Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #66)

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One year after the ICU Psychosis “shark attack,” we celebrated life in a real paradise – Maui, Hawaii July 2011

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 66th excerpt in the blog series.

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At the hospital, Sandra was getting a clear picture of what had happened in the operating room. The procedure to insert the Swan line was routine. As one doctor threaded the line into my pulmonary artery, the other followed the tiny tube’s path on a computer screen. The artery that leads to the heart runs next to the jugular vein. In some cases, the vein and the artery intertwine looking like a braid. That’s how mine are configured.

As the doctor carefully moved the hard wire that guided the tube through my artery, maneuvering the catheter through the curves where the artery and jugular vein met proved to be challenging. As she delicately managed the tight turns while looking at the computer monitor, the hard wire suddenly collided with the jugular vein and punctured it. Blood started squirting out as the doctors worked to contain the wound.

The lead doctor squeezed the vein between the thumb and forefinger of his surgical gloved hand. With the blood making the rubber surface of the gloves slippery, the doctor alternated hands wiping the bright red blood on his smock. The nurse on duty brought in fresh white towels to keep the area around my neck dry. Within minutes, the doctors had contained the situation and stopped the bleeding.

The doctor called a vascular surgeon to evaluate the puncture wound and determine if additional surgery was needed to patch up the vein. The surgeon was at a sister hospital 30 minutes away as my doctors awaited his arrival. In the waiting room, the clock ticked away as Sandra grew more concerned. After several visits to the operating room nursing station, she grew impatient as there was no word from inside.

When the surgeon arrived, he immediately determined that the wound was already in the healing process and surgery wasn’t necessary. Doctors doing the procedure decided to continue and place the Swan line in my heart. They successfully completed the operation in 20 minutes. The lead doctor knew that the conversation with Sandra would be difficult as he walked out into the hallway.

When he emerged from the operating room nearly two hours after the scheduled 45-minute procedure started, Sandra was horrified. The bright white apron covering his smock was smeared with blood. It looked like the apron of a butcher working at a meat factory.

In his calm and reassuring manner, the doctor explained to Sandra what had happened with the jugular vein and how it was resolved. Despite what appeared to be large amounts of blood on his smock, according to my medical record and my later interview with the doctor, I lost just a marginal amount that had no negative impact.

He advised Sandra to be upbeat when she entered the room as I was semi-conscious and probably confused. Although I didn’t know about the punctured vein, a negative reaction from Sandra when she saw the blood-stained towels could have caused me to panic putting stress on my heart.

Sandra later described the scene as “horrible” with blood-soaked towels strewn across the floor and the dressing on my neck covered with the sticky red liquid. She tenderly smiled to reassure me that all was well.

Once again, her faith had been tested. There was the heart attack on June 7th, cardiac arrest on June 18th, the onset of ARDS in late June, the induced coma the first week of July, and then the fever. Now this.

What else would God put me (and her) through? Did He leave anymore fight in me? When she looked at my face and told me that she loved me, I slightly opened my eyes and managed a weak smile. She had her answer. Our fight would continue with God’s help.

The next day, the rhythm of life outside of ICU went on as usual. The Cudas championship swim meet was held at the world renowned Santa Clara International Swim Center, just 10 minutes from the hospital. As our daughters participated in each of their assigned heats in the Olympic-sized pool, Sandra, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, sat on the concrete bleachers with her family proudly watching the girls compete.

Later that summer as I was preparing to leave the hospital, Sandra took me to the ICU to thank the nurses who so skillfully and tenderly cared for me. I didn’t recognize anyone, but for Sandra it was an emotional homecoming.

As I thanked each person who worked with me, a well-groomed nurse wearing a neatly pressed uniform came out of one of the rooms with a beaming smile and said in a familiar voice, “I’m so happy to see you Mr. García.” The nametag on her blouse read, “Fiona.”

A chill ran down my spine as I saw her. I muttered that I had a dream about Fiona as everyone nervously chuckled looking kind of puzzled. When Sandra and I left the ICU, I sat in the wheelchair telling Sandra all about my dream: Mexico, the congresswoman, the beach, the shark, and Fiona tending to the wounds on my neck caused by the shark bite.

Slightly confused, Sandra told me about how doctors punctured my jugular vein during a procedure earlier that summer. Fiona was the nurse on duty that weekend and changed the dressing on my neck several times a day. Sandra fondly remembered that Fiona was always positive and upbeat as she talked to me and treated the small incision on my neck.

That was the first time I realized that fantasy and reality co-occupied my mind in what I later learned was a reaction to the sedative medication and psychosis caused by endless days in the ICU.

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Next week: Doctors recommend a bold move!

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The Trump Era: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Students at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy lining up to join campus clubs – November 10, 2016

It’s been an awful few days.

The presidential election and its result have thrown me for a loop. Even though I believe that Hillary Clinton should be president, it’s not her loss that has left me with a queasy stomach. It’s Donald Trump’s victory that has me wandering aimlessly around the house.

Forget that he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Forget that he’ll bring back factory jobs so fast that our heads will spin. What’s most galling is how he demeans people I hold dear: the women in my life, my Mexican brothers and sisters, the Pope. The Pope for Christ’s sake (pun intended)!

For the first 48 hours after the election, its impact on one group of people weighed heavily on my mind and my heart: the high school students I work with on the east side. Nearly all of them are Latino. Most are children of immigrants, some have parents who are undocumented. They are campus leaders who serve on student council and other leadership groups.

Despite the ugly rhetoric coming from our president-elect during the campaign, neither they, nor their families, represent the “worst” of Mexico and other Latin American countries. All of them, yes I said all of them, plan to go to college. They want to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, and more.

They are Americans in the truest sense of the word. Unlike many of the American voters that whisked Trump into office, when the world economy changed, the students’ families didn’t stay home complaining that the new economy didn’t work for them. Their parents took risks by leaving their rural homes looking for opportunity wherever they could find it, understanding that education is the key to a better future.

For sixteen months, my students would ask me what I thought about the presidential elections. Could Donald Trump win? Would he really deport 11 million people and break up families? For sixteen months, I told them that America values immigrants, America was the land of opportunity, and that America would never turn its back on the promise to value all its people. Voters are smart, I assured them.

I was wrong.

On Wednesday morning, my heart was heavy. I was someone they trusted, someone who understood how the system works. I felt like I let them down. I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, so I kept in touch with school administrators to see how the students were doing. It was an emotional day for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. During a “townhall” meeting, students shared their worries and concerns.

Then they responded to the challenges that lay ahead.

The leadership students had work to do, so they got through the difficult day on Wednesday and went right back to work planning a campus Club Fair at one school and a rally at another. When I arrived at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, my students immediately set up tables for the Club Fair. The campus quickly transformed from the worry of Wednesday to the excitement of starting clubs on Thursday.

The scene was from a school campus in “anywhere USA,” albeit with a distinctive Latino vibe. Lines of students waited to sign up for the Wilderness Club, the Tech Club, the Music Club – thirteen clubs in all. In front of the table for the Bailando Studio Club, students cheerfully danced to the thumping mix of Mexican, Latin, and Hip Hop tunes. At the Make-up Club table, student leaders were doing makeovers on the spot.

At Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy, the rally was billed as a “walkout” to protest the election result. The only difference is that the students didn’t really walk out as they planned the event for after school. They value education too much. And it wasn’t really a protest. They students marched on the sidewalk of a busy east side street carrying signs and waving to the honking cars passing by. At the rally, students rose to talk about hope, perseverance, and education in two languages.

I was exhausted as I drove home. The pit in my stomach had given way to the hope in my heart. My students taught me a lesson in leadership by practicing a lesson I taught them, “don’t get mad, don’t get even, get ahead.” I try to live by the quote coined by political commentator Chris Matthews. In my moment of despair, watching my students bounce back from an awful day was inspiring. They reminded me that we are a resilient community. When a barrier blocks our path, we will find another way to forge ahead.

All was not lost on Tuesday night.

Nevada voters, led by large Latino populations in Las Vegas and Reno, elected the first Latina United States senator in our nation’s history. Intolerant state leaders in Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are slowly beginning to lose their tight grip on power as Latino voters made their voices heard throughout the West and Southwest.

The racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, criminally indicted in Arizona for illegally profiling Latinos, was booted out of office after winning six straight elections. The number of Latino city council members in San Jose doubled with the election of a Latina and Latino in non-Latino majority districts.

The country is in transition yet again. That’s the beauty of our system.  Almost half the country wants to change back to the way we were. The other half wants to keep moving forward. We can be angry and dwell on the potential evils of the upcoming Trump Administration, or we can learn from some smart, resilient, and very American students from East San Jose.

They’ve taught us that there’s no value in getting mad or getting even. It’s all about getting ahead. I’m following their lead.

Come join us!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #65)

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Image by desktopanimated.com

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 65th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics describes a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Delirium.

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When I woke up, I was back in the ICU and everything seemed so clear.  Although I was still connected to a bunch of IV tubes and the intubation pipe was still in my mouth, I was sitting up in the bed and I was aware of my surroundings.

I couldn’t move my arms or legs, but I was reading the newspaper online on a computer screen in front of me. The headline read: SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER SHARK ATTACK. I continued to read about an accident I had in Mexico and that I was still in a seaside hospital there.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out what was happening to me. I remembered being in the hospital, but didn’t know why. Then it all started slowly coming back to me. We were in Mexico at a seaside resort celebrating the Peraltas’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Sandra, the girls, and I were setting up some beach chairs near a clear lagoon. The place was spectacularly beautiful. We ran into the local congresswoman, the girls’ pediatrician, and their husbands. We were sitting on the pristine beach and chatting with the congresswoman and the doctor while their spouses were in the lagoon.

The men were engaged in a water activity that was all the rage for the well-to-do: taking pictures of dangerous sea creatures in their natural habitat. They hired several Mexican guides to lure the beasts into the crystal clear lagoon where they could snap the photos.

As I sipped a cool drink, I saw a large Great White shark enter the lagoon with its tail swaying in the water and bearing its sharp teeth with a swagger that befitted its reputation. With underwater cameras, the two men clicked away capturing the essence and beauty of the majestic sea animal.

After a few moments, the guides began trying to get the attention of the shark to lead it out of the lagoon. But, the shark had different ideas. It had focused on the congresswoman’s husband and sped directly toward him. There was sudden panic in the water and on the beach. While the lawmaker screamed for help, her husband froze with absolute fright in his eyes.

Instinctively, I jumped out my chair and into the water to help.

As I quickly swam, I felt the shark’s large teeth sink into my neck. The beast trashed me about like a ragdoll. The water was swirling around in a tornado of bubbles and foam as if I was caught in the wash cycle of a washing machine. I couldn’t see anything but white bubbles encasing me in a tight grip and all I could hear was the violent swishing sound of water.

Abruptly, everything went dark and silent.

When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed. A nurse with perfectly combed hair and meticulous makeup was tenderly swabbing stitches on my neck and calming me with her soothing voice saying, “you’re going to fine, Mr. Garcia.” The nametag pinned to her sharply pressed uniform identified her as “Fiona.” Sandra sat at the foot of the bed warmly smiling with confident eyes.

I slowly closed my eyes and comfortably fell asleep.

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The champs rally at the Creekside Cabana was in full swing. Kids and families packed into the small meeting hall tucked into a residential neighborhood to watch the traditional end-of-the year slide show. Outside of the little cabana, an overflow crowd peered through the large windows to catch a glimpse of the spectacle inside.

Marisa and Erica sat on the floor cross-legged in the first row of swimmers laughing and cooing as pop music blared and photos of another memorable summer flashed across the screen. When the show ended, Marisa led the team in a number of cheers that created energy and inspiration for the next day.

From the corner of her eye, Marisa saw her Nina Kim rush out of the cabana with a worried look and the cell phone pushed tightly against her ear. With her brilliant smile and trademark enthusiasm, Marisa continued to shout out chants as her stomach began turning in a moment of extreme anxiety. She feared the worst as bolts of electricity shot through her body.

Nonetheless, she maintained the enthusiastic façade of a leader rallying her troops for the upcoming battle. Minutes later, adrenalin filled her body and blood rushed to her head as she witnessed her Nina and two other moms huddled together holding on to each other in a tearful embrace. Swimming through the crowd as soon as the rally ended, Marisa reached Kim as her heart felt like it was thumping out of her chest.

With a calm that belied her anxious nature, Marisa stood stoically, with tears welling up in her eyes, and gave a definitive directive to Kim: “Nina, just tell me now if my dad died.”

Kimberley assured that I hadn’t died, but confirmed that something went wrong with the Swan line procedure. The details weren’t clear as Sandra was still trying to understand the situation. All that Sandra told her was to bring the girls to the hospital as soon as possible.

Away from the prying eyes and ears of the cabana, Marisa finally lost her composure as anxiety and panic consumed her on the familiar, but seemingly endless, drive to the medical center. She kept asking Kimberley what had happened. Was I dead? Was it my heart? Am I okay? Erica sat in the backseat quietly biting her fingernails. Kim forged ahead with tears in her eyes.

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To learn more about what causes ICU Delirium and The Dreams from my story, click here: https://www.statnews.com/2016/10/14/icu-delirium-hospitals/