Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 5, “Buen Corazón,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 49th excerpt in the series.
THERE ARE ONLY TWO MORE EXCERPTS LEFT!
The conclusion of Chapter 5 and the final excerpt in this blog series will post on February 11, 2015. The book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life, is scheduled to be published and available later this summer. Stay tuned!!
To catch up on what you missed, click on the image above to read ALL excerpts.
On the morning of June 26th, two days after my transfer to the ICU, the cardiac team of doctors came into my room with encouraging news. Although my heart was badly damaged by the June 7th heart attack, the complex concoction of heart, blood pressure, blood-thinning, cholesterol, and diuretic medicine appeared to be working. The ejection fraction measurement of heart function was well-below the normal range, but stabilizing, and other organs, minus the lungs, were functioning well.
As a result, the cardiologists concluded, there wasn’t a need for a heart transplant, and once the lung issues were resolved, I could lead a slower, but somewhat normal life after the ICU. One of the cardiologists working on my case was a smart, petite, soft-spoken woman who was born and educated in India. Her engaging smile and the optimistic look in her eyes exuded the seemingly conflicting qualities of confidence and humility which provided a sense of hope and comfort to me and Sandra.
As a self-proclaimed information hog, I peppered her with questions about heart function and the pros and cons of a heart transplant. The doctor addressed each inquiry with patience and clarity. Sandra and I later asked her if she was available to be my cardiologist, to which she readily accepted. Just as the cardiologist and her colleagues were summarizing their conclusions, I suddenly began having more difficulty breathing.
For the past few days, my oxygen saturation percentage had been hovering around the high 80s to low 90s, which wasn’t good, yet not alarming. When oxygen levels dipped below 90%, the monitors emitted a high-pitched sound that beeped every second or so. Immediately nurses and respiratory technicians would come into the room to determine if any adjustments were needed to the airflow. My breathing became more labored by the minute and the high-pitched beep became a steady ring.
The cardiac team left to make room for a team of respiratory therapists and pulmonologists. Doctors struggled to understand what was causing the low oxygen levels for the next two days. Respiratory technicians replaced the high-flow tubes that sent oxygen through my nostrils with a non-breather mask that covered my nose and mouth to generate a more concentrated flow of oxygen into my lungs.
The clear mask uses elastic straps around the ears and head to keep it in place and a rubber strip around the edges to prevent patients from inhaling any room air. When patients inhale, a valve opens up to allow 60-80% concentration of oxygen to be delivered. For about a day, the mask seemed to do the trick as my saturation levels stabilized in the low 90s. Each movement of my body or a sudden cough would send oxygen levels plummeting into the 70s.
I remember breathing heavily trying to catch my breath and looking at the monitors to see my oxygen level at 73%. I labored with each breath while doctors and nurses adjusted the inflow of air and drew blood to do more tests to find answers to my lung problems. Pneumonia and infection were ruled out with each returning test result. Although Sandra tried to maintain hope and faith, I could see concern and worry seeping into her face.
On the night of June 28th, the pulmonologist directed the nurse to remove the clear non-breather mask and place me on a Bi-Level Positive Air Pressure (BIPAP) machine to help me get through the night. The BIPAP machine is a small bedside respiratory machine connected to tubing and a facemask that helps patients breathe by completely sealing off outside air. It pushes air into the lungs and holds open the air sacs in the lungs to allow more oxygen to enter.
When the nurse strapped the facemask to my head, it felt like a very tight football helmet that covered my entire face and head. With the mask in place, I felt isolated and scared as I could feel and hear the air rushing into my face with an echoing swishing sound. Suddenly panic began to set in and my mind swirled thinking about dying.
I was in a completely helpless situation. I couldn’t breathe. I had this contraption wrapped around my head and face. I had no control of anything at this point in my life. If death was my ultimate destiny that night, I thought, I hoped that it would come sooner than later.
Next Wednesday: Oxygen saturation levels continue to plummet as doctors try to find a solution…