Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the third of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.
Miraculously, I got home safely, stepped out of the car, and listlessly walked up the driveway and walkway that led to the porch. Marisa and Erica were at home because school was out for the summer, so I stopped at the front door to take a deep breath before I walked into the house. I didn’t want the girls to notice the strained look on my face and the uneasiness in my gait.
They were in the family room watching television as I walked away from their view to the bedroom. I was sweating and the anxiety was building up inside of me like the volcano my friend metaphorically described. I took off my necktie and suit jacket, and threw myself onto the bed.
Marisa later said that she saw me walk into the house with the usual grimace I had on my face when I was stressed out. She heard me walk down the hallway and slam the bedroom door shut, then silence, then a thud. She rushed to the bedroom door and asked if everything was alright, I curtly answered, “yes.”
Marisa figured that a work or political matter was on my mind because she lifted the phone to call a friend and heard my voice on the other line. She later ironically remarked that I seemed so upset that I was probably figuratively “having a heart attack.” In the bedroom, I wasn’t talking business. I was on the phone with the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan advice nurse.
Positive that I was having a full-fledged panic attack, I explained to the nurse that I had an anxiety and panic episode nearly six years earlier. I was now experiencing the same symptoms, just a little more intense. The advice nurse asked standard questions about age, weight, medical history.
I mentioned that the cause to my anxiety was a result of my mom’s passing and my sister’s premature death at the hands of heart disease. I also confessed that my fear of having a heart attack led to minor symptoms of anxiety, but that I was able to manage though it. This time, the symptoms didn’t want to go away despite my efforts to deal with them. She then asked pointed questions:
Nurse: “Do you feel a heavy weight, like an elephant, on your chest?”
Nurse: “Do you feel tingling radiating down your left arm to your hand?”
Nurse: “Do you feel short of breath?”
Me: “Sometimes, until the breathing exercises settle it down for a while.”
Nurse: “Do you feel light headed or dizzy?”
Based on my answers, the nurse said that the symptoms I described sounded like a panic attack and recommended I take a warm shower and rest. Heart attack was the furthest thing from my mind. I was so convinced of my self-diagnosis, I persuaded the nurse as well. If the symptoms persisted, she continued, I should call back immediately.
I called Sandra to update her on my conversation with the advice nurse and got ready to get in the shower. Erica told me a couple of years later that she caught me walking between the bedroom and shower to ask if she could go the movies with some friends, and I answered “yeah, sure” in a “grumpy way.” Like Marisa, she too thought I was just stressing over one of the many things on my mind.
I started a steamy shower, sat down on the shower floor, and closed my eyes to clear my mind of the multitude of thoughts that raced through it. Once out of the shower, I put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and walked out the sliding door from our bedroom to the patio, my favorite place to relax.
The backyard and patio had become a sanctuary for me and Sandra. About five years earlier, Sandra and I designed what we thought was the perfect backyard for our home, a Mexican motif with winding clay-colored sidewalks that lead from a tiled gazebo to a large arbor covered with climbing pink trumpet flowers.
A green lawn separates the two structures and a variety of plants, bushes, and flowers grow behind a four-foot retaining wall topped with bull-nose bricks. Three tall pine trees dominate the far corner of the yard and majestically stand over the property. My favorite part of the yard is a small patio behind the arbor covered by a natural canopy made of the pine tree branches and the intertwining of the neighbor’s willow tree and the climbing trumpets that cover the arbor.
The only sounds that can be heard from this relaxing quiet spot are birds chirping, the wind going through the pine trees, a neighborhood dog occasionally barking, or a jet departing from San Jose International Airport leaving the valley for parts unknown. Sitting in the small patio behind the arbor helps me relax and keep the troubles of the real world from my thoughts. This time I couldn’t relax, I kept thinking about how anxiety and panic were consuming me.
The symptoms weren’t getting any better or any worse. I closed my eyes to take in the soothing sounds of the swaying trees above, but the tightening in my chest, the ever growing heaviness on my shoulders, and the frequent need to catch my breath drowned out everything but the noise of my hectic life reverberating in my head.
To read previous excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/
Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…