Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (excerpt #39)

Home Sweet Home (click on image to read excerpt #38)
Home Sweet Home
(click on image to read excerpt #38)

Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life concludes the events of June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.

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The surgeon described to those gathered in the cramped waiting room how cardiologists measure heart function to determine how much damaged resulted from a heart attack. They use a calculation called the “ejection fraction,” which is the percentage of oxygenated blood that is pumped from the lower left chamber of the heart into the blood stream with each heartbeat.

In a healthy heart, 55%-65% of blood in the lower left chamber is released into the body with every thrust. Dr. Wong explained that the ejection fraction of my heart after completion of the procedure measured less than 30%. I would never be the same, he added. I would have to dramatically alter my lifestyle.

The room remained silent. Shelley later said that she was “in shock,” and that she “couldn’t grasp what had happened.” Pancho started weeping and saying that “this can’t be real.” Our godson William Medina sat down, put his face in his hands, and began to sob.

Dr. Wong concluded by saying that I would be in the intensive care unit (ICU) in recovery for a couple of hours, then assigned to a room in the cardiac care unit (CCU) where the family could visit. There was a sense of relief combined with apprehension in the waiting room when everyone gathered in a circle to hold hands, pray, and thank God for saving my life.

Just before midnight, hospital personnel rolled the gurney that I was on from the ICU to the CCU. Although groggy, I remember seeing my family and friends lined along the wide hallway waiting to see me: Mr. and Mrs. Peralta, George, the Medinas, Miguel, and Pancho were the first to come into view. Things were moving again in slow motion and what I do remember seeing was blurry and out of focus.

It appeared to me that everyone was concerned as they saw the bed roll by. When I saw Sandra and the girls, I don’t remember the looks on their faces, rather I felt safe and comfortable and that everything was going to be fine. During that brief moment, Valerie and Miguel said that I stuck out my arm, pushed my hand against the wall to stop the gurney, and asked Marisa and Erica if they were okay.

George remembered it a little differently. He said that when I saw the girls, I appeared as though I wanted to protect them, so I instantly put on my “game face,” waved to the orderlies asking them to stop, and weakly smiled at the girls as if to say, “I’m okay.”

Regardless of how those few seconds unfolded, one thing is clear. I was in a state of semi-consciousness, yet my immense love for Sandra and the girls, and my fatherly instincts kicked in to provide me with an unrelenting reason to fight for my life. Faced with the real prospect of death, the deepest parts of my soul knew, without being fully conscious, that my family gave me the strength to live.

I spent the next couple of days in the hospital recovering. I learned about my condition, took short walks through the wide hallways, and received a light, but steady, stream of visitors that included my sister Barbara and her family, extended Peralta family, friends, and co-workers.

My assigned clinic cardiologist met with me and Sandra to review the prescribed medication, salt-less diet, and exercise plan I was to follow. Unlike the blunt honesty of Dr. Wong, she was optimistic explaining that I underwent a standard procedure, and that I should be back to work within a few weeks. She also strongly advised that I resign from the school board to minimize the stress and pressure that that commitment brought to my life.

After going through the long process of being released from the hospital, I was discharged on the afternoon of June 10th. Riding in the wheelchair to the Sandra’s waiting car, I felt weak and lethargic, but my mind was already thinking about returning to the office in three weeks. I planned to follow through with my commitment to resign from the school board, but I was still interested in the progress of the A-G Initiative.

My body was exhausted, but my brain seemed to pick up right where it left off. When I got to the curb, the hospital volunteer and Sandra helped me into our new 2010 silver Ford Explorer, not an easy task due to the height of the vehicle and my 208 pound dead-weight frame. Sandra promptly drove away from Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center leaving my previous life behind and embarking on a new one.

Even though I was drained, it felt good to be home. I had never spent a day in the hospital before June 7th. After three days there, I was sure it was a place I didn’t want to return to ever again. At home, Sandra made sure that I was comfortable while I rested and recovered from what seemed like a surreal dream.

The first day home was uneventful: sleep, medication, bland salt-free meal, repeat process.

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To read all excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/

Next Wednesday: Within 48 hours of coming home, a steady cough and shortness of breath send me back to the emergency room…

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Summer in the Waiting Room: The day that Changed My Life – Part 7 (excerpt #38)

Erica, Sandra, and Marisa (Sandra and Eddie Garcia Family photo) click on image to read all excerpts
Erica, Sandra, and Marisa – 2013
(Sandra and Eddie Garcia Family photo)
click on image to read all excerpts

Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the 7th of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.

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Marisa intently listened to mom as fear and panic washed over her. She ended the call and explained to Erica what was happening. Fighting back her anxiety demons, she could only think of the worst. Standing in their living room, Shelley and Pancho stood motionless shocked by the sudden news.  Marisa kept asking no one in particular, “Is my dad going to be okay?”

Erica sat silently staring off into the distance. After a brief silence, Shelley called her sisters to share the news, and Marisa and Erica quickly dressed to go to the hospital to be with their mama. Shelley and girls ran out the door to the car for the 30 minute drive to the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center while Pancho stayed back to get Arachuli and Opie ready to follow along.

Sitting alone in the circular waiting room, Sandra continued to pray. Her lifelong faith in God had always kept her optimistic and balanced. She now faced the most serious crisis of her life, and her faith was intact. She truly believed that all would be well. While she prayed and relied on her faith to keep her from losing hope, the Peralta clan stirred into action to be by her side.

After initially demanding that  Shelley “stop playing around,” Valerie hung up her cell phone and rushed out of the house. Sandra’s parents were getting ready for bed when she called, and immediately changed their plans as did Kim and Miguel. In the waiting room, Sandra continued calling family members: my sisters Barbara and Sisi, and my brother David.

Finding Steve would be another story. He rarely told anyone where he lived, or more accurately, where he was staying.  Steve’s battle with alcohol and anger over the years made him a moving target. Even though he hadn’t had a drink in years, his nomadic lifestyle was well entrenched.

A cousin once jokingly said that “the only way to get a hold of Steve is by smoke signals, and marijuana smoke would get the message through faster.” With the exception of Steve, Sandra had contacted all of our immediate family members. While sitting in the loneliest of places, she was thinking about our life together, the present crisis, and what the future would hold.

Within 45 minutes of that first call to Shelley’s house, Sandra was surrounded by her mom and dad, and her sisters and their families. The Peralta’s were the first to arrive and found Sandra sitting quietly with a shocked look on her face. The three of them embraced and cried. Mrs. Peralta stood back and said, “Don’t worry mi hija, everything is going to be okay.”

The scene repeated itself after each one of her sisters came into the waiting room. Sandra and the girls hugged tightly and sobbed as they held each other. Marisa, always inquisitive, asked question after question. Erica, not saying a word, didn’t outwardly reveal her feelings.

Here was a family that celebrates together, mourns together, goes camping together, argues makes up and argues again while on vacation together. We served as godparents to each other’s kids for baptism and First Communion. Each Peralta grandchild calls at least one of us “nino” or “nina,” and together we’re compadres.

We attend school talent shows, little league games, dance recitals, and swim meets to support our nieces and nephews. On any given Saturday night, we get together at the local Red Lobster, Sizzler, or neighborhood coffee shop for dinner. “Party of 21, please,” one of us will say to an incredulous look from a restaurant host or hostess.

I’m sure there are those who wonder if the closeness of this family is just a show. However, when the family faced the ultimate test as one of us fought for his life on the operating table several rooms away, they all squeezed into the surgery waiting room to support Sandra and the girls. Eddie Velez was out of town on business, so he was the only one of the “21” not able to join the others.

“Party of 19, please.”

The family sat and prayed as the minute and second hands of the plain-looking clock on the wall slowly ticked away. Soon, others started to arrive: George, Will and Juanita Medina, and their kids William and Andrea.

In the operating room, after identifying the location of the blockage, the doctor immediately worked to dissolve the blood clot by inserting a medium weight wire, called an aspiration catheter, into the tube that led to my heart to puncture the clot.

Once the lump of blood had broken up and moved along the bloodstream, Dr. Wong replaced the wire with a balloon-like device and inflated it. He did this at the point where the artery was blocked to temporarily keep the vessel open so he could insert the coronary artery stent, a metal webbed cylinder placed inside the artery to help keep it open permanently.

Pulling the aspiration catheter out of the left side of the heart, Dr. Wong proceeded to repeat the process on the right side to determine if there were any blockages there as well. Finding no additional obstruction, the doctor removed the tube and catheter from my heart down to the groin, out of the incision he cut on the right inner thigh, and sealed of the tiny opening.

The procedure was complete. All had gone well.  It was 9:36 PM, a little more than two hours after Sandra and I showed up for my appointment at the doctor’s office.

Dr. Wong emerged from surgery and walked into the waiting room to tell Sandra and her support system that the procedure was a success and that there were no complications. In his no nonsense manner, he advised her that my heart was badly damaged and it would be a rough road ahead.

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To read excerpt #37, click here: https://esereport.com/2014/10/15/summer-in-the-waiting-room-the-day-that-changed-my-life-part-6-excerpt-37/

To read all excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/

Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…

Summer in the Waiting Room: The Day That Changed My Life – Part 6 (excerpt #37)

Image by share.kaiserpermanente.org (click on image to read past excerpts)
Image by share.kaiserpermanente.org
(click on image to read past excerpts)

Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the 6th of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.

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All of a sudden, the slow-motion movie turned into a full-speed action flick. As I was laying on a gurney, the medical team pushed me out of the emergency room and rushed through the wide hospital hallways to surgery. Doorways and the art on the walls appeared to be flying right past me in reverse as I could hear the squeaking of rubber-soled shoes against a polished floor coming from the hurried footsteps of those maneuvering the gurney.

I remember very little after the race to the operating room. My last memory was of Dr. Wong, wearing a white cap and a mask that covered his mouth and nose, standing over me explaining without emotion what he planned to do next. This was the first time during the entire day I felt extreme, unbearable pain.

Dr. Wong, in a clear monotone voice, advised that my heart was badly damaged and the prognosis for surviving the procedure was grim, 50/50 at best. When he was done with the explanation, he gave me a clipboard and pen to sign the consent form. I remember saying, “doctor, please put me to sleep, my chest hurts.”  Everything went dark.  It was 7:59 PM.

The first step in the procedure required a small incision in the right thigh near the groin. The surgeon inserted a narrow tube through a vein that led to an artery in the heart. He then maneuvered the tube through the artery under the guidance of a tiny scope that followed the path on a computer monitor.

Once the tube was in the heart, dye material was injected into the sheath so the doctor could determine exactly where the blockage or blockages were located. The image on the computer monitor left no doubt that the Left Anterior Descending Artery (LAD) in my heart was completely blocked.

This is one of the most important arteries in the whole system, and once blocked causes irreparable damage to the heart. The way it works is that oxygenated blood leaves the lungs and enters the upper and lower left chambers of the heart. The LAD delivers blood to the muscle over the lower left chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood into the body.

When the LAD is 100% clogged, as mine was that night, the muscle under the LAD stops pumping the blood needed to oxygenate the rest of the body. Doctors have 15 to 20 minutes to dissolve the blockage before other critical organs like the lungs and brain begin to shut down due to lack of oxygen. As a result, the LAD is more commonly known as “the widow maker,” a term that Dr. Wong shared with Sandra later that evening in a matter-of-fact manner.

In the operating room, the surgeon prepared to perform a procedure that he had successfully executed several times a day for many years. Sandra sat alone in the surgery waiting room stunned by what was happening. In the small circular space adjacent to the operating room, she felt like a lonely insignificant being in a vast tube. As the wonderful life she meticulously planned for us suddenly and ruthlessly began unraveling, she turned to her unconditional faith in God.

As she prayed and tried to make sense of the surreal nightmare, Sandra started to call the support system that had carried her through every up and down of her life. At the advice of an emergency room nurse, Sandra’s first call was to her sister Shelley’s house to let Marisa and Erica know what had happened.

The girls had just returned to Shelley’s house from swim practice. Tía Shelley was making tacos, rice, and beans for dinner. They all came to the table to eat, as Pancho, ever the sports fan, glanced at the TV from time to time to catch a glimpse of SportsCenter as their two young children (my nicknames for them are Shirley and Opie) excitedly sat in their seats because their older cousins were joining them.

Once they were all settled in and dinner was served, the racket of six voices talking at once filled the room. The girls love being with their tía and tío because Shelley and Pancho are young at heart and bring comedic relief to any situation. With her quick wit and his loud exuberance for everything, Shelley and Pancho made sure that there was never a dull moment.

Pancho’s sense of excitement ensured that even the smallest accomplishment, announcement, or mishap would bring on a dramatic response accentuated with a flourish of exclamations like “WOW,” “UNBELIEVEABLE,” and “THAT’S AWESOME!” His energetic statements sometimes led to laughter, especially if his reaction was more entertaining than the event that caused him to shout out in the first place.

He once won a Tivo device at a San Jose State basketball game because he was the most animated and loudest fan in the arena. Another time, I had invited him to a dinner where Magic Johnson, his favorite basketball player, was the speaker. Boyish anticipation consumed him as we stood in line at a VIP reception to take a photo with Magic. I thought he would explode with enthusiasm when he shook his idol’s hand and posed for the camera.

When Sandra dialed Shelley’s cell phone from the waiting room, she was greeted with Pancho’s voice. “Eddie had a heart attack,” she said somberly, “and he’s in surgery now.” Knowing his penchant for reacting excitedly to any shocking news, Sandra calmly told Pancho not to say anything until she had a chance to tell the girls herself.

After a long pause, Pancho, with eyes wide as silver dollars, shouted into the phone, “COMADRE…YOU’RE LYING!”

Today, that moment lives on in family lore as one of the funniest Pancho reactions of all time. Sitting at the dinner table that night, Shelley and the girls weren’t laughing. Shelley jumped up to grab the phone from Pancho. Sandra explained what had happened. She asked Shelley to put Marisa on the phone and to contact their sisters Valerie and Kim.

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To read excerpt #36, click here: https://esereport.com/2014/10/08/summer-in-the-waiting-room-the-day-that-changed-my-life-part-5-excerpt-36/

To read all excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/

Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…

Summer in the Waiting Room: The Day That Changed My Life – Part 5 (excerpt #36)

Image by www.drvenkatesan.wordpress.com Click on image to see past excerpts
Image by http://www.drvenkatesan.wordpress.com
Click on image to see past excerpts

Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the 5th of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.

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I sat in the wheelchair looking up at Sandra not knowing what to say. She looked back at me just as speechless. The EKG in the clinic showed that I had a “ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction” (STEMI), the most severe kind of heart attack.

When having a STEMI, a major artery on the left side of the heart, the Left Anterior Descending Artery, is completely blocked off by a blood clot. As a result of the blockage, the heart muscle around the clogged artery starts to die. This artery is nicknamed the “widow maker” because the immense damage to the heart muscle significantly decreases the chance for survival.

After what seemed like an eternity, I asked the doctors how they planned to proceed. The lead doctor, a cardiologist named Terrence Wong, explained that he would do a medical examination and perform an angiogram – a procedure that injects iodine die into the heart to determine where the blood clot is located.

Once the doctor identified the location of the blockage, he planned to dislodge the clot and insert a stent (a net-like metal tube) in the affected artery to prevent it from collapsing. Without complications, Dr. Wong estimated that the entire process would take about two hours.

The heart surgeon was in Santa Clara on special duty that night. His regular practice was at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. He specializes in angioplasty surgery, the stent insertion procedure. On his website, he’s a self-described, “straight-talking physician that ’tells it like it is’ so that each patient is well informed of their options and the implications of their decision.”

The course of action he described was clear and concise. Still not fully understanding the gravity of the situation, I asked Dr. Wong when he planned to do the procedure. I assumed he would medicate me, send me home, and ask me to return in a day or two for the operation. His answer was straightforward and simple, yet powerful.  “Right now,” he said.

Again, Sandra and I looked at each other in utter disbelief without a word coming out of either of our mouths. After a brief pause, she kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and told me that everything was going to be okay. I told her that I would be just fine as the nurse whisked me away into one of the rooms that lined the emergency department.

The emergency team, working at a frantic yet organized pace, immediately disrobed me, changed me into a hospital gown, inserted an intravenous tube (IV) into one of my arms, connected me with electrodes to a bunch of machines, and injected me with several medications to stabilize my heart. It was 7:45 PM, four minutes after I rolled into the emergency room.

Between 7:41 PM and 7:45 PM on June 7, 2010, for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of God. The concept of God had always been elusive to me. Like many Mexican American kids, I was baptized in the Catholic Church, attended catechism to complete First Communion and Confirmation, and married Sandra in a traditional Catholic wedding before an ordained priest in the neighborhood church.

My dad wasn’t a spiritual man, so our family’s exposure to religion and the Church was through my mom’s deep belief and faith in God. Growing up, we would accompany her to mass, mostly for the big days on the Catholic calendar like Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter.  Despite a lifetime of participating and believing in the pageantry and protocols of the Church, I never developed a relationship with God.

I learned my dad’s lessons well and truly believed that my lot in life and my destiny were in my own hands. The Golden Rule, integrity, and hard work would pave the way. I was also a student of history, and I knew that the ages were cluttered with the political machinations of men causing havoc and misery through the auspices of the Church. I questioned why God allowed so much pain and destruction to occur in His name?

During those four minutes, with my life in the balance, I had no control of the outcome. The pain in my upper chest continued to intensify. I faced the prospect of imminent death as I watched the team of medical professionals methodically work to keep me alive.

Being an anxiety-ridden mama’s boy raised in the cocoon of Viewmont Avenue, I had always thought that panic and fear of dying would overwhelm me in this situation. But, at that life or death moment, I was comfortable with someone else in full control of my destiny. According to the admitting doctor’s written comments, I was “alert, generally well appearing, and in no acute distress.”

Those four minutes were like a movie in slow motion. There were nurses, technicians, and doctors surrounding the bed, each doing a specific task to prepare a heart attack patient for surgery. I couldn’t hear a sound, but I knew that they were talking as I could see their mouths moving. Their movements looked like a beautiful and well-choreographed ballet.

Although I didn’t fear death, I was concerned for Sandra. I kept trying to sit up to see her standing just outside of the room with worry enveloping her eyes and face. An emergency room technician gently pushed me back down so she and her colleagues could continue their work. In the organized chaos I heard a soothing voice say, “Sandra will be fine. You need to relax Eddie so we could help you.”

Edward, my given name, is on all my medical records. Why did the ER tech call me by the name used only by friends? How did she know Sandra? The calming voice sounded familiar. I looked up and instantly recognized her face. Her name was Stacey Cook and her daughter played pee-wee baseball with Erica years before when I was the team’s coach.

I really didn’t know Stacey other than being the mom of the team’s star player. She would sit quietly and calmly in a lawn chair watching her daughter play. During the season, I learned that she was a great softball player in her own right, yet she never criticized the coaches or the parent volunteers. Our only interaction was her positive comments after a game, “thanks Coach,” or “nice job today Coach.”

With that same assuring voice, she helped me trust that Sandra was fine and everything would be okay. I truly believe that God sent Stacey’s familiar voice and warm smile to be with me in the emergency room at the most critical point in my life. Until that moment, I didn’t have a strong belief in God’s power to control destiny. However, in those four minutes, my faith in Him was beginning to form.

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To read previous excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/

Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…

East Side Eddie Report.com is 1 Year Old!!

Image by www.bitstrips.com
Image by http://www.bitstrips.com

Dear Readers,

On September 23, 2013, East Side Eddie Report.com posted it’s first blog. To see that first post, click here: https://esereport.com/2013/09/23/welcome-to-esereport-com/

During the past year, I have posted 87 stories and articles and 261 comments. East Side Eddie Report.com’s 2,000+ followers on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and ESEReport.com have viewed the blog over 24,000 times!

I hope you can take a moment to browse East Side Eddie Report.com and check out the regular features:

To read about my perspectives on education, leadership, and a variety of other issues, please feel free to click on one of the TAGS to the right of this page to find a topic that interests you.

None of this could have happened without your support. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to you for checking in on East Side Eddie Report.com every week. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing!

All I can say is “thank you, thank you, thank you!!”

Eddie García

San José, California

October 3, 2014