Faith, hope, love. That’s how my mom looked at the world. “Si Dios quiere” (God willing), “gracias a Dios” (thank God), “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you). Anytime I hear these words, Mom’s gentle voice rings in my ears. My dad had a different worldview. Work hard, play by the rules, be good to people, don’t count on others. No nonsense words from a man who grew up in a shack with a dirt floor and fought in WWII when he was 17.
Growing up, Dad’s words carried the day. Mom’s unconditional faith was hard to grasp when I was a kid. While in class, playing sports, and working part-time, hustling made way more sense than waiting for God to figure it out for me. As a man, making a college comeback, working my way up the corporate ladder, and serving in public office required rolling up my sleeves, keeping my nose clean, and watching out for yours truly.
Dad’s take on the world was working like a charm. Then . . . June 7, 2010, a ventilator, paralytic medicine, and Coors Light changed everything.
When I awoke from a medically induced coma, my muscles were fast asleep. Talk about a wake up call. I had to re-learn how to swallow, move my arms and hands, and sit up. How would I overcome this seemingly hopeless situation? Mom’s way? Dad’s way? As it turned out, both ways with one exception.
Part of my recovery was revitalizing my leg and hip muscles so I could stand and walk again. This was the most difficult part of the rehab daily regimen. Standing up required three movements: sitting up, hurling myself forward, and using my legs to rise tall. Of course, we all do this countless times throughout the day instinctively without giving a second thought to the mechanics. Learning how to do this seemingly simple act as an adult was quite an adventure.
Starting off in a reclining position, I had to slowly straighten up to a sitting position by using my forearm to push up from the bed. Once my body’s core was balanced and settled, it was time to take a break and a few breaths. From a sitting position, the physical rehab doctor, a stocky woman with a witty sense of humor, instructed me to lean forward until my torso and head were parallel to the floor. When the doctor first mentioned this to me, I sat for a moment and laughed. I managed to say, “You’re kidding, right?” in my weak and raspy voice.
The doctor chuckled back with a big smile and said, “Nope!”
My limited scientific mind was telling me that this was ridiculously dangerous. I responded with a chuckle of my own and a big smile, saying “Nope” right back to her.
After a momentary giggle at my half-serious comedic effort, the doctor urged me to trust her and try the maneuver. “Just throw yourself over my shoulder, and I’ll catch you if you lose balance,” she encouraged. In a leap of faith, I did what she told me and fell right onto her shoulder. This isn’t going very well, I thought as I lay face down on the doctor’s shoulder looking at the floor. “Great job!” she exclaimed.
From that position, the doctor told me to “explode upward” to an upright position. Easy enough, I thought. There were only a couple of problems. First, my legs were so weak that there was no explosive movement to be had. Second, as I slowly pushed myself up, my legs shook uncontrollably, and my knees locked up, preventing my body from standing straight.
The doctor offered more coaching.
She told me that the therapist had mentioned that I had been an athlete. All I needed to do was bend my knees slightly like a baseball player getting ready in the batter’s box. From there, I could push myself upward. I was finally able to stand for a split second while holding on to the doctor. I quickly reversed the order of movements and fell onto the bed. I was exhausted.
The doctor cheered me on and said, “Let’s do this a few more times.” “You’re kidding, right?” I replied again with a hopeful grin. The doctor snickered with a big smile and said, “Nope!” I knew that was going to be a long day.
Throughout the next several weeks, physical therapists intensified leg exercises with the help of an assistant named Mark. We worked hard on standing mechanics. Mark was a quiet and burly young man with a sunny outlook and an infectious smile. He kept my body balanced as I did repetitions of standing exercises. Several physical therapists worked with me during that time while Mark was a consistent presence.
As each day passed, I felt more hopeful and faithful. I kept thinking about a doctor’s comment that something more powerful than any doctor was in control of my destiny. Of course, my mom’s voice echoed in my mind. Feeling more like myself, I began to joke with doctors, rehab teams, nurses, and visitors from the waiting room. Before leaving my room, Mark always asked if I needed anything else. Everyday, I responded by telling him that an ice cold Coors Light on tap would be great. He laughed every time at my corny joke.
Fast forward to 2022. A couple of months ago, I hosted an event to talk about my book, Summer in the Waiting Room. It was a great turnout. After a short program, people lined up for me to autograph their copies. As I sat signing books and chatting with each person, I thought about Mom. The evening was an affirmation of the power of faith, hope, and love.
As if on divine cue, Mark suddenly appeared in front of me. His infectious smile took me back a dozen years to that room at the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center where we worked so hard to get me back on my feet. Before I could get the words, “hey Mark,” out of my mouth, he firmly planted two tall cans of Coors Light on the table! “Here you go, Mr. García.” With a lump in my throat, I quickly leapt to my feet, went around the table, and gave Mark a bear hug.
Faith, hope, love? Absolutely! Work hard, play by the rules, be good to people? You better believe it! Don’t count on others? That’s a hard no for me. Absolutely not. Not my thing. Thanks to Mark and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, I learned that counting on others for help was a form of divine love. It got me through the darkest time of my life.
Thank you, God.
Read about Mark and the amazing rehab team at Kaiser Santa Clara in Chapter 30 of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love. You can find the book on Amazon (it’s a great idea for a stocking stuffer!)