Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (excerpt #45)

Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center (image from www.allianceroofingcal.com)
Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center
(image from http://www.allianceroofingcal.com)

Author’s note: Excerpt #45 of the manuscript of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life, is the last post for 2014. The story will return on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. To read all 45 excerpts, click on the image above. Happy Holidays!!

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After three hours, Dr. Fisk emerged from the surgery room and walked into the packed waiting room with no emotion on his face. We would all later come to understand that Dr. Fisk’s bedside manner was straightforward. He made no effort to offer the silver lining families so wanted to hear. He bluntly told Sandra that they had cleared out the blood clot, but more damage was inflicted on my heart and the prognosis for a complete recovery was grim. Everyone stood in stunned silence.

When I moved from the operating room to the Cardiac ICU, Sandra and the growing group of supporters followed along to the waiting room. The regular cast of characters that would be Sandra’s support system for the next three months began to form there: Marisa (Erica would arrive from Washington, D.C. the next day), Sandra’s parents, her sisters, brothers-in-law, and close friends Juanita and Melody.

As the day wore on, the circle of support continued to grow.  My sister Barbara would arrive later in the day as would Rudy, Will, and Rosa García, one of Sandra’s colleagues and loyal longtime friends.  This group would form the core of visitors that virtually inhabited the waiting room day after day throughout the month of July.

According to Miguel, Sandra was “like the captain of a ship.”  She was the center of the growing concentric circle of support and immediately took command of the situation communicating with doctors and assuring others that everything would be okay. The room was filled with tension, anxiety, and fear as the growing group waited to hear any update from the recovery room.

As people arrived, they went through a gauntlet of greetings, hugs, tears, and prayers ultimately getting to Sandra. According to Barbara, she was “strong and stoic” focused on the flow of information coming from the ICU. She would remain the anchor of the waiting room throughout the summer weathering each storm with the same determination and faith.  Melody said that Sandra “stayed strong for everyone else” no matter how good or bad the news was from doctors.

Throughout the ordeal, Marisa was nervous and anxious, hungry for any tidbit of information that would help her understand what was going on. Erica was quiet, showed little emotion, and questioned the faith of others when fear and despair set in. Mrs. Peralta and Kimberley served as the spiritual backbone leading the waiting room through prayer and reflection.

Shelley kept the room balanced with insightful questions for doctors to ponder sprinkled with witty comments that would bring much needed humor and relief to the room. Val and Mr. Peralta sat quietly in the background providing steady support.  During the first few weeks, Mrs. Peralta, Sandra’s sisters, Barbara, and George would be Sandra’s inner circle of advisers to help her make life and death decisions when doctors posed another dire development.

Rudy was the storyteller recounting our youthful adventures to howls of laughter and sharing intimate moments of brotherhood that brought tears and reflection to those listening.  With his outgoing personality, Pancho would play a variety of self-appointed roles while Eddie and Miguel quietly reinforced a sense of hope. Will, Juanita, and Melody provided vital emotional support to the family by their presence.

A day in the waiting room became part of Melody’s daily summer routine.  She wasn’t working at the time, so she would see Rudy off to work in the morning and get ready for the 30-minute drive to the hospital where she was “drawn to the waiting room by the love and support that filled the room.”

Food played a central role in the life of the waiting room as breakfast turned into lunch and lunch into dinner day after day. Of course, there were snacks throughout the day. As visitors came by to support Sandra and the girls, they would invariably bring something to eat or drink.  Visitors brought donuts, pastries, and coffee in the morning. Throughout the afternoon and evening, they would bring fruit, water, candy, soda, tacos, and sandwiches.

There was never a shortage of food and drink, and by mid-summer, the waiting room resembled a mini warehouse or a well-stocked emergency preparedness bunker on the eve of a devastating natural disaster. Sandra would remark that the outpouring of support, friendship, and love was “overwhelming.”

As I recovered from surgery on June 18th, Sandra made the first of many difficult decisions that confronted her during the next three months. Erica was still in Washington and scheduled to return with her class two days later on Sunday.  After consulting her mom, sisters, and the hospital social worker, Sandra decided that Erica should come home immediately.

Sandra called Ms. Kathy Cook, the 7th grade American history teacher who led the school’s annual trip to Washington, D.C., to tell her what had happened. Ms. Cook went to Erica’s hotel room to tell her that I was sick again and she had made reservations for Erica to take the first flight out of Washington the next morning. Maya Ruiz, Erica’s good friend from school, volunteered to travel back home with Erica.

Maya’s father Rogelio and I worked together on the school board where he served as the district’s general counsel. We had met years earlier, and became fast friends when we began working together and the girls began middle school. Our friendship would grow stronger that summer despite the fact that I was in a coma and incoherent during most of that time.

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Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life, will return on January 7, 2015.

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