Author’s note: The following passage from the manuscript of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This installment is excerpt #46.
As Sandra waited for an opportunity to see me come out of recovery, family and friends continued to stream into the hospital. By mid-afternoon, visitors had filled the waiting room to capacity and started to line the walls in the wide hallways that led to the ICU.
The waiting room was a simple and narrow rectangular space, about 25 feet long and 10 feet wide, painted avocado green along the back wall and painted white on the wall adjacent to the hallway. Four small rectangular windows hung on the white wall to allow those inside to look out to the hallway and those in the hallway to look into the room.
Chairs and a few end tables scattered with magazines lined the room, a 20-inch television dangled catty-corner on the right window-side, and a telephone hung near the bathroom door on the backside of the room.
The hallway was sparse and wide allowing gurneys and other medical equipment to easily and quickly maneuver through. Next to the waiting room windows, silver letters and numbers that read, “ICU 2300-2309,” adorned the avocado colored wall.
To the right of the windows were two large non-descript white windowless doors that opened up into the ICU. A plain black phone and a fire extinguisher hung securely to the green wall next to the doors. The floors were made of beige and brown linoleum tiles immaculately polished so the reflection of the fluorescent lights above bounced off the surface.
The wide hallway, usually quiet and serene, buzzed with nervous chatter as visitors steadily arrived on June 18th. Behind the plain double doors in the ICU, I was struggling to stay alive. My blood pressure was 40/30, morbidly below a healthy 120/80, and the oxygen saturation in my lungs maintained a level slightly above 80%.
Doctors monitored me closely as oxygen levels continued to plummet. When oxygen levels consistently stay below 90%, organs begin to lose function causing irreparable damage to the body, especially brain function. Dr. Fisk explained to Sandra that the cardiac arrest episode had done significant damage to my heart and impacted my lungs. The next 48 hours would be critical for my survival.
While doctors were grappling with the breathing problems, one of my eyes had dilated and caused me to be disoriented and confused. My lungs were saturated with fluid caused by the heart’s increasingly diminishing function. Blood pressure had increased to 90/60, but the heart was beating so weakly that fluid kept backing up into my lungs causing my heart to work even harder.
In addition to all of the coronary drugs flowing through my veins, doctors administered Lasix, a diuretic that increases the flow of urine to help clear the lungs of fluid. The fear of my weak heart racing again or slowing to a complete stop required Amiodarone, a strong and toxic medication that prevents the heart from beating at the extremes.
As the day wore on, the team of doctors decided to install a tube into my mouth, through the throat and vocal chords, and straight into the lungs to deliver oxygen to the body. This procedure, called intubation, causes extreme pain and requires patients to be sedated. With the intubation tube sending air into my lungs and the Amiodarone regulating my heart rate, oxygen levels began to rise and I began to stabilize for the time being.
Concerned that the extended time with a low oxygen rate may have caused bleeding in my brain, doctors ordered a CT scan. Hours later, the scan indicated that the episode had not negatively impacted the brain or caused any bleeding. Although I was in critical condition, the ICU medical team had bought enough time for cardiologists to focus on my heart.
Outside in the wide hallways with shiny beige and white floors and avocado colored walls, the crowd of visitors swelled. Before the day was over, Sandra estimated that over 100 people had stopped by to show support, pray, and offer help.
Adding to our already large family, came friends from work, the community, family friends, former players from my coaching days, and Sandra’s friends. At one point, visitors filled two waiting rooms and the hallways that led to them. Hospital personnel concerned about the growing crowd asked Sandra to encourage people to leave.
She told the staff that she couldn’t ask people to leave and she wouldn’t do so.
I used to joke with Sandra that my funeral would be brief and attended by just a few people, but the presence at the hospital on that long day shattered that prediction. Sandra recounts how she was overwhelmed by the support. The love and prayers coming from the ICU waiting rooms and hallways permeated into the room I shared with monitors and round the clock nurses.
The “longest day,” June 18, 2010, finally came to an end. To the relief of all, I slept through the night.
Next Wednesday: The battle to improve my lung function continues as my heart remains weak…