superstars!

Unhealthy core beliefs that go unrecognized and unchecked can cause lasting damage if not confronted. When your inner Boo Voice exploits your core beliefs, pain and suffering are right around the corner.

Living and working at full speed because “there are places to go, people to see, things to do” was one of my mottos. I damn near worked myself to death. 

Transplant recovery and my Boo Voice almost talked me into doing that again. Almost…

Mental health gets a bad rap. It’s one of society’s core beliefs that belongs in the dustbin of history.

The 1st Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is full of suffering and unhappiness. The 2nd Noble Truth states that desire, attachment, and selfishness cause suffering and unhappiness. 

I know that I’ll never be the same. I miss the hustle and bustle of the executive suite, the rough and tumble of political battles, and the thrill of center stage. But then, I kinda don’t miss it. 

“Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change. Being is always becoming.” ~ Buddha

I confronted my Boo Voice and finally acknowledged to myself that I made a meaningful contribution to this world and still have a little more to give.

I was in a line the other day that wrapped around the building to get my second Covid vaccine. A woman jumped out of her car fumbling with her smartphone and rushing to the front door of the clinic only to be told to get in line. I started to judge her in my mind because she looked so silly, but that used to be me at one time.

“Let’s take it nice and easy…nice and easy gets it done every time.” ~ Frank Sinatra, Nice N Easy, 1960

It soothes the soul to go for a walk just to go for a walk.

To my fellow 40 and 50 somethings: Don’t be fuddy duddys. Listen to your kids’ music. You can thank me later.

Aristotle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Siddhartha Gautama, St. Paul the Apostle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mohandas Gandhi, Jean-Paul Sartre, and C.S. Lewis were smart motherfuckers!

Taking a long hot shower without a Left Ventricular Assist Device is pure pleasure.

Nothing is more important than right now.

I’m still a dreamer and hopeless romantic who sees silver linings through rose colored glasses.

I’m still money from the free throw line!

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” ~ Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Manager


*The format of today’s post is inspired by a popular column in Esquire Magazine. Cal Fussman’s interview of Muhammed Ali is my all-time favorite. Check it out: https://www.esquire.com/sports/interviews/a1948/esq0104-jan-fighters/#:~:text=God%20will%20not%20place%20a,%2C%20it%20doesn’t%20hurt

The Boo Voice

The travieso trying to wiggle away from my big sister Barbara around 1967

In my last post, I wrote about the obstacles that make life extra challenging in 2021. Coronavirus, isolation, family Covid fatigue, and every day problems make for a seemingly unbearable existence. I posed a question: Are the things that make us feel awful real or is suffering all in our minds? I wrote that the mind is a major cause of our pain and that there has to be something more than temporary distractions to help us deal with sorrow. 

You can read the last post by going to this link: https://esereport.com/2021/02/08/its-all-in-your-mind/ 

Seventeen years ago, I had my first exposure to the possibility that “it’s all in my mind.”  I was running up the stairs at the Long Beach Convention Center and suddenly felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. The weird sensation went away in about 10 minutes. It happened again a few weeks later. I was on a flight that was making a smooth descent into San Antonio International Airport when, out of nowhere, I had a hard time breathing. 

I was only 40 years old at the time and in fairly good shape. I made an appointment with my doctor anyway because of family history of heart disease. In the clinic, the doctor covered all of the bases – extensive blood work at the lab, an EKG, echocardiogram, and cardiac stress test. He chuckled because I was on the treadmill jogging and chatting at the same time without losing my breath. Someone with heart disease wouldn’t be able do that.

Tests confirmed that there was nothing wrong with my heart. The doctor speculated that something else could be causing the feeling of being out of breath and referred me to a psychologist. The thought of going to a therapist didn’t register in my east side Mexican American working-class brain. We didn’t do therapy. Like Dave Chappele once joked, “psychologists were for upper middle-class white people. The rest of us had liquor stores.” 

My dad used to say that putting all your energy into work when life gets hard was the answer to the blues. That’s what I did after my mom died, but it wasn’t working so well for me. I went along with my doctor’s recommendation. I figured that I had nothing to lose. During our first meeting, the therapist described how heart attack symptoms are similar to those of a panic attack caused by anxiety. 

Rather than actually losing oxygen, the mind tricks the body into thinking that it’s out of breath. It was hard to wrap my mind around what I heard, but I kept going with it. Several sessions later, the therapist’s diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) triggered by my mom’s passing a year earlier. The condition impacts only 3.1% of Americans. Depression can go hand in hand with anxiety.

According to mental health advocates, GAD is “chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience.” The Mayo Clinic says that GAD is caused by a “complex interaction of biological and environmental factors.” What that means is that anxiety is partly caused by chemicals in the body that aren’t working correctly and partly caused by something negative that happens to us. 

I was a happy-go-lucky kid, There wasn’t a tree I wouldn’t climb or a fence I wouldn’t jump over. My mom used to say that I could be a little bit travieso (loosely translated as “naughty”). When I was about 10 years old, I wrecked my bike and scratched myself up pretty good riding downhill on a trail I wasn’t allowed to be on. My mom didn’t know about the details of that accident until 25 years later when my brothers, sisters, and I were sharing stories about youthful shenanigans .

Despite being somewhat of a daredevil, I had a tendency to worry, overthink, and overreact. It could be anything. I would lose sleep the night before a spelling test in elementary school worried about flunking. In high school, I couldn’t concentrate in class on gameday because I worried about making a mistake that would embarrass the team and school. Those bad things never happened. Nothing triggered those thoughts.

When mom passed away, I felt like a helium balloon floating aimlessly and untethered to the real world. She was my safe harbor when the winds of life’s storms howled. She was my biggest cheerleader. With mom gone, I worried incessantly about everything. This perfect storm of biological and environmental factors led to the therapist’s diagnosis. 

He recommended a combination of medication, therapy, and group mindfulness classes designed to address the chemical and triggering elements of anxiety. Given everything I understood about what the doctor told me, it made sense to me. I decided to give the proposed treatment my all. Within a few months, I was back on track building a life with my family and working on a career. I graduated from mocking psychology to being a therapy advocate.

The more I understood about anxiety’s causes, effects, and solutions, the more I wanted to learn how to manage it. The short story about unreasonable worry is fear of the unknown. An anxious mind comes to conclusions (usually doom and gloom) in the absence of verified information. As the old saying goes, anxiety makes mountains out of molehills. I refer to unwarranted thoughts that swirl in my mind as the “Boo Voice.” 

The therapist and mindfulness classes from 2004 prepared me for the most turbulent decade of my life. For 10 years, unknown life and death health situations hovered over me like a black cloud. Staying in the moment and consistent dialogue with doctors prevented my mind from escaping to unhelpful places. After heart transplant, my Boo Voice and I engaged in brutal battles. Using the same formula from 2004 has played a major role in my recovery.  

At some level, whether diagnosed with anxiety or not, we all have a Boo Voice. Everyone has different triggers. During these uncertain times, worry consumes most of our days. Will family members get sick and die? Will our kids lose out in their education? Will the vaccine work? When will life get back to normal? On top of all that, we still have to deal with the little daily annoyances that can ruin our days. 

How can we keep our Boo Voices from getting the best of us? Try this 3-part strategy. It helps me get through the toughest of times.

  1. Communication

The best option is a therapist, support group, spiritual advisor, or journal (all 4 is most effective). If these don’t fit your budget or comfort level, your significant other or bestie will work. The downside is that those close to you have skin in the game, so they’re not optimal. The most important thing is to talk it out.

  1. Meditation – Mindfulness

This is another concept that didn’t fit into my boyhood worldview. Taking mindfulness classes in 2004 and studying Buddhist principles for 10 years changed my mind. Meditation is really hard to do, but worth it. It helps you focus and calm the mind. A great tool is the Calm App. It’s about $70 a year to subscribe. The first year is free for Kaiser members.

  1. Pursue a Healthy Passion

Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, parties, and other guilty pleasures are quick, but temporary bandaids for the Boo Voice. When you remove the bandage, the cut is usually deeper. I’m not preaching. I get it. I’ve never been threatened by a good time. Healthy is the key word. I love writing, reading, and mentoring others. Find your healthy passion and do it.

Like everything worthwhile in life, what I just laid out is not easy. It takes hard work and dedicated commitment. I wish I could say that I’ve conquered my Boo Voice once and for all. Of course, I haven’t. Most likely I will battle it for the rest of my life because of biology. Medication helps with that part.

Fortunately, you most likely don’t have generalized anxiety disorder. Events and circumstances are the cause of worry and depression. I work hard on my 3-part strategy to manage the environmental causes of anxiety everyday and it makes my life so much better. You can do it too. Give it a try. It takes time. Be patient. I’m on year 17 working with this strategy and life continues to get better every day.

It’s All in Your Mind

Mom and Dad circa 1966

“You have power over your mind – not outside events.” – Marcus Aurelius, 1st-Century Roman Emperor and Philosopher


Imagine for a minute that you’ve been transported to the mid to late 1960s. Standing at an elegant bar is a handsome, well-groomed man with the subtle scent of English Leather cologne on him. He’s wearing a slim-cut black suit, crisp white shirt, dark tie, and black shoes polished to a soft sheen. He casually leans against the bar with his right forearm on the varnished oak countertop with a drink in his right hand.

Deep in thought, the gentleman takes a slow drag of a cigarette held between his left index and middle fingers as it softly sits on his pursed lips. He squints through the smoke looking into an empty space while he’s deep in thought. Any number of things that complicate his life could be swirling in his mind. Frank Sinatra, you say? Dean Martin, perhaps? Or could it be Don Draper? 

The answer is none of the above. The image is how I remember my dad when I was about 4 or 5 years old. He looked like the quintessential man of the 60s, especially when he dressed up. My dad worked at the post office, so he didn’t usually wear a suit and tie. I think he owned 2 suits, 1 black and 1 charcoal, for special occasions. His normal dress code was a pair of slacks, a button up long sleeve shirt, and always shined dress shoes.

Family and close friends called my dad Lico. He was smart and read regularly, even though I’m not quite sure he ever graduated from high school. He served on an aircraft carrier in the United States Navy during WWII. He was articulate and charming, armed with a quick wit and a smile that could light up a room. He was also stubborn, sarcastic, and uncompromising. His condescending words and facial expressions of disapproval cut deeper than any spanking.

In many ways, my dad was a man of his times. He worked hard to provide for his family and unabashedly believed in traditional gender and parent/child roles. In his world, the man was king of his castle. Dad’s word was final, no discussion, no debate, no nonsense. He was a classic rugged-individualist who believed that no one – NO ONE – was responsible for his own success or failure other than himself. 

In other ways, he was way ahead of his time, especially for a Mexican American father in those days. He didn’t want his children to work in “traditional” Latino jobs. He encouraged us to read, explore, and get a college education. He thought deeply and could be philosophical about the ways of the universe. Understanding that life was unpredictable and unforgiving, he always had a thoughtful response in any situation. He expressed these thoughts through what I call Licoisms

He had a treasure trove of these sayings. Some of my favorites include: “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” (be patient), “it’s easier said than done” (don’t take anything for granted), and “get off of your high horse” (show humility). “It’s all in your mind” was my least favorite Licoism when I was a kid. Every time I thought life was unfair and looked for sympathy, that was his response.

When I was about 12 years old, I remember getting ready for a backyard party. It was a blistering hot day, and I was expected to wear slacks and a button up shirt because my dad’s relatives were going to be there. I complained endlessly to my mom about the heat. I wanted to wear shorts and a t-shirt. She empathized with me, but still told me I would have to take it up with my dad. Well, I knew that wasn’t going to fly.

Nevertheless, before guests started to arrive, I worked up the courage to ask him if he felt hot wearing long sleeves and dress pants. He turned and looked at me with his trademark sarcastic smirk. I braced myself for what I expected would be a flurry of cutting Licoisms flying my way. He asked if I knew what the temperature was outside. At least 100, I guessed. He followed up by saying, “it doesn’t matter what I wear, it’s still 100 degrees. The heat is all in your mind, mijo.”

As the years passed by, I began to appreciate the saying. After spending a summer in the ICU, it came in handy. My body lost all muscle function from being in a coma and lying on a bed for about 70 days. I couldn’t even lift a finger. Doctors said strength would return with rehabilitation. It sounded impossible. Although he had been gone for 15 years, I heard Lico’s voice telling me, “it’s all in your mind, mijo.”

Let’s face it. Let’s be real. Life isn’t easy. The past year serves to remind us of that. The pandemic, political division, isolation, the summer fires, smokey skies, and on and on. Added to all of that was the grind of daily life. Throughout my personal life, I’ve had my share of struggles. There was that hot summer day in 1975, the passing of my mom, dad, and a sister, a health crisis, and yeah, that every day stuff. 

Did those things not happen? Yes, they did. Was it all in my and our minds? Of course not. It’s life’s way of saying that nature is in charge. We all experience unfortunate events and phenomena. They’re circumstances that aren’t within anyone’s power to control. Can they harm us? The short answer is it depends. Marcus Aurelius tells us that we have power over our own minds and not much more. That’s what my dad meant by, “it’s all in your mind.”

I don’t know where he came up with that pearl of wisdom. I’m sure life experiences, his intellectual curiosity, and catchphrases from his Depression Era generation all contributed to his thinking. Did he read the ancient philosophers? Maybe, maybe not. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. One thing for sure is that he understood that suffering is mostly caused by our own thoughts, not by the chaos that surrounds us.

Although my dad was a wise man, he didn’t have the answer on how to tame the anguish that churns in our minds. His solution? There wasn’t much that a cigarette and a highball glass full of V.O whiskey and water on the rocks couldn’t resolve. I don’t think that worked for him. I’m pretty sure he suffered from depression and anxiety. I’ve followed a similar path, also with little success. Other people use the same strategy with food, shopping, sex, drugs, etc.

Whether it’s fear of an uncertain future or the inconvenience of kids learning from home because of a pandemic, life sucks if we allow the craziness around us to find a home in our consciousness. A plan to achieve long-term inner peace and some kind of happiness shouldn’t have to depend on any of the sensually pleasing distractions that temporarily relieve our pain. There has to be a better way to deal with nature’s whims. 

Now imagine for a minute that you’ve been transported to a time in the very near future. Covid is still here making family and friends sick, your kids are driving you up the wall because they’re bored at home, your spouse is on your nerves more than usual, and California is in full-blown drought. That’s not even the worst of it. Your company is going belly up and you don’t know from one day to the next if you’ll have a job.

Despite all of that, you don’t feel stressed, sad, frustrated, or angry. You’re not thinking of giving up or murdering your entire family. While driving home in dreadful traffic, you whistle to your favorite song on the radio, rather than flipping the bird to some idiot on the road. You can’t control what’s happening outside of your car. It’s all in your mind. So, you feel calm as you inch through the freeway. 

Is it even possible to feel at peace in this situation? I think it is and I’m intent on discovering the secret. Please keep reading ESEReport.com in the coming weeks and months. I’m going on an adventure to find the answer to inner peace and happiness. I plan to be brutally honest with myself and readers. I’m not sure I’ll get there, but the ride should be fun. I hope you find a few minutes in your hectic day to come along with me.

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Thanks so much for reading ESEReport.com!

The East Side Eddie Report launched in July 2013 to provide readers with a unique viewpoint on community issues from the perspective of someone from the “other side of the tracks.” The content focused on encouraging leadership in the Latino community. In December 2014, ESEReport.com created the “Summer in the Waiting Room” series to chronicle my 10-year battle with heart failure.

That struggle taught me that trusting in something bigger than ourselves can change lives. My passion for telling stories that help and inspire others guides my life journey. As ESEReport.com continues to evolve, the mission is to inspire readers with faith, hope, and love.

I welcome your guidance in helping me achieve ESEReport.com’s mission. Please go to the link below to complete a short 5-question survey. It should take less than a minute. Thanks for your help!



It’s Never Too Late

Ready for another day!

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” ~Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and manager

“Ah, nothing is too late until the tired heart ceases to palpitate.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet


My Compa Pancho and I are avid sports fans and we text often when there’s news in the sports world. When legendary baseball player Hank Aaron died recently, I shared a video of a commercial that featured Aaron and Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The TV ad was aired during the year that Bonds was chasing Aaron’s all-time home run record. It was a clever tongue and cheek play on the historic chase.

So far so good, but there’s always a hitch when it comes to something about the Giants. Pancho is a die-hard Dodgers fan. Anytime I mention the Giants, he immediately prepares for hand-to-hand verbal combat and a flurry of shit-talking begins. To be fair to my compa, I do my share of talking shit about the Dodgers. Anyway, I was waiting for him to bring up the same old tired and unproven steroids BS about Bonds.

But that’s not what happened. His response was shocking. Like a ball coming out of left field, Pancho shared with me that a friend from his boyhood neighborhood committed suicide. The friend hanged himself. Not really knowing how to respond, I texted my condolences. Pancho went on to describe how the man’s family was devastated.

The last time Pancho saw his old neighbor was a few years ago. The man was riding a bike and looked skinny, tired, and old. He had struggled with depression and substance abuse for most of his adult life. According to Pancho, he was high on drugs when they ran into each other. After a few minutes of small talk, they went their separate ways. His life came to a tragic and lonely end in a losing battle against mental health, drug, and alcohol problems.

I spent the rest of that evening and most of the next day thinking about Pancho’s old friend. His story brought to mind the never-ending cycle of troubles that complicates our lives and keeps us on a continuous roller coaster of emotional high and lows. Too many times, the ride gets hair-raising and we think it’s too late to bring it back to safe place. It’s easy to give up, but my life story has taught me that no matter how hard life gets, it’s never too late. 

I ran across a poem a while back by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that was perfect for what I was thinking about. Longfellow, one of America’s greatest poets, wrote the verse in 1875 as the keynote for his 50th college reunion where he read it to a group of 70+ year old classmates. The poem is about the reality that none of us will be able to stop time and it’s never too late to keep learning and growing.

The line that inspired me most from the poem reminds me of a famous quote from Hall of Fame baseball manager Yogi Berra. During the 1973 World Series, Berra was the manager of the New York Mets. The team lost the first 2 games and winning the series looked like a longshot. When reporters asked how he felt about the Mets’ chances after being so far behind, he famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” The Mets went on to win the next 3 games in a row.

These 2 stories can be inspirations for anyone who’s thinking about giving up when life gets too hard. Both anecdotes encourage us to believe that it’s never too late, no matter the situation. At one time or another, all of us have fallen prey to the notion that an opportunity passed us by, with no way to return again. This leads to regret, second-guessing, and fear of not getting another chance. The inevitable next step is to give up.

I’ve always considered myself to be a person ready to take on life’s challenges head on. I didn’t think giving up was in my DNA. That arrogance was crushed during the first month of 1983 when I received a letter from San Jose State University informing me that I didn’t meet the academic requirements to stay enrolled. I flunked out and gave up on myself. 

I spent the next several years, drinking excessively, partying, and soothing my bruised ego in unhealthy ways. Once the hangover from that blurry time cleared up, I started to work my way back into the university. I ran into a mental roadblock almost immediately. During the first semester back at SJSU, I confided in a professor that I thought I was too old to start over, it was too late to earn a degree. His response motivated me and changed my life. 

The professor shrewdly concluded that I would grow older someday with or without a college education. Choose my path forward thoughtfully, he advised. With those wise words, I carried on with my studies and graduated a few years later. I worked tirelessly over the next 2 decades building a life and family with Sandra while developing a meaningful and successful career.

“Ah, nothing is too late; Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.” 

Then, for a brief moment many years later, my heart actually ceased to palpitate. While I was sleeping comfortably on a hospital bed in the ICU during the wee hours of the morning on June 17, 2010, my heart went into cardiac arrest literally stopping for a few seconds. A team of doctors, nurses, and cardiac technicians frantically worked to get my heart pumping again. About 1,000 volts of electricity sent through defibrillator paddles did the job.

I had two more chances to give up during the 10 years following the close call. On my 55th birthday in 2018, a surgeon was putting the finishing touches on surgery to place a titanium pump in my heart. My lungs started to swell. It took 5 days of smart medical decision-making by the surgeon and anxious waiting for my family before the doctor closed my chest cavity. I didn’t think I could go through another rigorous rehabilitation. It was too late, I thought. I’ll never be the same. Nevertheless, life continued forward.

Seventeen months later, transplant surgery hit me like a speeding big rig and the meds made a mess of my psyche and emotions. By the third month of a slow and depressing recovery, I convinced myself that I was too old and too weak to come back yet again. Just when I was about to throw in the towel on this latest fight, I took advantage of the resources at my disposal. With God’s grace, an awesome transplant care team, Sandra and the girls’ love, and a little hard work, I marched on.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say. Longfellow and Yogi had it right. It’s never too late. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, something will happen to make it a less than perfect day. Your internet service could go down in the middle of an important Zoom meeting, co-workers and/or your boss could get on your last nerve, you could get into an argument at home, your car might break down.

What are we to do when any given day inevitably turns imperfect? Keep going. Don’t look back. It’s not too late. As long as you heart continues to nourish your body and soul, there’s a chance that whatever is causing your suffering and grief is fixable. Over the next several posts, I plan to get philosophical and share my thoughts on how to overcome challenges big and small.

Until then, keep in mind – just believe – that everything will work out in the end. With faith, hope, and love, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”


Here’s the link to Longfellow’s full poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44639/morituri-salutamus-poem-for-the-fiftieth-anniversary-of-the-class-of-1825-in-bowdoin-college

2021 is Here: Now What?

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Jospeph Campbell, Philosopher and Mythologist


The other night, I had a short dream about me and my late father-in-law. He was 81 years old when he passed away a little more than a year ago. We were about 15-20 years younger in the dream. Although Sandra’s dad was small in stature, his work ethic, humility, and quiet strength made him a giant of a man. Few words were needed for him to express approval, disappointment, encouragement, or mischievousness. His eyes and a simple nod of his head spoke volumes.

The dream reminded me of a time in my life that was full of opportunity and professional excitement. I was in my late 30s, confident and a little full of myself. Providing for my family, working my way up the corporate ladder, and serving the community in a variety of ways were priorities. My father-in-law looked like he was in his early 60s, full of life enjoying retirement and the fruits of his labors as a cement mason.

He was from the same region in Mexico where my grandmother spent her childhood. I loved hearing stories about his boyhood and he loved telling them. We also talked about politics, history, and current events, usually while grilling ribs on the barbecue pit or around the dining room table over rounds of Budwiser, Coors Light, or Corona. In the middle of me waxing eloquent about some historical event, he would suggest another round of beers with a simple nod, raised eyebrows, and encouraging eyes. It was his way of asking, “Are you ready?”

Despite these shared interests, we couldn’t be more different on the surface. He was great with his hands and could build or fix anything. I can’t hammer a nail straight into a piece of wood to save my life. He was soft-spoken and I’m outspoken. When he talked, it was mostly in Spanish. English is my language of choice. With a few too many beers under our belts, we would switch languages and howl with laughter at each other’s attempts to tell a funny story. 

Perhaps our biggest difference was in the way we approached life. He was a steady as he goes kind of guy. I’m a dreamer. He worked in concrete construction for over thirty years. I’ve had no less than 5 professions in the same span of time. Throughout my career, each day brought new experiences. Without fail, he awoke before dawn, labored in the elements all day, had dinner with his family, and watched the news and novelas before going to bed.

I admire how he just got it done, day in and day out. He was a prolific cement mason on large industrial projects and especially talented working small side jobs. With perfectionism and creativity, each patio, driveway, sidewalk he did was a work of art. I’m sure he didn’t plan for that life when he was a boy in Sonora, Mexico. Per the old Mexican saying, he took it un dia a la vez – one day at a time.

His story brought to life philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell’s classic quote. This kind of philosophical outlook builds resilience and strength. We spend too much time trying to mold our lives into the “perfect” life of meticulously designed happiness. When the inevitable unplanned event happens, we grow uncertain, unhappy, and frustrated. Last year was the perfect example.

2020 started with the optimism of a year befitting a symbolic and symmetrical number. Before the first month was out, we experienced the tip of a global pandemic iceberg. It all went downhill from there. Before long, “Covid Fatigue” had set in. As a society, we opted not to take it un dia a la vez. Any possibility of resilience and strength gave way to vulnerability and weakness. People were uncertain, unhappy, and frustrated.  

Ironically, 2020 was actually a pretty darn good year for me. On January 1, 2020, a titanium pump was still attached to the lower left side of my heart to help my seriously diseased heart circulate blood throughout my body. On April 16, 2020, I had a heart transplant and a new lease on life. By New Year’s Day 2021, I felt physically and mentally stronger than I could ever imagine 365 days earlier.

I paint a rosy picture of a wonderful and blissful year. Of course, that wasn’t the case. It doesn’t account for an extremely difficult transplant recovery. Physical and mental challenges in the aftermath of surgery consumed me so much that it may have been God’s way of protecting me from the darkness of world events. With or without Covid and smoke from devastating fires, I had to shelter in place.

I had the luxury of taking that solitary time to read, think, and reflect. My ancestral and cultural  “one day at a time” belief system started to sink in. We have no power over future or past events. The Lord’s Prayer even tells us to ask God to, “give us this day,” not yesterday, not tomorrow...this day. The pandemic, political nonsense, and fires were out of my control, so why worry about such things.   

2021 is finally here. Now what?

I’m sure that millions of us will resolve to eat better and become physically fit in the new year. Other resolutions probably include things like working toward career advancement, finding love, pursuing a lifelong passion. Then the first week of 2021 came. The optimism that blew air into the 2021 balloon on New Year’s Eve developed a slow leak before we could recover from the 2020 hangover.

Like many of you, I sat stunned, saddened, and angry watching the images on TV of modern-day barbarians sacking the symbol of democracy and freedom. I’m a Mexican American eastside Yankee Doodle Dandy with a deep love and profound respect for the traditions and institutions that secure our American way of life. As my anger grew, my thoughts turned to the spiritual journey that has given faith, hope, and love to my life. 

My anger and sadness began to drift away. I learned the lessons of 2020 well. I had no control over the awful images that came from the Capitol and have zero power over what happens in the days to come. All I have is today. “Give us this day…” I’m resolved to use the remaining 351 days of 2021, a day at a time, to explore ideas that lead to a deeper understanding of life and inner peace. 

That’s just a fancy way of saying that I will look for ways to keep the bullshit that causes emotional pain from taking control of my thoughts. Inspirational memes, superficial feel-good rah rahs, and trendy mindfulness gurus won’t get the job done. It’ll take hard work and dedicated commitment to the craft of learning to understand our world and the universe beyond. God’s prophets, philosophers, and psychologists will be my guides. 

I strongly recommend that everyone also use the remainder of stay-at-home time, however long that may be, to do the same. I urge you to read, think, and reflect instead of fruitlessly looking for ways to fill in empty spaces with diversions that imitate the “good old days” before the pandemic. The worst that can happen is you’ve occupied your time with something that isn’t harmful or unhealthy. The best thing that can happen is that you find the ever so elusive inner peace.

In the dream with my father-in-law, we were at a backyard party. I was chatting with a group of faceless men and he was digging through an ice chest fishing out a couple of beers. He turned around and slowly walked toward me extending his arm offering a can of Bud. He gave me his signature nod with raised eyebrows and encouraging eyes as if to ask, Are you ready?

Rather than asking if I was ready for another drink, I think he came to me in the dream to ask if I was ready for the next stage in my life. I’ve come a long way and I know there’s a long way to go. I have so much to learn. I have more experiences waiting in the wings. I still have room to grow intellectually and spiritually. Am I ready? I think so. 

Next! – Idaho Finds a Home: Part 4

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” ~ Proverbs 4:18


When I was a kid, I loved playing 3-on-3 pick-up basketball. It didn’t matter where we played: on a school playground, in a park, on someone’s driveway court, or during open gym night at a high school. Usually there were other guys on the sidelines waiting to play against the winners of the game in progress. The winners would sometimes triumphantly boast and shout, “Next!” to summon the next set of players onto the court. 

Thinking about those carefree days took me back to the amazing experience in the echocardiogram exam room 2 months ago when I heard my strong and steady heartbeat. For a brief moment that day, the fear and uncertainty that brought my recovery to a slow crawl faded away. I wondered how amazing it would be to play a pick-up basketball game again. Each beat was like a lyric in a hopeful song from God and another step in my long journey of spiritual discovery.

Since that moment, I’ve seriously reflected on how God and spirituality continue to make a positive impact on my life. The journey started like the morning sun 10 years ago during the dark days when a massive heart attack and miraculous recovery consumed my life. There hasn’t been one “aha” moment along the way. Instead, like the words in Proverbs 4:18, the sun continues to shine brighter each day shedding new light on my understanding of God.

I was born and raised Catholic. I’ve received 6 of the 7 Holy Sacraments, including the Anointing of the Sick several times while on my deathbed. The only sacrament missing is ordination as a priest or deacon. Despite being a practicing Catholic, I never was able to connect the dots that linked the rituals and trappings of the Church with the wisdom of God ‘s word. The morning sun that started shining upon me a decade ago changed all of that.

I’ve been witness to miraculous things that have happened to me. I regularly read the daily mass and associated Bible commentaries. I also study the wise words of philosophers who have searched for the meaning of life. One thing is clear, this stuff is complicated. I believed in God as a little boy because my mom told me it was so. My limited understanding of what that belief meant came from mom, friends, family, and folklore. There was nothing to back up what they said.

A recent question that made the rounds with extended family was, “Does Jesus greet you in heaven when you die?” There was a flurry of differing opinions on the matter, some agreed and most were unsure. It turns out that the Bible doesn’t provide the answer. The closest thing to an answer is from the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus gives the keys to heaven to St. Peter. The implication is that St. Peter is the guardian at heaven’s gate and greets all who enter.

But, all of that doesn’t really matter. My spiritual journey has taught me that the whole idea of God or any other supernatural power is believing in the power of faith, hope, and love as described by St. Paul the Apostle. Those 3 thoughts provide us with the strength and determination to carry on through the darkest of times. 

Faith allows us to accept the circumstances that exist in our lives. Hope assures us that whatever happens is supposed to happen according to God’s plan. Love inspires us to help others because it’s the right thing to do, not because we expect something in return. 

With that said, I also believe that putting our fate in God’s hands includes trusting the tools He provides. I don’t believe that God wants us to sit back and do nothing for ourselves. Throughout my health crisis, the tools he has given me are my amazing family and the expert healthcare team at Kaiser Santa Clara: doctors, nurses, support staff, psychologist, physical therapist, technicians, etc. 

God puts these kinds of heroes in our paths to enrich our life journeys. To ignore and not trust them is to not trust Him. According to the Gospel of Luke 4:12, Jesus tells the Pharisees , “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” I tested Him many times in the past without success. That’s why I decided not to do that throughout my health crisis. I believe that using the tools He has provided is a major reason for enduring the past 10 years.

Another question looms on the horizon as I’m about midway through the most challenging 18 months of transplant recovery. As my physical and mental health continue to improve on a daily basis, I’m starting to think ahead. Every time I scale Montgomery Hill or get a great progress report from the heart clinic team, my lifelong tendency to start planning and plotting the next move kicks in. Part of me wants to yell, “Next!” with the bravado of a teenage boy winning game after game of 3-on-3 basketball. 

The other part of me, tempered by a decade of health trials and tribulations, will venture on with patience and no intention of prior planning or preparation. The strategy goes totally against the grain of what I learned as a kid and practiced as an adult. I won’t meticulously organize the next steps of my life. I tried that before, but God had other plans. My record of testing Him is absolutely abysmal, so the answer for a path ahead is clear. 

I’ll take it one day at a time. That’s what God, His prophets, thousands of years of philosophers, and modern-day mindfulness gurus have been telling us to do. Many loved ones and friends tell me that I should just enjoy life. I must confess that I don’t know what that means. What brings joy to one person doesn’t necessarily mean that same thing is enjoyable for another.

I love to read, write, think about things that many people might not care much about, share my thoughts, and help others. While a few friends count down the days to retirement, I look forward to doing the same kinds of things I did for a living, but without timelines, benchmarks, deadlines, and compensation. I’m willing to bet that there are those who may wonder what’s wrong with me. After all I’ve been through, I’m sure they reason, why would I do anything that has even a hint of “work?”

Summer in the Waiting Room on ESEReport.com is an example of doing something that requires the same energy as a job, but isn’t “work.” The original purpose for writing the story was self-therapy to help me accept my health condition and the demons that haunted me. It also inspired me to explore the meaning of God and share, in simple terms, a regular guy’s knowledge of heart failure to educate those suffering from the disease. Putting my thoughts in a blog gave me a platform to do just that and be a source of hope for people struggling with illness or any life-changing incident.

Today’s post is the last of the Summer in the Waiting Room series. I finished writing the story and will soon begin the process of converting it into a manuscript. Although Summer in the Waiting Room excerpts are done, I’ll keep writing and posting my thoughts on a variety of issues I’m passionate about. The mission of ESEReport.com is to inspire people with faith, hope, and love as the overarching philosophy and theme. Stay on the lookout for more posts to come.

With all of this in mind, taking care of myself and Idaho is the top priority. I’ll spend most of my additional time reading, writing, thinking, sharing my thoughts, and looking to find ways to offer hope. When COVID clears up, Sandra and I will watch movies, go out to dinner, and spend time with family and friends. In the meantime, I’ll pursue with gusto my passions for documentaries, cable news, and exploring different genres of music. Right now, I’m pretty hooked on 1960s soul crooners and 2000s pop punk. Who knows what other type of music will cross my path? 

The morning sun of faith that first rose that fateful moment in 2010 keeps shining brighter each day as I gain knowledge and wisdom about the world we live in and the heaven we aspire to. It may sound like the next chapter in my life has a full agenda. Will I be able to enjoy it? I don’t know. But, I know one thing for sure, whatever happens will happen in God’s time. I can live with that.

The Hilltop: Idaho Finds a Home – Part 3

Montgomery Hill – November 6, 2020

Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~Deuteronomy 31:6


As soon as the heart transplant team nurse practitioner (NP) who manages my care walked into the exam room, we got straight to work. She enthusiastically asked me how I felt. I didn’t give her the glowing report expected of a 3-month post-transplant patient. I told her that I felt weak and wasn’t making much progress.

Lab results from the day before and an echocardiogram (echo) from earlier that day told a different story. The blood tests showed that my body was functioning normally and confirmed no organ rejection, the biggest factor in transplant failure. The echo indicated that Idaho was performing like a Ferrari, just as the Stanford surgeon boasted after surgery.

The echo is an easy non-invasive procedure. While I was undressed from the waist up lying on an exam table, the technician made circular motions over the heart with a wand. The device sends images and sound to a computer that records the results of the exam. The test measures the strength of the heart muscle as it squeezes with each beat.

A darkened room allows a technician to better see the images on the computer. I’ve had countless echo procedures done. Two things always stood out before the transplant. First, the image on the screen showed a lopsided organ because the lower left chamber of my diseased heart was enlarged. Second, I could hear my heart laboring with unsteady beats.

The six-month echo was different. The image on the computer screen showed a heart that was perfectly shaped. With each beat, Idaho danced in a smooth rhythm while the strong and steady swishing sound of the heartbeat provided the background music. The sound was amazing. It was as if the words of Deuteronomy 31:6 were lyrics to a song that God was singing to me. 

The lyrics went on to tell me that it was time to start working to overcome the weakness and hopelessness that had infected my mind. Lying on a table in that dark room, I was reminded of St. Paul’s assurance that hope comes from suffering, endurance, and character. The message was clear: I’ve been here before and I can bounce back again with faith and determination..

Back at the transplant team exam room, the NP confirmed that the results of the echo were stellar. Despite the glimmer of hope that washed over me during the exam, I still reported that I didn’t feel good. Sandra asked if depression and anxiety could play a role in how I felt physically. The NP agreed and recommended that I consider speaking with the transplant team psychologist. 

The spiritual echo room experience and the knowledge that Idaho was strong and healthy inspired me to take on the mental and physical barriers that prevented me from moving forward in a positive and productive way. Adding a psychologist and physical therapist to the team was the first order of business. 

There has been great progress in the public consciousness about mental health, yet people still tend to lock the issue behind closed doors. In the aftermath of my mom’s passing in 2003, I learned that managing the mind is just as important as taking care of the body. Deciding to give my all to the process was a forgone conclusion.

My therapist is a young woman with the skills of a seasoned veteran. She has a casual, caring, and empathetic manner that allows me to be open about what troubles my mind and soul. Working with her helped me identify the cause of the depression and anxiety that swept through me like a hurricane during the first months of recovery. 

The issues we identified are related to my academic disqualification from San Jose State University almost 40 years ago and other self-perceived “failures” from that time. Since then, I graduated from SJSU and married an amazing woman. Together we have two wonderful daughters. 

Professionally, I worked my way up the corporate ladder to the executive suite, served in public office, and created a nonprofit organization that trains emerging civic leaders. Personally, I survived a massive heart attack and fought through heart failure for 10 years. The fight included a disciplined diet, medication regimen, exercise plan, and an implanted artificial heart pump. 

After all that, failure demons still hung over me like an executioner’s axe looming over the neck of a guilty convict. The events of the early 1980s made me believe that I was a failure. I met every accomplishment with a yawn and a stronger determination to do more. Each professional setback, however minor, further confirmed my core belief that I would never succeed.

Before starting therapy, I spent every day in bed feeling alone and curled up in a loose fetal position. My stomach churned and my mind swirled day after day believing that I failed Sandra and the girls by no longer providing for our family the way I had for so many years. I felt unworthy of the new heart and the donor that selflessly gave it to me. 

The therapist not only helped pinpoint the cause of my seemingly hopeless emotional condition, she provided me with mental exercises and a plan to fight the failure demons. Our work and my faith journey, brought back into focus by the spiritual encounter in the echo exam room, put me on the path to be mentally healthy for a successful transplant recovery.

During the early days of recovery, I benefited from physical therapist (PT) home visits. The role of the PT was to work on the twin goals of strengthening the new heart muscle and developing a plan to recondition my body after the traumatic surgery. After three months, I was able to go on short walks a few times per week. Idaho performed well, but the rest of my body lagged behind.

I wanted to walk to the top of Montgomery Hill, a hike I did a few times in the years before the transplant. It’s a 3 mile round trip from my house. To get there, I have to walk through the neighborhood to a bridge that crosses a creek onto a trail that meanders up to the hill. After 8 weeks with the in-home PT and a month of self-guided walks, I still couldn’t even make it to the bridge.

While working on my mental health, I also had the chance to address and improve my physical condition. Kaiser Redwood City has a specialized cardiac physical therapy department with experience serving heart transplant patients. My physical therapist (PT) is a patient and friendly young man with intimate understanding of physical rehab strategies related to heart failure.

He began by asking me to list a few short-term and long-term goals. I gave him three in this order: (1) walk to the top of Montgomery Hill, (2) shoot hoops, and (3) play a round of golf. He developed an exercise regimen I could do at home. These include leg workouts, and light dumbbell and core exercises. He advised me to work my way up the hill in small doable daily walks, adding distance gradually.

Two days before my 57th birthday, I had gotten within a few hundred yards and one steep incline away from my goal. On the morning of my birthday, which was also the 2nd anniversary of heart pump surgery and almost 7 months post-transplant, I made it to the hilltop and quietly celebrated by myself.

Sitting on a bench marvelling at the view of San Jose lying below, I felt the full weight of gratitude. The grace of God was watching over me. I was grateful for Sandra, Marisa, and Erica enduring with me every good and bad step of the way. I was thankful for my transplant care team, the team’s psychologist, and the Redwood City PT. 

I was back on track. Faith, hope, and love again ruled the day. The Buddha and the ancient philosophers returned to being valued advisors on this journey. As I made my way down the hill, I walked with purpose and a little spring in my step. 

I can’t wait until my 8-month transplant team appointment. God willing, I’ll be able to report that I’m feeling pretty darn good.


To catch up or re-read Part 1 and Part 2, go to the following links:



All Alone: Idaho Finds a Home – Part 2

Sitting in the exam room during the first week after transplant – 5/5/2020

To catch up and read Part 1, go to the following link:



Although I was grateful to be in our Ford Explorer with Sandra, I felt all alone. 

We took a detour instead driving straight home. The Santa Clara Kaiser transplant team scheduled an appointment for immediately after Stanford discharged me. The purpose of the visit was to do lab work, examinations, and additional testing to determine my short and long term needs for recovery. 

At Kaiser, Sandra had to help me out of the SUV and onto a wheelchair. My muscles were deconditioned from surgery. I could only stand for a few seconds before my legs began to shake uncontrollably from weakness. 

Although I didn’t feel well, entering the Kaiser clinic building lifted my spirits. The lobby was like a ghost town due to COVID precautions, but the sights, sounds, and smells of the facility provided a sense of comfort that everything would be okay. I spent so much time there during the past 10 years that being in the building was a homecoming in itself.

Sitting in the exam room was all too familiar. During the 7 months of the transplant evaluation period and 17 months with the LVAD, the exam room was a fixture on our monthly calendar. We waited in silence and nervous anticipation as loneliness crept back into my consciousness. My anxious stomach churned relentlessly with thoughts of the unknown.

The afternoon was filled with drawing blood, checking vital signs, and completing an electrocardiogram (EKG), an echocardiogram (echo), a heart biopsy, and a physical exam. The biopsy provides the most critical data point. It’s a somewhat invasive procedure that determines if the body is rejecting the heart. Rejection is at a higher risk during the first 3 to 6 months post-surgery.

It can be a bit intimidating. Rather than being in the comfort of the warm exam room, the procedure is done in the Cath Lab, a cold antiseptic surgery-like space that houses huge medical equipment resembling a James Bond movie scene where weird experiments are conducted. I had to dress in a gown and surgical cap before being wheeled into the cold Cath Lab.

While I was fully awake, the doctor began by numbing the right side of the neck to make an incision on the jugular vein. A tube called a catheter is inserted into the cut so the doctor can thread a hard wire into the vein to an artery that leads to the heart. The wire collects heart tissue to send to a lab for testing.

The entire process takes about 45 minutes. There isn’t much pain involved, but the sensations are strange. As the doctor thread the wire into my vein, it felt like his fist was pushing hard against the neck. I’m sure it was just in my imagination, but I heard the wire being threaded into and out of the catheter. All the while, the doctor, nurses, and technicians shouted numbers to each other.

When the doctor visit was complete, Sandra and I made our way back to the car escorted by an orderly who helped Sandra lift my limp and exhausted body onto the passenger seat. We left the medical center campus to embark on the rest of our lives. When we arrived home, our extended family and a few close friends greeted us, in social distance fashion, from their cars with honking horns and cheers.

Love washed over me and I quietly thanked God for the amazing gifts He bestowed on me. I smiled and mustered a weak wave before Sandra and the girls whisked me into the house. Overflowing with gratitude, Sandra and I worked as a team to get me into bed. I was happy and scared at the same time.

The first week at home was exciting and hopeful. Due to  overwhelming physical and emotional challenges, that would change quickly. Sandra had to do everything for me. Although she had a hectic work-from-home schedule, she cared for me round the clock with love, grace, and selflessness. Marisa and Erica were an amazing support team chipping in and keeping me company.

The chest pain from breaking my ribcage open was almost unbearable, even with the help of pain medication. The intense surgery deconditioned the rest of my body, which left me nearly unable to physically do anything. The transplant team later described the trauma of transplant surgery like being hit by a speeding 18-wheel truck on the freeway. 

On top of all that, one of the anti-rejection medications made me shake like a nervous chihuahua on a cold day. I wore a towel around my neck like a bib to prevent my shaking hands from scattering food all over my shirt or the bed. Mealtime was always frustrating.

A different med put me on a roller coaster of mood swings. Everyday, I found new ways to get on Sandra’s nerves and vice versa. We were at odds like never before. Emotionally, I was a wreck. Thoughts of failure and regret came roaring back to haunt me from morning to night. 

I felt helpless and unproductive. I made myself believe that I had made a mess of my life and the lives of Sandra and the girls. I believed that God had forsaken me once again as He did in the Stanford ICU. Despite the amazing support system at home, I felt all alone.

During the first month after transplant, routine dominated my life. Sandra prepared breakfast and helped me take meds. Lunch and more meds in the afternoon were followed by a shower. Showering was no easy task. Sandra had to help me undress, get in and sit on the bench in the shower, wash, get out, and dress. Evenings were capped by dinner and even more meds. The days and nights seemed to drone on endlessly.

I also had two clinic appointments and one biopsy every week. Being at the clinic was the highlight of each week. I was able to escape the dark dungeon my mind had created for me. At home, I spent nearly all of my time in bed. Brief conversations with the girls, sleep, and wallowing in my self-imposed emotional suffering filled in the gaps. 

In month two, the routine proceeded as usual and Idaho continued to avoid rejection, show positive lab results, and get stronger. The transplant team arranged for a physical therapist to make a house call every week to work on conditioning. The rest of my body was slowly recovering with short walks and exercises prescribed by the therapist.

Meanwhile, depression and anxiety maintained their hold on me. Loneliness and uncertainty drove deeper into my consciousness. My stomach churned, almost to the point of being painful, from depression and anxiety day and night. The meds prevented me from being able to concentrate for more than short moments. My passion for reading and writing was no longer. The situation was becoming hopeless. 

Family and friends gave me time and space to rest. There were few calls or texts. I so much wanted to share the details about my experience, but communications were brief and without substance. I was beginning to believe that they had abandoned me. In reality, I deserted them. While I stubbornly and selfishly waited for people to reach out to me, I dug a deeper hole of loneliness for myself.

Sandra was so busy taking care of me and tending to her work responsibilities that we didn’t talk much about anything other than lab results, medication schedules, and COVID precautions when I went out to an appointment. Other than discussions related to my medical condition, our conversations were also brief and without substance.

I thought that God abandoned me too, so I no longer read the daily mass to reflect on His wisdom. I couldn’t concentrate and lost the spiritual growth I had worked so hard to cultivate. I stopped reflecting on the writings of St. Paul the Apostle and the Buddha. I wasn’t interested in their words of hope and perseverance. Ironically, I was too focused on my own suffering to remember that they offered solutions to ease my pain.

In the real world that existed outside of the dark cloud in my mind, Idaho and I showed steady improvement. The transplant team shared that many patients considered the third month as the “turning point” in recovery. Patients reported that they felt great compared to the way they felt before surgery. I looked forward to that day to lift me out of the funk.

As Sandra and I walked (the first time I did so on my own) into the clinic for the 3-month appointment with the Kaiser heart transplant team, I felt awful. Physically, I was still weak and emotionally the clouds were looming dark as ever. I fully expected to hear bad news. I was convinced that my health was taking a turn for the worst.

Sitting in the quiet exam room with Sandra waiting for the team to walk in, I felt all alone.


To be continued…