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.
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.
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…