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