Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt 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 60th 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/)
On the morning of July 8th, nine days after the oscillator began its work, doctors ordered the respiratory therapist to remove the machine that caused so much angst and fear for my family. The loud thumping sound emitted by the oscillator and the heaving of my chest as air rushed into my lungs with steady precision suddenly stopped.
The pulmonologists had anticipated that I would be connected to the machine for three days at the most to prevent serious lung damage. Miraculously, my lungs and heart survived the constant thrusting of air even though it continued three times longer than expected. Sandra was excited about the rapid progress during the past few days.
Doctors also ordered the gradual discontinuation of the medicines that kept me paralyzed and in a deep sleep. It would be another major step toward overcoming the seemingly impossible. Throughout the day on July 8th, Sandra returned to her journal to document even the smallest piece of good news with exclamation points on each page. Her excitement couldn’t be restrained as she wrote, “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly. And the best of the 3 is LOVE. I love you!!!”
Feeling encouraged and hopeful, she retreated from the ICU and the hospital to have dinner with the girls and her family.
I slowly opened my eyes and found myself in a strange place. Looking around, it appeared as though I was in a college classroom or professor’s office. I must be close to the ocean, I thought, because I could hear the sounds of waves crashing onto the sand. I could see students with backpacks walking about outside the door. Even more strange, I was in a cartoon! With the exception of the people I could see, everything else was animated like some kind of Disney movie: furniture, walls, floor, and ceiling.
I was sitting on a fluffy red arm chair with big colorful pillows all around me and on top of me. They were bright pastel hues of pink, blue, green, purple, orange, and red. I could see my hands and feet, but I couldn’t move them because the cartoon pillows were heavy despite looking light and airy. A medical student walked into the classroom wearing a multicolored nurse’s uniform and scribbled something on the whiteboard I couldn’t understand. When I called out to her to ask about my whereabouts, no sound came from my voice. I couldn’t talk!
When the student left the room, I began to get anxious. Where was I? What was happening to me? I tried to get up from the easy chair, but the heavy pastel-colored pillows prevented me from moving. I looked around to find a way to call for help as my anxiety intensified. I saw my trusty cell phone on one of the pillows near my feet. That phone had been at my side through thick and thin during my professional quest for redemption and success. It wouldn’t fail me now. All I had to do was text Sandra and she would clear everything up.
After what felt like hundreds of futile attempts, I couldn’t reach the cell. The pillows on my arms and chest were just too heavy. I was paralyzed, sitting alone on a big cartoon chair in a college classroom near the coast of who knows where. Panic began to set in, my heart started beating harder, and my breaths became shallower. I was scared and confused. Then suddenly, to my relief, Sandra walked into the classroom. She approached me with her angelic and reassuring smile to caress my head with her soft hands telling me that everything was going to be okay. Relaxed and feeling safe, I fell into a deep sleep.
Sandra had a relaxing dinner with her family and the girls. Despite the fact that doctors continued to say that I was still the “sickest man in the hospital,” she started to get a sense that we were at the beginning of the end of this nightmare.
I was still breathing with the help of the ventilator and nitric oxide machine, but the oscillator was now a thing of the past. I even twitched a few times when Sandra or a nurse touched me indicating that the paralytic medicine was wearing off. All of these events were signs that progress, albeit in tiny increments, was being made.
During the 30-plus days of the ongoing nightmare, Sandra worked hard at keeping the girls lives outside the hospital as normal as possible. They settled into a daily summer routine that started the morning with swim practice. Marisa spent the day at her summer job at the cabana. Erica would spend time with her cousins and Nina Shelley. When evening came, the girls would go to the hospital with one of Sandra’s sisters, have dinner with Sandra and the family, and participate in the activities that unfolded in the waiting room.
The girls would always visit my room together before leaving for the night. Following the advice of doctors, Marisa talked to me with an upbeat tone in her voice encouraging me to fight on. An occasional blink of my eyes would bring a short burst of excitement for whoever else was in the room. Erica stood by quietly, but confident that I would be okay. Once they said goodnight, they would walk out together, Marisa usually fighting back tears and Erica silently walking beside her.
Back in the packed waiting room, small groups were huddled together gossiping, telling stories, eating snacks and drinking coffee. The scene looked like family and friends gathering in a large family room. In addition to the stockpile of food and drink, there were blankets and pillows strewn on the chairs and small table tops. Sometimes the room would get loud as someone told a story or made a joke that generated howls of laughter, only to be reminded that they were in an ICU waiting room.
Erica later told me that when visitors of other patients opened the door, they immediately paused, surveyed the scene, and mumbled some sort of apology with an “oops, sorry” look on their faces as if they stumbled into someone’s home. The startled visitors would quickly shut the door and search for another place to quietly and peacefully support their loved ones in the ICU. The rhythm of the waiting room would resume as soon as the door closed.
As evening turned to night, Sandra’s core of support would begin the process of returning to the real world and preparing for another day. Those who wanted to see me came into my room for a brief prayer and to say goodnight to Sandra while others, who couldn’t bear to see me in such a helpless state, patiently sat in the waiting room.
When Sandra returned to my room in the ICU on the night of July 8th, her mom was with her. They stood staring at me wondering what the future would hold. The man who had an abundance of energy, a tireless work ethic, and a love for parties was in a deep sleep and motionless. Over the hushed chatter between Sandra and her mom, the quiet room echoed with the sound of the machines that kept me alive.
Before leaving for the night, Mrs. Peralta rubbed oil, blessed at the church, on my lifeless legs, arms, and forehead and prayed to St. Jude pleading for his intervention. Sandra’s mom hugged her second daughter tightly in the quiet ICU, made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and kissed her goodnight.
In the waiting room, those who still remained gathered in a circle as Rudy led a prayer. Sandra came out to the waiting room and thanked everyone for visiting before joining the round of ritual goodbye hugs. It was another tearful “see you tomorrow,” another night sleeping on a cot beside the man she loved, another night the girls were away from home, and another night of hope.
Next Wednesday: Chapter 8, “Sharks and ‘Cudas,” begins!