Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the 4th of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.
Sandra got home and urged me to call the Kaiser advice-line again to schedule an appointment. I got a different nurse on the line, and she asked the same questions. This time, I told the nurse that pain was shooting down my left arm. She suggested that I see a doctor immediately. I insisted that it was extreme anxiety, but I accepted her advice and agreed to take the earliest available appointment.
I rationalized that a doctor would quickly diagnose an anxiety or panic attack, prescribe medication, and send me on my way so I could return to all of the critical matters that stood before me. It was close to six o’clock, almost twelve hours after my day started. The nurse scheduled the appointment for 7:30. I called the school district office to explain that I was sick and wouldn’t be at the graduation ceremony.
While I dressed, Sandra told the girls that they would have dinner with Tía Shelley and Tío Pancho so she could drive me to the clinic for the appointment. Marisa remembers that I “walked quickly to the car, sat down, and started squirming in my seat.” At this point, the girls weren’t alarmed about anything serious. At Pancho and Shelley’s house she remembers telling them jokingly that I had been so stressed that I was probably having a heart attack.
The ride to the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center clinic was uneventful. Sandra drove as fast as she could while I continued to writhe, the discomfort on my shoulders and upper chest increased as every minute went by. She dropped me off at the entrance to the clinic and quickly drove away to find a parking space.
I labored into the building, took the elevator to the second, floor, and made my way to the doctor’s office where I met Sandra and checked in at 7:26 PM. We sat in the waiting room for just a few minutes when the nurse called me in to see the doctor. A quick check of vital signs weren’t alarming: temperature – normal at 98.6 degrees, blood pressure – 128/61, weight – 208 lbs., heart rate – a little high at 116 beats per minute, but that could have been caused by the rush to the office.
Slightly relieved, I was even more convinced that I was having an intense panic attack. The doctor reviewed the vital signs, asked me a few questions about how I felt, and immediately ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG) to determine if there were any irregularities in my heart function.
The nurse attached electrodes to my chest, programmed the EKG machine, and watched it whiz and purr as the needle on the printout page rapidly moved in a zigzag motion drawing tiny peaks and valleys on the white computer paper.
As soon as the machine stopped whirring, the nurse ripped the computer print-out from the machine and quickly disappeared into the hallway. The doctor came back seconds later to tell us the EKG reading was abnormal and I should proceed to the emergency room for more tests.
By the time the doctor finished her diagnosis, the nurse was in the hallway standing behind the wheelchair that was to take me to the hospital emergency room on the other side of the large complex. With a fast gait, she pushed the wheelchair out of the clinic hallway, into the clinic lobby, and out to the main hallway that led to the hospital about a half city block away.
The nurse moved swiftly as she fumbled with her cell phone. Sandra offered to push the wheelchair so the nurse could use her phone, when suddenly the gait turned into a trot, and ultimately a jog to the emergency room. Tall ceiling to floor windows formed a breezeway that connected the clinic to the hospital, and I could see out to the cafeteria and parking lot beyond that life was moving at its usual pace while my life appeared to be heading toward crisis.
My mind swirled with random thoughts that ranged from doom to confusion to relief. Could I be having a heart attack? Why didn’t the doctor say that? Was she just taking precautions by sending me to the emergency room? Why was Sandra pushing the wheelchair at a jog and why was the nurse excitedly talking on the phone, and to whom? I couldn’t hear what she was saying due to the noise that was filling my head with questions.
We got to the elevator in the hospital and went the one floor down to the main lobby and the emergency room. When the elevator doors opened, we raced across the lobby floor straight into the emergency room where I arrived at 7:41 PM. Three doctors wearing white smocks waited for us, and within seconds, I got my answer.
One of the doctors said, in a calm and a matter-of-fact voice, “Mr. García, you’re having a heart attack.”
I was stunned!
It had finally all caught up to me: the genetic predisposition to heart disease, the high-fat diet as a kid, the lifetime of anxiety, the urgency to make up for my college failures, the tireless climb up the corporate ladder, the A-G Initiative, the County budget, the tension with my siblings, my fears about losing yet another election.
Combined, they had conspired to create the perfect toxic cocktail that led to a medical disaster. All the while I thought my anxiety was haunting me and intensifying, my blood was thickening and clotting and trying to avoid narrow gaps in arteries lined with plaque caused by genetics and periods of unhealthy living.
To read previous excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/
Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…