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.
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.
To read previous excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/
Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…