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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