Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (excerpt #44)

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(click on image to read all excerpts)

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 #44 is the third installment of  The Waiting Room.


Once again, God entered the fray and intervened to calm me as my life hung in the balance. On June 7th, He sent Stacey Cook to the emergency room to strengthen my faith in Him, and on the morning of June 18th, my sister Patty was in the ICU as His messenger of hope and deliverance.

On both occasions, my medical condition was dire. On both occasions, I was at the right place at the right time. If I was anywhere else other than a hospital, I wouldn’t have survived.  My relationship with God had reached another plateau. My faith was moving from being a loyal member of the Catholic Church to a true believer in God’s will.

At the moment I thought I had fallen asleep, my heart had actually come to a complete stop after racing to that stratospheric 280 beats per minute. The medical team immediately went into action to get my heart beating again. Nurses started CPR as technicians quickly prepared the AED paddles needed to shock my heart back to life.

Seconds were rapidly ticking away as the heart monitor standing behind the bed stopped beeping with the familiar peaks and valleys of the LED lights bouncing across the screen, and began to emit a high-pitched steady sound with a solid flat line indicating that the heart was no longer beating.

With AED paddles securely in place on my chest, Dr. Fisk prepared to activate the shockwaves that would send electronic signals to reactivate my heart. In most cases, the doctor would need to send several signals to the heart to regain a normal heartbeat. When Dr. Fisk administered the first shock, my back arched, my chest heaved forward, I sat up, and the heart monitor began beeping again. The procedure had worked.

Two months later, while I continued to heal in a regular hospital room, a nurse named Cat walked in with a wide grin and sincere joy in her eyes. She told me that she was on duty the morning of June 18th and she had heard that I was still in the hospital so she came to see me to share an anecdote about that hectic morning.

She told me about rushing to my room after hearing the public address system announce a “code blue” indicating that an emergency life-or-death situation was unfolding in the hospital.  With a broad smile, she recounted how Dr. Fisk shocked me with the AED paddles and I instantly sat up with a grimace on my face. With eyes wide open, I shouted “oh shit”! Everyone stopped what they were doing and, for a few seconds, the room became quiet and still.

With a thin deadpan smile, Dr. Fisk calmly said, “I think we have a heartbeat.” The room erupted in laughter and relief. Nurse Cat had never experienced something like that in ten years as a cardiac nurse. She wished me the best and urged me to “keep up that fighting spirit” before saying good bye and walking out of the room.

When Sandra and Marisa arrived at the hospital on the morning of June 18th, they hurried to the surgery department while doctors were preparing me for a procedure to dissolve another blockage that completely obstructed the same artery doctors repaired after the first heart episode.

Valerie, who worked just a short drive from the hospital, was already there and had seen me. She sobbed uncontrollably, with tears streaming down her cheeks, as she tightly embraced Sandra and Marisa before the two of them were escorted into the surgery prep room.

The nurse advised Sandra and Marisa to be upbeat and positive when they saw me. I was on a gurney with a clear oxygen mask strapped over my nose and mouth, and I looked scared with the “deer in the headlights” stare. They both assured me that I was going to be fine. I tried to assure them by weakly raising my arms in a two-handed thumbs-up. They both kissed me before my gurney rolled into surgery.

Back in the waiting room, Sandra’s parents, sisters, and their families began to arrive. It had been a surreal week and a half that was difficult for everyone to comprehend. I went from 18-hour workdays to surviving a heart attack to once again fighting for my life in an operating room while my family anxiously waited for the surgeon to walk through the door to deliver the news.

Within an hour, others began to arrive: Melody and Juanita, with Rudy and Will following later in the day, relatives from Sandra’s side of the family, and friends from work. The waiting room was in a state of shock. Eddie Velez stood silently in the waiting room confused, saying to himself, “this is not good.”

As people continued to arrive, there was a collective sense of, “what else can happen”?  George, who arrived in the early afternoon, would later call June 18th, “the longest day.” In the operating room, the heart surgeon performed the same procedure I underwent 11 days earlier.


To read excerpts #43 click here:

Next Wednesday: The aftermath of cardiac arrest…

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