Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning of Chapter 6, “The Dreams,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 52nd excerpt in the series.
The waiting room was abuzz with conversation and iPhone and iPad activity. The doctor didn’t provide much detail and everyone wanted to know why I had to be fully sedated and paralyzed. Sandra walked out into the hallway with the critical care physician who had made the decision. He had a straight-forward bedside manner accentuated with a warm smile.
The doctor explained to Sandra that the amount of oxygen going to my lungs was dropping to dangerous levels, even with the ventilator functioning and the tube in place. The pulmonary x-ray showed massive fluid saturation in my lungs which clouded the view, so doctors couldn’t see if an infection or something else was causing the saturation.
Administering heavy sedation medication and strong muscle relaxers would allow my body to rest so the ventilator could distribute oxygen to my lungs more efficiently. With his friendly but matter-of-fact style, the doctor made clear to Sandra that decreasing the fluid saturation would be critical for an accurate diagnosis.
Sandra returned to the waiting room to provide the additional information. The sound of chatter immediately stopped as she described the situation. She was strong, firm, and straight-forward as she explained that something was wrong with my lungs and doctors weren’t sure what was causing the problem. With strong trust in God, she urged everyone to pray that the course of action recommended by the doctors would be successful.
Erica stood stoically and silently listening while Marisa, apparently desperate for answers, continued moving her thumbs rapidly across the iPod screen to find one. Everyone else fell silent, not knowing what to say or what to do. Sandra hugged the girls, told them to have faith in God and everything would be okay, and with determination in her face, walked out of the waiting room to be with me in the ICU.
The waiting room settled in for a long few days. The usual flow of visitors dropped in all evening bringing food, snacks, coffee, and water. Rudy and Melody, Will, Juanita and their kids, and many others visited the Peralta family with messages of hope and faith. Barbara called our brothers and sisters, and the Peralta girls called family members to update them on my condition.
Everyone stayed late until the early hours of the morning. Sandra alternated between my room and the waiting room keeping those gathered there informed of the situation in the ICU. Late into the morning all had left but Sandra, her sisters, Barbara, my niece Jackie (Barbara’s daughter), and Juanita. They slept uncomfortably on the waiting room chairs while I slept motionless in the ICU, my lungs struggling for each breath.
I was disoriented and confused when I woke up. I was sitting on a plain gray metal armchair with a padded seat and back, like the chairs I had seen in old WWII movies about the navy. I was wearing a white straightjacket that kept me from moving my arms. My ankles were shackled to the chair legs so I couldn’t move my legs either. The room was empty, but for a gray metal desk that sat in the corner. I could see people walking by outside the office door, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention because no sounds came out when I shouted for help.
I wondered if I had tried to pull out the intubation tube again and been sent to a doctor’s office for some kind of assessment. I waited patiently for a few minutes, but no one was looking into the office or coming in to see me. I began to panic, trying futilely to get myself unstrapped from the straightjacket and unchained from the chair legs.
I couldn’t move though, so I turned my head toward the office door and continued to scream for help to no avail, I had no voice. The more I tried, the more anxious I became. My heart started to beat harder and faster and fear was washing over me.
I kept looking out the door hoping to see Sandra. I could only see unfamiliar faces as people walked by completely oblivious to my dire situation. I felt helpless, lonely, and scared. What had happened? Why was I in this plain, empty office? Where were Sandra and the girls? I tried again to take of the straps and shackles. No success. I couldn’t move.
Finally, I heard footsteps coming toward me; someone would soon walk into the office to help me. I looked toward the open door to see who it could be. A distinguished looking man walked into the office wearing a smart herringbone blazer with an open shirt collar, freshly pressed trousers, and polished shoes. He looked confused and stood at the door’s threshold for about 30 seconds without uttering a word before quietly walking away back into the hallway.
I was exhausted trying to free myself as my breaths became shallow and more labored. Another familiar face came to the doorway. The well-dressed man in a dark suit and tie rushed into the office and furiously tried to take off the straightjacket without success. He told me to relax and not worry for he would go get help, then quickly ran out of the office. I waited and waited.
No help was on the way. My anxiety skyrocketed as I was on the verge of total panic. I could see the ongoing activity outside of the office, no one looked in, and no one came in to help. Just when despair set in, Sandra walked into the office with the pastor of St. John Vianney catholic parish in east San Jose.
Tall, barrel-chested, with thick salt-and-pepper colored hair, mustache, and goatee, he was a charming and welcoming presence in the working-class neighborhood of my youth. We got to know him well as Marisa and Erica were students at the parish school and I coached the girls’ basketball team.
As soon as I made eye contact with Sandra, feelings of comfort and security washed over me. She could see the desperation and fear in my eyes, so she softly and lovingly caressed my head. She told me that everything was going to be fine and the straightjacket and shackles would soon be removed. I needed to rest, have faith in God, and fight to get better.
The priest said, “God is with you Eddie. Keep fighting because the community and the kids need you.” Sandra took the Father’s hand in one hand and placed her other hand on my head as we prayed together. As we were praying, I peacefully fell asleep.
The reason the previous passage is in italics is because it didn’t really happen. It was a vivid and incredibly realistic dream that is partly caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. Many of those dreams included fantastical settings like 18th-century warships, cartoon-like places, and tropical seaside outdoor hospitals. The high-definition colors, sound, and scenery made the dreams feel like I was in a real place in real time.
But, they were just dreams. Or so I thought.
Next Wednesday: More on “The Dreams” and my first days in a coma.