Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #71)

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Author’s note: The following passage is the first excerpt from Chapter 9, “August 4th,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 71st excerpt in the blog series.

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Chapter 9

August 4th

 Just five days after the tracheotomy procedure, doctors decided I was ready to move onto the first phase of recovery. The daily X-rays showed that the haze that ominously covered my lungs was dissipating. I was able to breathe with less mechanized oxygen.

My heart, defying the strain caused by ARDS, weakly and steadily pumped blood to my hungry organs. The latest CAT scan and MRI demonstrated no loss of brain function. I was becoming more alert every day as the last remnants of the sedative medication left my body.

Without the distraction of the vivid dreams caused by ICU Psychosis and the sedatives, I was beginning to understand what was happening. The dreams gave me bits and pieces, but I still had no real understanding of the puzzle that had become my life. I had a dream that a distinguished politician and his wife visited and gave the girls tickets to the red carpet opening of a new teen movie.

While the specifics of the dream were pure fantasy, I learned that my friend, California State Assemblyman Joe Coto, did find his way into the ICU. Completely unrelated to that visit, the girls went to a popular movie that summer and told me all about it while I was in a semi-conscious state. My brain connected these separate incidents into one thought, and added the red carpet tickets.

I also dreamed of a rusty pail stuck on my head with its handle serving as a tight chin strap while a hose was lodged in my throat. Perhaps that was when the doctors put me on the BIPAP machine. Following doctor’s orders, Sandra tuned the television to channels I liked and played music that would keep me brain active.

Whether I was in a hot and dusty refugee camp unable to move or in a convalescent home with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tunes playing in the background, there were several consistent themes to my dreams. An object in my throat, the inability to move my limbs, an insatiable thirst, friends and family in weird places all desperately trying to help me out of unrealistic predicaments.

As my mind cleared, I began to realize that I was in a hospital, paralyzed, with tubes and wires connecting me to all sorts of things. On August 1st, doctors removed me from intensive care to the ICU Step-Down Unit. The unit was an interim stop between the ICU and a regular hospital room.

I no longer needed a dedicated nurse caring for me around the clock. Physical, occupational, and later on, speech therapy would intensify. In the ICU, therapists provided exercises that Sandra could do with me to begin waking up my muscles that had deteriorated during the month I was on the paralytic medicine.

Following the therapist’s example, Sandra would lift my legs and arms, and gently raise my head up off the pillows. Rotating my ankles, she would strengthen my lower leg and feet muscles. Doctors told her that it would be a long and difficult road to recovery, but I would be able to fully function as the paralysis was related to muscles rather than nerves. I don’t have a memory of those first therapy sessions in the ICU.

The day I moved to the Step-Down Unit was blurry to me. I remember my bed being maneuvered through long hallways and going into an elevator. The first floor room in Step-Down was large with a window on one side looking out into the street and a large space between the door and the bed. There wasn’t as much activity in the unit and a nurse came into check on me in regular intervals. I didn’t feel as safe as I did in the ICU. When Sandra left the room, I was alone in what seemed like a cavernous space.

The first few days were uneventful. A nurse would check on me in the morning and write the goals for the day on a whiteboard. The entries included the day and date, medications to be administered, therapist schedules, and any other information doctors wanted included on that day. The nurse would ask me my name and queried me about the date. Sandra would read my lips and translate for the nurse.

With the breathing tube firmly in my mouth, I would say “Eddie” without sound coming from my mouth, and then follow-up with “Not sure.” The critical care doctor would arrive not long after the nurse and update Sandra on my progress: lungs getting clearer, heart stable, and all other organs functioning. He was always upbeat and positive, assuring Sandra that I was nearly out of the woods.

Later in the day, between Sandra doing repetitions of the exercises with me, the therapists would come in. They moved my limbs and tried to sit me up for a few minutes while bracing me to keep from falling. It was hard work and painful. I was no longer on sedatives and my muscles weren’t numb, so I could feel even the slightest movement of my body.

On the fourth day in the Step-Down Unit, the first true breakthrough in my cognitive state emerged. I remember looking at the whiteboard, reading the entries, and understanding the content. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but it didn’t look good. That morning the nurse greeted me with a cheery “good morning” and asked me how I was doing.

She followed with the standard questions, “What’s your name?” and “Do you know what day it is?” I lip-synced, “Eddie,” and “August 4th.” Although her eyes welled up with tears, Sandra’s smile was filled with many emotions: gratitude, relief, happiness. This was a pivotal moment in my recovery. I demonstrated to Sandra that I was aware of my surroundings. She couldn’t wait to report this great news to the waiting room.

With that out of the way, the day went on as planned.

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Next Wednesday: My head was spinning when Sandra explains to me why I’m in the hospital.

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Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #70)

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Image by esereport.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 70th excerpt in the blog series.

I dedicate today’s excerpt to an old friend and coaching colleague who passed away last night after living a full life with heart disease. RIP Coach Bob Monges.

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As the heavy sedatives wore off, my vivid dreams manufactured by ICU Psychosis focused more and more on that nasty tube. In addition to the eucalyptus branch, I dreamed of chewing on rubber hoses and McDonald’s straws, and trying to pull out steel pipes that stuck out of my mouth and lodged in my voice box. As I awoke from the surgery, I instantly felt relief.

The small tube inserted into my throat at the neck was held in place by a “trach-collar.” The collar stabilized the tube so that it could be connected to the respirator. Studies have demonstrated that the trach-collar is the most effective path to wean patients off of mechanized breathing. It also relieves pressure on the vocal chords and minimizes additional damage to the voice.

When Sandra reported to the waiting room that I sailed through the operation with no complications, there was a collective feeling of optimism and hope. For more than a month, the waiting room inhabitants had been in a constant state of alert. Every new procedure led to some obstacle that created additional fear and concern. As the hours ticked away, Sandra continued to share good news that the tracheotomy was working. That evening, the waiting room buzzed in an almost festive mood.

The doctor later told me that Sandra was an “incredible woman.” She was a savvy and well-informed advocate, he went on to say. Her questions were always on point. Once she made a decision to move forward with a recommendation, there was no turning back. In a positive way, Sandra was “intimidating,” he said. Her keen understanding of the issues related to my condition once again led to forward momentum.

During the next hours and days, I continued to show improvement. My oxygen numbers stabilized even as respiratory therapists decreased the amount of oxygen the respirator sent to my lungs. My mind continued to clear as the remnants of the strong sleeping medicine dissipated. I wasn’t yet fully aware of my paralysis predicament. It hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t eating, drinking, talking, or going to the bathroom. But, I was beginning to recognize a rhythm to the ICU and distinguish between day and night.

Early each morning, an X-ray technician would come into my room to provide doctors with the latest images of my lungs. I could hear the slow rolling of the heavy mobile X-ray machine lumbering closer to my door. That sound was the signal to the start of a new day. The technician, with the help of a nurse or other staff member, raised the bed to a 45 degree angle and held my listless body upright to slide the X-ray tray between my back and the bed. The tray, cold and hard against my skin, would stay in place so the technician could take the picture.

The unit would come alive later in the morning as a kaleidoscope of sounds would fill the air: the sticky sound of rubber-soled shoes quickly walking across the polished linoleum floor, the slow and steady ding-dong at the nurses’ call station, doctors, nurses, and technicians exchanging directives and coming in and out of my room to do tests or change the medication that flowed from the IV forest that surrounded me, the public address system paging doctors, the beeping and whirring of the machines that sustained my life, and the small wheels of the cleaning crew carts rubbing against the floor as they went from room to room.

When Sandra left the room, I became anxious. There were few sounds that soothed me to let me know that she was on her way. Amid the cacophony of activity, a loud buzz followed by a distinctive squeal alerted the ICU that the heavy wide doors leading into the unit were opening.

Seconds later, I could hear the zip-zip sound of the electronic hand sanitizer outside of my room dispensing its cleansing foam onto someone’s hands. In would walk Sandra, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone from the waiting room. I would feel at ease and my anxiety would go away.

I knew when evening and night arrived as the sounds of the day subsided and the movement of people in an out of my room decreased. When Sandra was visiting in the waiting room with friends or out at dinner with family, the only person I saw was the night nurse on duty right outside of my door.

Suddenly, the squealing ICU doors and the zip-zip sound of the sanitizing machine made me feel warm and safe as Sandra brought the girls in to say good night followed by the small parade of family and friends that usually included my brother Steve, Rudy, Will and Juanita, and others. The Peraltas would come in signaling the end of the night.

For the next several days, the routine stayed in place. The tracheotomy was working. Respiratory technicians, on doctor’s orders, regularly decreased the amount of oxygen flowing to my lungs, hastening the weaning process. The waiting room became livelier as my condition showed promise and improvement.

To everyone’s amusement, Pancho was the de facto concierge of the waiting room. With his boisterous personality, he answered phones, directed families to the right place, and soothed the fears of others whom also had loved ones in the ICU. The room would erupt with laughter when strangers went to him for directions for gaining access to the unit.

The stockpile of food and drink kept growing. A variety of water, juices, and soft drinks was available to whoever happened to walk in. The food was getting better. One night a parent from Sandra’s school brought in her homemade tacos that were the talk of the waiting room for weeks. Six years later, Miguel, Eddie, Pancho, and Mariano still rave about the Mexican treats. Sandra’s friend Rosa Garcia always made sure that coffee and pastries were ready for those who stayed late into the night.

Sandra steered the ship. The García girls banded together. Shelley and Rudy kept the room laughing. Mr. Peralta, Val, Eddie, Miguel, and the Medinas quietly provided moral support. Mrs. Peralta, Kim, and Rudy led prayers. My recovery was a true team effort. Hope and faith filled the waiting room as July turned to August.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 9 – “August 4th.”