Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 61st excerpt in the blog series.
The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)
Sharks & ‘Cudas
As the morning of July 9th dawned, it was the beginning of a busy weekend of birthdays for the family. That day, my niece Ximena, Kimberley and Miguel’s daughter, turned 8 years-old. The next day, another niece, Gabby, Valerie and Eddie’s daughter, would be celebrating her quinceñera with a big party. Initially, Val and Eddie wanted to cancel the party due to my dire condition, but Sandra persuaded them that life must go on for everyone, especially the kids.
Ximena, whom I nicknamed “Chimini” (it’s a long story), planned a full day of swimming at home with her cousins, and having pizza and cake later that evening. In a journal she kept that summer, she wrote about her birthday:
Dear tío Eddie,
I hope you feel better & see you soon hopefully. Guess what tomorrows my B-day & I am super Excited.
She drew little hearts over the “i” in her name in place of the traditional dots.
Ximena and I have always had a close and special relationship. I’ve always admired her exuberance and love of life. Like me, she’s a chatterbox. When she was four or five years-old, she would sit next to me and talk about everything that came to her mind. It was a crack-up watching this little girl speak with so much passion and conviction as her eyes and gestures told as much of the story as her words.
I learned from my dad that children, like adults, had minds of their own and thoughts that they wanted to share. I followed his example by being genuinely interested in what kids have to say. Ximena’s inquisitive mind and animated way of expressing herself always made our conversations interesting. She reminded me of Marisa at the same age. I felt so blessed when she later asked me and Sandra to be her godparents for First Communion.
After a full day of swimming and pizza for dinner, the family headed for the hospital at Ximena’s request. Earlier in the day, she told Kim that she wanted to celebrate her birthday where “Tío Eddie could be nearby,” so Kim decided to have cake and open presents at the hospital cafeteria.
The large crowd, which now included family from out of town that began arriving for Gabby’s quinceñera scheduled for the next day, moved from the waiting room to the cafeteria. There, the usual party of 20, plus some, sang “Happy Birthday” to Ximena, ate cake, chatted, and laughed making the plain hospital cafeteria feel as much like home as the waiting room. For Ximena and the kids, it was no different than being in Nana’s family room or at one of our houses.
The family was together with loyal friends celebrating life. Ximena noted in her journal that, “Today is my birthday & we’re at the hospital. It is fun but it would’ve been funner with Tío Eddie.” I’m sure I felt the energy of their celebration as I slowly showed signs of improving two floors above.
The next day, the celebration of life for family and friends would continue with a traditional Mexican-American quinceñera. Sandra opted to stay with me at the hospital as the girls helped the family prepare for the day. The activities included photos in the morning, a mass at church, and a reception in the evening followed by dinner and dancing.
Miguel recalled that getting ready that day was hard. The adults wanted to have a cheerful celebration for the kids despite heavy hearts. It had been a long summer for everyone. The respite was much needed by all.
As party preparations went as planned that morning, fever became a growing concern for doctors at the hospital. Danger of infection is a major concern for patients staying in the ICU for long periods of time. For the past few days, my body temperature hovered around 100 degrees and test after test couldn’t identify an infection.
My white blood cell count was high as the body tried to fight off the unidentified malady. As the morning wore on, the fever periodically peaked at 103 degrees, prompting the medical team to determine a course of action to address the latest crisis.
When Sandra reported the news to her mom, Mrs. Peralta offered to be with her at the hospital. Sandra asked her not to change plans and not to alarm her sisters or their families. Tía Martha Peralta and cousins Tavito and Ana Peralta, who were in town for the party, decided to join Sandra so she wouldn’t be alone.
Will, Juanita, and Marianne would also be with Sandra that night. With the bulk of the waiting room gone, the usually bustling space was quiet while Sandra and the others chatted and waited to hear news from the doctors.
I was sweating profusely. I was terribly uncomfortable. The room was bright as the glare of the large round lights overhead generated even more heat causing my body to feel like I was in an unbearably suffocating steam room. With the exception of the bed, the room was virtually empty. A wide open space led to the hallway where I could see nurses and doctors walking by. I yelled for help, but couldn’t make a sound. Wiggling around on the hospital bed, I tried to free myself from invisible restraints to catch the attention of someone, anyone.
I think I was in maternity ward. I could hear babies crying and see nurses carrying lifeless infants in their arms. The babies were bright red and sweating, obviously suffering from the same heat that consumed my body. All of a sudden, hospital staff started rolling cribs into my room, each filled with a wailing baby red-hot with fever. I wanted to help the babies, but couldn’t attract the attention of the people bringing them into my room.
Despite the scorching environment, the nurses and doctors in the hallway, all dressed in white medical uniforms, looked cool and refreshed. A tall male physician with blonde hair wearing classic black horned-rimmed glasses, a white doctor’s smock, and a smart white shirt and dark tie, walked into the room. After evaluating my condition, he coldly instructed a nurse to find ice to pour over my body. Without emotion, he then began to help the poor babies who were helplessly suffering from fever.
The nurse returned with a warm and assuring smile carrying a silver steel bucket of ice water. Others followed with more pails of relief. I was no longer in bed, but in a small tank that was filled up with the ice and water carried in by the stream of hospital staff. The nurse, a cheerful brunette woman with high cheekbones, big brown eyes, and a soothing bedside manner, told me to relax and get some rest. Soon the fever subsided and I fell asleep in the refreshing tank of ice water.
Next Wednesday: More on The Dreams caused by fever and ICU Psychosis.