Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (excerpt #41)

ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center
ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center

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 1 is The Giant Dipper ( The following excerpt #41 is the final installment of  The Giant Dipper.


Although I felt miserable and frail, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. I knew the routine: ER technicians and nurses would put a hospital gown on me in the emergency room, stick IVs into my arms, insert a catheter into my urinary tract, and paste electrodes to my chest to monitor my heart. Doctors would come in, do some tests, and admit me.

So I tried to remain composed and I breathlessly made it through dinner. After dinner, Pancho stopped by to see me, only to watch me cough up blood-soaked phlegm and struggle to breathe. I started to feel tightness in my chest so Sandra finally demanded that I go to the emergency room. The girls were worried and also insisted that I go to the hospital immediately.

Sandra, the girls, and I climbed into Sandra’s silver Ford Explorer for the short ride to Shelley’s house to drop off the girls. It was like déjà vu all over again. Sandra and I continued on to Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center. The drive to the hospital was filled with fear and anxiety for Sandra.

I slipped two nitroglycerin pills under my tongue to sooth the tightness in my chest. I began to fall asleep during the ride, probably due to the codeine in the cough medicine I had been taking all day. Sandra thought I was losing consciousness and screamed at me to stay awake and shook me to keep me from passing out while she sped down the freeway.

I remember little of that ride, other than the warm and comfortable feeling of falling into a deep sleep and hearing Sandra’s voice in the distance begging me not to fall asleep. When we arrived at the emergency department, a nurse with a wheelchair waited for me at the curb.  Sandra jumped out of the car and helped the nurse hoist me onto the wheelchair for the sprint to the emergency room.

It was just after midnight on June 17th.

While I lay on a gurney in one of the individual emergency rooms for the third time in less than 10 days, nurses began to follow the emergency room procedure I had come to know all too well. My vital signs were worse than the last two visits to the ER: blood pressure, 72/48 and oxygen saturation, 88%.

An initial X-ray showed that I had patches in my lungs, beginning signs of pneumonia or worse. This was something new. ER doctors stabilized my condition and admitted me into the hospital for more tests. A few hours later, my gurney rolled into the ICU. I was scared as I read those words on the wall to the entrance of the unit.

I was clearly in trouble, and it was apparent that the doctors didn’t know how to fix whatever was ailing me. Marisa and Erica, the Peraltas, Rochas, Leyvas, Velez, Medinas, and Rudy stopped by to see me throughout the day. During the evening, doctors came in to tell me and Sandra that my heart was very weak and not pumping efficiently.

The CHF (congestive heart failure) that caused my last visit to the ER wasn’t getting better.  Once the right combination of medication was identified, they said, my heart would work better and management of CHF would be more productive.

Just before bedtime, George stopped by to see me for about an hour. We watched the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers duke it out on TV in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, and we laughed, joked, gossiped about local politics. Neither one of us mentioned anything about the work at the office.

When he left, Sandra came in to tell me that I needed to have faith because God had a plan.  She knew that I would recover and everything would be okay. We prayed and hugged and kissed before she left for home for the night. Although weak and tired, I felt optimistic and decided, for the first time in my life, to put my destiny and life completely into God’s hands.

I turned on my side, tried to fluff up the hard hospital pillows, closed my eyes, and fell into a peaceful sleep.

The last 10 days had thrown my life into a tailspin. I had ridden the Giant Dipper of life for 46 years and survived all of the ups and downs, and twists and turns that the wild ride had to offer.

The path included an idyllic childhood, promising high school years, failure in college and an alcohol induced fall from grace, a hard won comeback to graduate from college, build a family and achieve some success in business and public service, and finally a deep dive caused by a health crisis.

Surely, I had to be at the bottom of the violent dip, but as I slept comfortably in the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center ICU, little did I know that I was only part way down the Giant Dipper’s famously ferocious plunge.


To read all excerpts click here:

Next Wednesday: Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life continues with  Part 2: The Waiting Room.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s