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.
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.
Next week: Doctors recommend a bold move!