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 63rd excerpt in the blog series.
During the week after the party, the waiting room was back to its daily rhythm. Melody would arrive in the morning to join Sandra and Mrs. Peralta, regular visitors would stop by throughout the day, Val and Kim would spend lunchtime there, Rudy would arrive after finishing his milk delivery route, and Will and Juanita would show up after work as would the rest of the Peraltas with Marisa and Erica.
As the evenings wore on, more visitors would arrive, many with food and snacks. Pancho and Miguel would be the first to survey the offerings. According to Pancho, small burritos made by one of Sandra’s friends would quickly disappear as Miguel popped them into his mouth like bite-sized tater tots. Of course, Miguel said that Pancho was the main mini-burrito popper. Either way, I’m sure that those bite-sized snacks didn’t last too long once they passed the threshold of the waiting room.
Sandra would emerge from the ICU from time to time to provide updates and visit. Before the evening was over, Rudy or Kim would gather everyone in a prayer circle sending hope into my room. Mrs. Peralta would say her goodbyes after rubbing my arms, legs, and head with oil and praying to St. Jude. The “night shift” would arrive usually with a Starbuck’s coffee carrier to share with those who stayed late into the night.
In the ICU, my lungs continued to show slight improvement. Throughout that week, doctors remained puzzled about the cause of my fever as test after test showed no signs of infection. One day the fever peaked at 102.7 degrees.
Miraculously, my badly damaged heart remained stable as the acute respiratory distress syndrome wreaked havoc on my lungs and body. For a brief moment, my heart raced to 150 beats per minute requiring another dose of medicine to regulate the heart rate. These moments always put Sandra on high alert.
I was slowly weaning off the sedative and paralytic medication, so doctors considered the possibility of gradually removing me from the life support machines. When Sandra was in the room I began to physically respond when she talked to me. My eyes moved under the lids when she spoke and I weakly tried to open my mouth as if I was trying to reply. Sandra was overjoyed by these tiny steps of progress.
When she was alone in the room with me, Sandra also exercised my legs and arms in regular intervals as directed by doctors. She studied and learned the significance of every number that flashed on the computer monitors. With that information, she would brief nurses during shift changes to make sure they understood my situation and discuss with them the best course of action to take during that shift.
As the week progressed, so did the numbers that Sandra so diligently tracked. On the morning of July 12th, the ICU doctor shared great news with Sandra. My lungs had “turned the corner,” he told her. Within hours, respiratory therapists removed the nitric oxide machine and lowered the oxygen input of the ventilator to give my lungs a chance to get stronger.
Just two weeks before, I was on three machines clinging to life. Now, a tiny pin-like light was visible at the end of this nightmarish tunnel.
Doctors also believed that they found the source of my infection in the intestines, which caused discomfort and fever. They were confident that the issue would be resolved in a matter of days with antibiotics.
While still in critical condition, I was headed in the right direction. That afternoon in her journal, Sandra gave credit to the day’s turn of events to God. She wrote that my will to live and “God knowing we need you here with us” carried the day. “Trust steadily in God,” she continued, “love will pull us through.” She also began writing with confidence that “very soon we’ll be on our way home to get you stronger.”
As the sedatives wore off, I would respond to Sandra and the girls by shrugging my shoulders, twitching to their touch, and slightly opening my eyes. Sandra wrote excitedly the next day that I opened my eyes enough that she was convinced that I could see her as the corners of my mouth struggled to turn up making a weak smile. During the girls’ nightly visit, Sandra asked if I could hear them. I winked my eye to the delight of the three loves of my life.
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 organs, including my brain.
Next Wednesday: Vivid dreams caused by ICU Delirium intensify as I start to emerge from the coma.