It’s back! After than more than a year, the story continues…
Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is my story about love, faith, and hope. The story begins with my carefree childhood in east San Jose. After high school graduation in 1981, I went to San Jose State University and flunked out before the start of my second year. I lost hope and wandered through life working at dead end jobs and spending what little money I had on alcohol and parties.
Four years later, I met Sandra Peralta and began to focus on on my future. I returned to SJSU and vowed never to fail again. Working tirelessly to redeem myself, I graduated from college, married Sandra, and began a career in business and politics. The demons from my initial failure at college continued to haunt me, so I worked even harder.
On June 7, 2010, I had a massive heart attack. Ten days later, while in the ICU, my heart stopped beating for a few minutes when I went into cardiac arrest. Doctors told me that I was lucky to be alive. Supported by a large circle of family and friends, Sandra and our two daughters prepared for the battle of their lives.
On June 28, 2010, my lungs began to fail. Doctors scrambled to figure out the cause. Excerpt #51, originally published on February 11, 2015, retells the moment when Sandra and I, alone in my ICU room, were waiting for doctors to perform a procedure that would buy them some time to treat my lungs.
I turned to Sandra as she sat next to me holding my hand. Breathlessly, I told her that everything would be fine and that we would get through this crisis, even though I kept the doubts to myself. She agreed with my assessment citing her absolute faith in God.
If for some reason I were not to survive, I asked her between breaths to please make sure that the girls never stop dreaming about their future. They should remember that they had the ability to accomplish anything.
I also told her how I wanted to celebrate my funeral: a conjunto norteño serenading family and friends with my favorite songs (especially the upbeat happy tunes), Barbara would give a eulogy about my childhood, George would address my professional life, and Marisa and Erica would share stories about their daddy. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Sandra told me not to think like that. I held her tighter and assured her that I was sharing my thoughts “just in case.”
Doctors soon arrived to take me to perform the intubation procedure. The girls came into the ICU to pray with me and wish me luck. The procedure was standard stuff. A nurse would give me a small dose of LORazepam to keep me lightly sedated and Vecuronium to relax my muscles so the tube wouldn’t be so uncomfortable.
Once my oxygen stabilized, I would be able to undergo the CT scan. In the meantime, my lungs and body could rest. The doctor said that I would be alert enough to receive visitors, watch TV, and communicate with doctors once the procedure was complete.
In a semi-conscious state in the operating room, I resisted the doctors and struggled to prevent the insertion of the tube. With the pipe securely in place, I continued to twist and turn trying to free my hands to take the tube out. Even with the ventilator sending air to my lungs, oxygen saturation levels dipped every time I moved. Doctors made a critical decision to sedate me heavily and medically paralyze my body to prevent movement. It was clear to the doctors that the ventilator would be useless if I continued to fight the equipment that was keeping me alive.
The higher dose of sedatives put me into a deep sleep. Until the cause of my lung failure could be identified and resolved, I would have to remain in a medically induced coma. The administration of strong muscle-relaxing medication would keep my body still, ensuring that the mechanical ventilator breathing for me could effectively deliver badly needed oxygen to my vital organs.
Both actions came with potential for long-term side effects to my brain and body. Research has demonstrated that patients remaining in a medically induced coma for an extended period of time could suffer a loss of cognitive skills, permanent brain damage, or worse. Every day I remained paralyzed, muscle memory would deteriorate and my ability to physically function would be compromised.
When the lead doctor emerged from the operating room, he explained to Sandra what steps were taken to stabilize my situation. Without emotion and with strength of character that could only be sustained by unconditional faith, Sandra intently listened to the report. My medical condition took another turn toward the unknown, to a place that even the doctors admitted was new territory. Although my heart was in a critically fragile state, it was secondary to the inexplicable virtual shutdown of my lungs.
Despite everything that my body had endured during the past three weeks – heart attack, cardiac arrest, and dangerously low oxygen levels – there would still be more complications and surprises to come. The cardiac team had been relieved of its duties for the time being and the pulmonologists and critical care staff would work around the clock to address the lung issues. The next 72 hours would prove crucial to my survival.
I was back in the ICU resting while connected to the machines that kept me breathing and a myriad of IV tubes that fed, medicated, and monitored me. Numbers across a computer screen provided minute-to-minute updates of my heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation.
The beeping and whirring sounds of the machines musically accompanied the sharp green lines and flashing LED lights that danced on monitors in a mesmerizing ballet displaying even more information for the medical team. A nurse was stationed in my room with one eye on me and the other on the devices surrounding my bed. With hospital personnel moving about the room, the scene looked like a war room preparing for the battle of a lifetime.
Just yards away outside of the plain white double doors and inside the single door that led to the white and avocado green ICU waiting room in Department 2300 at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, everyone gathered – the extended Peralta family, my sister Barbara and her family, Rudy and Melody, Will and Juanita, and many others – to wait for news from the operating room.
They were once again stunned when the doctor provided an update on the situation. In the eerie quiet that followed, the group instinctively formed a prayer circle, held hands, and silently urged God to intervene.
The entry in my medical record at the end of the day on June 29, 2010, simply read, “Intubated, sedated, and paralyzed.”
Tomorrow: Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life returns with Excerpt #52. Don’t miss it!