Author’s note: The manuscript of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life, is divided into three parts. The title of Part 2 is The Waiting Room. Excerpt #43 is the second installment of The Waiting Room.
Sandra started the morning on Friday, June 18, 2010, feeling good about my prognosis. I was still in the ICU, but I slept through the night breathing well, and it seemed like I was on the proper regimen of medication to manage my congestive heart failure. Erica was in Washington, D.C. with her class for the school’s annual trip for incoming 8th graders, so it was just Sandra and Marisa at home. They slept together in the master bedroom to comfort and support each other.
In addition to managing my health crisis, Sandra was preparing to close school for the summer and planning for the new school year. She was exhausted as she stepped into the shower and absorbed the soothing water raining down on her. She felt uneasy about going home for the night and leaving me in the hospital alone, but did so at the urging of family, friends, and doctors. As a woman of faith, Sandra was confident that I would be just fine in God’s hands.
When Sandra got out of the shower, the phone started ringing and Marisa, recognizing the caller ID, told her that someone from Kaiser was calling. Sandra said “it’s probably daddy calling to say good morning” and quickly answered the phone as Marisa watched nervously assuming the worst had happened.
Sandra ended the call after a few minutes of intently listening and responding with one word answers. She told Marisa that something had happened earlier in the morning. The doctors had stabilized the situation, but she and Marisa needed go to the hospital right away.
They were soon on the familiar route to the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center – Highway 101 to Interstate 280 to Lawrence Expressway – when the hospital called again. Activating the cell phone’s hands-free device, Sandra placed the call on speaker phone so both she and Marisa could hear the caller. Again, it was a doctor from the hospital providing more information about that morning’s episode.
Another blood clot formed on an artery and I had gone into cardiac arrest. Once stabilized, doctors were getting me ready for another angioplasty procedure. The doctor told Sandra and Marisa that they would be able to see me before I went into surgery. While Sandra called her mom to let her know what was going on, Marisa anxiously sat through the long ride to the hospital.
My body had a negative reaction to Plavix, a common blood-thinning medication prescribed after the first surgery. It wasn’t working, so a blood clot formed on the metal stent doctors placed in my heart almost immediately. This is a rare occurrence caused by the body’s rejection of the medication.
By the early morning of June 18th, the clot had closed off the blood flow to the heart’s lower left chamber causing my heart to pump furiously in its efforts to deliver oxygenated blood to the body. Within seconds of the closure in the artery, my heart raced to 280 beats per minute, alarmingly above the average heart beat of 65 beats. In less than a minute, I went into cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest is a medical way of saying that the heart stops beating. Without blood circulation and delivery of oxygen to the body and brain, the patient loses consciousness. On a heart monitor, the normal peaks and valleys of a heartbeat suddenly turn into a flat line. If cardiac arrest goes untreated for more than five minutes, the lack of oxygen could cause death or, if the patient survives, severe brain damage.
The best chance of survival requires immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), the electronic paddles that shock the heart so it could start beating. Unless someone nearby is trained in CPR and an AED is readily available, the chance of survival for someone who suffers from cardiac arrest is remote.
I was fortunate to be in the hospital ICU when my heart began to race uncontrollably then suddenly stopped. My memory of that episode is brief, but harrowing. It seemed like one minute I was watching the NBA Finals with George, and the next minute I was sitting up in the bed violently screaming for help because I couldn’t catch my breath.
For me, the whole scene was hazy and chaotic as doctors and nurses appeared to be moving in fast motion, then slow motion, as they worked to save my life. According to my medical record, I repeatedly shouted, “I can’t get enough air.”
Dr. Stephen Fisk, a short and slender pulmonary doctor in his late 60s with gray thinning hair and a trimmed white beard, was trying to calm me down by telling me to relax so he could help me. The fear of dying entered my mind for the first time as the doctors and nurses hovering around me looked concerned and even scared themselves.
As Dr. Fisk urged me to relax, I noticed a nurse standing calmly at the foot of the bed with a soothing smile telling me, in a soft but audible voice that could be heard above the bedlam, that everything was going to be okay and that I would be fine.
The nurse looked exactly like my sister Patty who had died of a heart condition seven years earlier. A sudden warmth and comfort came over me as the madness around me disappeared and I peacefully fell asleep.
SPECIAL NOTE: To accommodate your Thanksgiving Week schedule, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is posted today instead of Wednesday.
Next Wednesday: Doctors scramble to save my life a second time after cardiac arrest…