Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #69)

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Image by jwhouse.org

Author’s note: The following passage is from my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 69th 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.

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The next morning, Sandra started her daily routine. After waking from the small cot next to my hospital bed, she checked on me and thanked God for another day. The doctor would be making his rounds later that morning, so she washed up and prepared to take her morning walk to the JW House.

The JW House sits on the western tip of the campus at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.  The facility, designed to look and feel like a home, provides a comfortable supportive place for families facing a medical crisis. The house offers families and individuals with loved ones in the hospital with a place for rest and self-care during the day or overnight.

During the first days of the ordeal Sandra and her waiting room entourage would retreat to the JW House to pray and get away from the pressures of the ICU. Sandra spent the first few nights at the comfortable home-like environment before deciding to stay in the ICU with me. The morning walk and the soothing shower that followed offered the brief respite she needed to take on another stressful and eventful day.

During her walk that morning, Sandra thought about the confrontation with the doctor the day before and wrestled with the options that lay before her. It was clear that the removal of the breathing tube made matters worse. She grew to trust the critical care doctor and his commitment to me and decided to put the previous day’s verbal exchange behind her. Feeling refreshed from the shower and brisk walk, Sandra returned to the ICU confident that the tracheotomy would put me on the right track.

When the doctor arrived for his morning visit, Sandra apologized for her behavior from the day before and confidently informed him of her decision. He warmly smiled and agreed. The surgery would have to wait about 48 hours, he explained, so he could stop administering blood thinning medicine that would complicate the procedure. He also recommended re-intubation so I wouldn’t lose any more oxygen.

After assuring Sandra that the surgeon assigned to me was one of the best in the hospital, the doctor proceeded with the preparation for intubation. Before long, that God awful intrusion was back in my throat until my blood thickened enough for surgery. Again I drifted off into a medically-induced dreamland.

***

I was back in the saddle again. Wearing a classic black tuxedo with a silk black bowtie, I mingled with members of Congress and other corporate executives at a cocktail party at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I had a great time hanging out and drinking champagne with a senator.

As the night wore on, I became extremely drunk and my vision blurred out of focus. As the museum spun in circles, the music from the jazz trio got louder and I fell to the floor and passed out in a drunken stupor.

I slowly opened my eyes confused about what had happened. I was alone, lying on the floor of the dark museum, still dressed in eveningwear. I was mute and paralyzed. A branch from a eucalyptus tree was stuck in my throat. The taste of eucalyptus in my mouth made me nauseated. I was scared and anxious. When I tried to shout for help, the only sound that came out was a high-pitched foghorn-like echo.

I could hear footsteps in the distance walking toward me. My heart raced with excitement. Out of the darkness, Sandra and her parents approached me. Sandra was angry and kept asking why I did this to myself. Her parents smiled as Mr. Peralta told Sandra not to worry. Everything would be okay, he assured her.

***

The doctor scheduled the tracheotomy for late Wednesday afternoon on July 26th.  Early that morning, he came in to advise Sandra that a cancellation provided an opportunity for the surgeon to perform the procedure immediately with her approval. Sandra later told me that I was awake at the time and quickly broke into a little smile and my eyes screamed, “yes!” The decision was made.

I vaguely remember the surgeon prepping me for the operation. He was tall and fit, with confident blue eyes and wispy blonde hair. With the brashness of a successful basketball coach, I remember him telling Sandra that the procedure would be “a piece of cake” and that I would be like new in no time. The nurse on duty sedated me for the operation while I patiently waited to be transported to the operating room.

***

The surgery was to take place at a specialized hospital in another city that required me to travel by airplane. As I waited, I could see other gurneys in line ahead of me waiting to board the aircraft. My excitement turned to anxiety because Sandra wasn’t with me in line. As the hospital staff pushed me along the slow-moving line I looked around but couldn’t find her.

With my trusty Blackberry sitting next to me, I figured that I could text Sandra to let her know that I was getting closer to boarding. That wouldn’t work as I couldn’t move my hands to type in the words. When I tried to explain my dilemma to the orderly no sound came out of my mouth. My gurney was inching closer to the door of the jet as panic began to set in.

Finally, just seconds before loading the gurney into the aircraft, Sandra arrived to my relief. She was smiling and assuring me that I would be safe. She had a bag of peanut M&Ms, my favorite candy, in one hand and lovingly stroked my forehead with the other. With a mischievous look in her eyes, she popped few of those sweet nuggets into my mouth. 

Sandra kissed my cheek, and asked God to keep me safe on my voyage. Before I knew it, the jet was  flying through a starry night sky to an unknown destination.

***

The operation was a success. The cocky surgeon did exactly what he said he would do. He made a small incision in my throat puncturing the windpipe to make room for a small tube he inserted that connected to the respirator. I would no longer have the discomfort of the breathing device down my throat, but I would continue to benefit from the machine that pumped oxygen into my lungs.

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Next Wednesday: After the successful tracheotomy and the elimination of heavy sedatives, I became more aware of the sights and sounds of my surroundings. 

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Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #68)

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1960s era fighter pilot – Image by Militariarg.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning from How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 68th 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/)

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For the first few hours without the tube, I continued to make progress. Doctors were monitoring me closely as Sandra felt the weight of the decision taking a toll. She was excited, nervous, and scared all at once. The question on everyone’s mind was “can he handle it?” Sandra feared that the sudden removal of the tube would cause me to panic, thus impacting my ability to breathe without the security of the device.

As the evening wore on, I started to struggle with each breath. I had a confused look on my face and Sandra couldn’t tell if I was worried or scared. The hollow eyes in my thin face looked out into the distance trying to understand what was happening. Sandra couldn’t even fathom what was going on in my head. She rhetorically asked me in her journal, “What do you remember? What questions do you have? How do you feel? Did I make the right choices for you?”

Just before midnight, phlegm began building up in my lungs. I was too weak to cough out the gooey substance. Nurses tried to remove the phlegm with a suction device without success. I was gasping for air as oxygen levels declined. Doctors and respiratory therapists worked to stabilize my breathing before deciding to reconnect me to the BIPAP machine, the helmet-like device that forces air into the lungs through the mouth.

Sandra was afraid and second-guessed her decision to remove the tube. She turned to her faith for answers. God had taken us this far, she reasoned. Whatever was happening at the moment was His will. As I stabilized and fell into an uneasy sleep, she read Psalm 91:4-5,

“God will cover me with his wings. I will be safe in his care. His faithfulness will protect and defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night of sudden attacks during the day.”

She decided to recommit to God and whispered to me, “We can’t be afraid Babe. We have to trust that God has you in His care. Please don’t get discouraged. Fight!”

***

            I was in the cockpit of a 1960s era Air Force fighter jet feeling weak and incessantly coughing from what was probably my lungs’ adjustment to the thin air at high altitudes. I wore a white fighter pilot helmet and black oxygen mask from the same era. I was so weak from coughing that I found a small couch in the cockpit where I could lay down and rest. Folding myself into a fetal position, I felt helpless as the cough intensified and I struggled to catch my breath. I could hear voices cheering me on to no avail. The air was too thin. I was too weak. I lost consciousness as the jet roared through the sky.

***

Removing the tube wasn’t working. When my regular critical care doctor returned to work on Monday morning, he was surprised to see that I was no longer intubated. I was struggling to breathe with the clear oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. After reviewing my file for the weekend, he realized that Sandra had elected to forgo the tracheotomy. Meeting with the Sandra in the room, the doctor again recommended the procedure.

Sandra was furious. She interrogated the doctor asking why he hadn’t consulted with the pulmonologist on duty during the weekend. Hurling accusations that the doctors and the hospital were experimenting with my life, she released all of the pent up emotions that had been simmering inside of her for almost two months. The critical care doctor patiently listened and allowed Sandra to express her anger, fears, and frustrations.

I remember hearing and seeing Sandra’s tirade. For the first time since doctors induced me into a coma, real and overwhelming emotion washed over me. I felt the need to intervene and protect Sandra. I understood their conversation and wanted to weigh in as I thought that would relieve Sandra of the pressure to make a decision.

When we made eye contact, I tried talking to her completely oblivious of the fact that my strained vocal chords had rendered me mute. Once I realized that, I wanted to tell her to bring me a laptop so I could write down my opinion. I agreed with the tracheotomy option. I was insistent that Sandra bring a laptop to me. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t move my arms, hands, and fingers.

Reading my lips, Sandra finally understood what I was trying to say. She frustratingly waved me off and said, “NO!” When I persisted, she angrily pointed out that I was paralyzed and that I couldn’t use a computer. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. I don’t remember anything after that.

My road to recovery had experienced yet another bump. Meanwhile, I continued to drift in and out of consciousness, Sandra continued to grapple with the hour to hour decisions that weighed heavily on her, and the waiting room continued to pray and support her and the girls.

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Next Wednesday: Back to square 1. Doctors reinsert the breathing tube into my throat. 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #67)

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Extubation procedure. Image by youtube.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 67th excerpt in the blog series.

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The next week was uneventful. My critical care doctor advised that I was ready for the tracheotomy. He believed that the procedure would hasten my recovery and help my lungs to get stronger. At first, Sandra was reluctant because the operation would leave a permanent scar on my throat and could cause even more damage to my vocal chords. After consulting with her inner circle of support, she decided to proceed with the tracheotomy.

The doctor was scheduled to be off for the weekend, so he recommended that I spend the two days resting and getting stronger for the procedure. The pulmonologist on weekend duty would monitor my progress in preparation for the next big step. It had been a long road. The life-support tube had been inserted in my throat for more than four weeks, much longer than was the norm.

I had managed to get through virtually unscathed from all of the potential complications caused by being intubated and connected to the tubes that performed bodily functions for me. In addition to the variety of IV lines that monitored my heart and delivered medication to my listless body, I was connected to a urinary catheter, rectal tube, breathing tube, and feeding tube (inserted through my nose).

All of these intrusions are breeding grounds for viruses and infections which create unmanageable situations that usually result in patients fatally succumbing to the infections rather than the illness that brought them to the ICU. I battled fever for most of July, yet whatever caused the phenomenon never materialized into a serious life-threatening infection.

The enormous amount of oxygen loss during the first days of the month didn’t cause any brain damage, nor did it impact other organs. Despite the fact that my lungs were literally non-functional, my badly damaged heart hadn’t suffered additional deterioration. My heart was weakly hanging on, but plugging along. On doctors’ orders, respiratory therapists had been gradually decreasing the amount of oxygen artificially delivered to my lungs

I hadn’t eaten solid food in over six weeks, so I was a skeletal 153 lbs, losing more than one-quarter of the body weight that filled my frame the day the heart attack hit. My friend Rogelio later remarked that I looked like a “sack of bones on a bed.” While doctors struggled to find answers to the fevers and ARDS onset, they were equally puzzled by the relatively good condition of the rest of my mind and body. I was actually making progress.

The pulmonologist managing my case over the weekend believed that my gains were so significant that he recommended to Sandra that the breathing tube be removed to allow me the opportunity to breathe on my own. Once again, Sandra found herself in a untenable decision-making position.

She was only reluctantly in agreement that the tracheotomy procedure was the best course of action. The argument to give me a chance to breathe on my own by removing the tube was attractive, especially given Sandra’s concerns that cutting into my throat had its own set of complications. She gathered her inner circle to deliberate over the correct answer. As a group they came to the same conclusion: What would Eddie Do?

When the pulmonologist on duty returned on his rounds, Sandra told him to proceed with removing the tube. I was semi-conscious and looking stronger every day. She knew that I’m a fighter and if given the choice myself, I would elect to try it on my own without the tracheotomy. The doctor scheduled the tube removal procedure later that afternoon.

It had been a week since doctors began weaning off the heavy sedative medication, so I have a somewhat hazy recollection of these events. In fact, doctors were growing concerned because it was taking so long for the effects of the medicine to wear off. During that time, Sandra and visitors constantly talked to me trying to get me to respond. Other than a weak smile when I felt Sandra hold my hand or a blink of the eyes when I heard Marisa and Erica’s voices, I showed no sign of waking up.

One night during the last weeks of July, right around the time of Sandra’s decision to take the tube out, Miguel was visiting and suddenly shouted, “Wake up, Comps!”  According to Sandra and the girls, my eyes shot wide open and I scanned the room looking confused before slowly closing my eyes and returning to a peaceful sleep. Everyone present was excited and the waiting room was abuzz when the news got out. Years later, we all still laugh about Miguel’s uncharacteristic outburst that night.

Despite being in this semi-conscious state, I remembered bits and pieces of the extubation episode. The doctor on duty was a tall Asian man with thick black hair wearing wire-rimmed 1980s-style glasses. He had a confident smile and spoke with certainty as he began the procedure that would remove the tube that had occupied my throat for a month.

He began by sending a gust of 100% oxygen into my lungs before extubation. After removing the tape which secures the tube around the mouth, the doctor inserted a new catheter into the windpipe to deflate the cuff that held the tube in place. I vaguely remembered the doctor asking me to take a breath and cough. When I was able to generate a weak breath and cough, he rapidly removed the tube.

Although the final removal took  a mere few seconds to complete, it felt like the tube traveled slowly through my windpipe scraping each and every nerve ending along the way. With the exuberance of a cheerleader, the doctor triumphantly held the tube in his hands. Within a couple of minutes, there was an enormous sense of relief. I was finally free of that awful gagging sensation. Sandra was ecstatic.

Writing in her journal at 2:30 PM that day, she exclaimed, “It’s out!!”

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Next week: Excitement and hope in the waiting room quickly turns to concern and despair.