Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 64th excerpt in the blog series.
They next day was filled with anxiety and promise for Sandra and the waiting room. Doctors were concerned that I hadn’t emerged up from the coma. Despite my delicate condition, I was moved for the first time in over two weeks to take a CT Scan to rule out a stroke or heavy damage to my organs.
The scan was complete in the early afternoon. Sandra and the waiting room waited anxiously for the results, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. At 4:30 PM, doctors shared the good news that there had been no damage to any of my organs, including the brain.
While my lungs were showing promise and it was clear that the sedative medicine was wearing off, the dreams caused by the medicine and ICU Psychosis became more frequent, more vivid, more real, and in some cases, more scary. Many times I found myself near the water or on a boat absolutely helpless with my hands and feet bound in one way or another.
In some dreams, I saw my dad, brothers David and Stevie, Eddie, Miguel, and Pancho. In others, Rogelio would walk in wearing a tailored suit and carrying a briefcase to get me out of whatever predicament the dream got me into. A few months after I was released from the hospital, I paid a visit to Father Francisco to thank him for his prayers and his intervention. I told him about my dreams hoping that he might have an answer to their meanings.
Without hesitation, he told me that water is the Christian symbol of life, and keeping me in, on, or near water was God’s way of assuring me that I would survive the deadly illnesses that had overtaken my body. He correctly stated that each dream ended with a happy ending where Sandra, the girls, and I were back together.
July 16th brought even more good news. The pulmonologist and critical care physician who had been taking care of me recommended to Sandra the possibility of doing a tracheotomy, a procedure that could speed up my progress. The doctor and Sandra had developed a strong relationship and she trusted his judgment. A father of two young daughters, he appeared to have taken a special interest in my case due to Marisa and Erica’s central role in the waiting room.
A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure that requires an incision in the front of the neck and throat to create a direct airway to the trachea, otherwise known as the windpipe. A tube is inserted into the hole in the windpipe allowing the patient to breathe without using the nose or mouth. After a successful procedure, doctors could take the awful intubation pipe out of the patient’s mouth, air would go directly to the lungs, and the patient would be completely off the sedatives. The only downside is a scar on the throat of the patient after full recovery.
Since I had no advanced directives on file, Sandra would rely on the many discussions we had over the years about how we would live our lives. Knowing that I was a person who did everything full throttle, there was no doubt in her mind that I would have said, “go for it!”
In the meantime, as my lungs were slowly healing, the doctor wanted to make sure that the medical team refocused on my heart as well. He recommended the insertion of a pulmonary artery catheterization line, known as a Swan-Ganz Catheter or Swan line, to monitor my heart. The Swan line is used to detect heart failure and blood poisoning, monitor therapy, and evaluate the effect of drugs.
The procedure was scheduled late in the afternoon on Friday, July 16th. The next day was the championship meet for the Creekside Cudas swim team, so most of the waiting room was at the Creekside Cabana for the traditional pre-meet rally.
Marisa and Erica had been on the team since they were in elementary school. Val and Kim’s kids were also on the team, so Saturdays during the summer were family gatherings at the pool. Marisa had been chosen co-captain of the team that summer, so she played a key role in organizing and coordinating the rallies.
Mr. and Mrs. Peralta stayed with Sandra at the hospital to provide support while I was undergoing the Swan line procedure. Rudy also decided to stay with Sandra and the Peraltas until the procedure was done. The doctor explained to Sandra that inserting a Swan line was common and that he expected no complications. The procedure would last no more than 45 minutes to an hour.
Before leaving my side, Sandra said a prayer and kissed me on the cheek.
Preparation for the procedure was actually one of the first things I remember, albeit vaguely, after doctors began reducing the sedatives. For a brief moment, I could see activity around the bed and hear what I later came to know as the pulmonologist’s soothing voice. I was under a white tarp-like cover and wrapped in a white surgical gown. The doctor told me to relax as I fell into a peaceful sleep.
Next Wednesday: Shark Attack!!