Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 7, “Sticking with God,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 59th excerpt in the blog series.
During the dark days of July, Sandra vowed to stay positive and urged the waiting room to do the same so that I could feel the energy around me. Marisa and Erica made posters and decorated the room with photos so I could wake up to a place filled with love. One poster wished me a Happy Father’s Day and another celebrated the 4th of July.
Colorful drawings of me with my favorite things, like the ever present San Francisco Giants baseball cap on my head, graced yet another poster. Sandra had been by side every day and every night since the awful cardiac arrest incident and her faith grew stronger as my condition worsened. She ended that morning’s entry into her journal by writing,
“You will make steps closer today because I know that you are fighting to get back to us. We love you Babe!! More than you know…”
I spent two decades of working relentlessly to rid myself of self-perceived failure demons and trying to make Sandra proud that she chose me. Now at my most vulnerable, Sandra expressed her love in the most intimate way. She was talking to me through her journal hoping that I could hear her through the whirring din of the ventilator and the thumping boom of the oscillator.
I had always thought that important professional titles and financial security would impress her, yet the prospect of losing me made an impression on her soul more deeply than any professional or material accomplishment ever could. Although I was motionless on the hospital bed, her love and energy provided the fuel for me to fight.
Later on the afternoon of July 5th, my heart started racing again. While Sandra was spending time with family and friends in the waiting room, my heart rate shot up to 140 beats per minute and my blood pressure dipped below 80/40. When she walked into the room to check on me, medical personnel were once again scrambling to prevent another cardiac arrest episode.
Doctors had to make a complex decision in only seconds. As noted in my medical record, I hadn’t been on amiodarone to regulate my heart beat for several days. Nevertheless, the toxin was used again to bring my heart back into rhythm. Until my lung issues were resolved and a defibrillator could be installed, doctors had no other means to stabilize a racing heart.
Despite that scary moment, Sandra’s faith grew stronger. She described the incident in her journal as “just a little bump in the road.” Later that evening, after saying goodnight to the girls, she walked into the room as the song “Here and Now” by Luther Vandross played on the CD the girls recorded for me. We used the tune for our wedding march almost 20 years earlier.
To Sandra, it was a sign from God that I would be back and that we would be able to continue our life together. In addition to her absolute commitment to God’s will, she was determined to do all she could to ensure that I would survive. She went on to write, “I know you are coming back to me. I will not accept anything less and I promise I will fight with you until I have you back with us.”
With the frightful day coming to end, Sandra’s unwavering resilience gave her hope. Before she prepared for another night on the uncomfortable cot that sat just feet away from her lifeless husband, she turned to Scripture for comfort:
“I’m sticking with God. I say it over and over again – it’s all I’ve got left. He proves to be good to me and to all who passionately wait and diligently seek Him. It’s a good thing to quietly hope from God.” – Lamentations 3:24-26
While the breathing machines and monitors rhythmically hummed, thumped, and beeped in the dark, Sandra laid back on the portable bed in the ICU and closed her eyes with hope in her heart.
Over the next few days, I began showing signs of promise. My lungs were still terribly saturated with fluid and continued to be unrecognizable to an amateur looking at my X-rays. Nonetheless, the oscillator appeared to be doing its job. The puffs of air that the machine was sending into my lungs were opening air sacs enough to stabilize my oxygen levels allowing the other vital organs to function. The numbers weren’t getting any better, but they weren’t getting any worse.
Doctors were encouraged by that and started making plans to consider options for moving forward. On July 6th, they made the decision to decrease the intensity of air being rushed into my lung sacs by the oscillator. They advised Sandra to be patient and to wait for my body to be completely ready to be weaned off of the breathing machines.
In the meantime, Sandra and the girls continued to support each other with a strength that could only come from their faith and the knowledge that my love for them was without limit. Sandra noted in her journal at the end of the day that “we were getting baby steps closer” to the end of this ordeal and to the moment I would return home.
A couple of days later, as my condition showed signs of improvement, nurses received notification to stop administering Verocounium, the medication that kept me in a paralytic state. Although doctors told Sandra that it would take months of intense physical therapy to completely recover from the muscle memory loss caused by the medicine, she was relieved that the drug wouldn’t do any more damage.
While pleased about the good news regarding minor progress with my lungs, the medical team was becoming concerned about a new problem. A bedsore was forming at the base of my back as a result of laying motionless for more than a week. To keep the sore from further irritation, hospital staff created space between the bed and my body by placing pillows under my shoulders, butt, arms, and legs.
The white pillowcases made it look like I was sleeping on a bed of fluffy clouds, a comforting, yet ominous, metaphor for heaven.
Next Wednesday: In a major step forward, doctors decide to take me off of the oscillator.